Come Drink With Me was released just before the transition of Shaw Brothers Studio from producing wuxia fantasy and drama films into the kung-fu genre that would define its international legacy. It remains one of the studio’s most notable films and influential to generations of filmmakers.
The story here is one of political intrigue. A group of bandits led by Jade Faced Tiger (Chan Hung-lit) kidnaps a general’s son. Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) is sent to retrieve the hostage, who is also her brother. Golden Swallow’s reputation proceeds her, but the bandits believe the legendary assassin must be a young man. Their realization that she is, in fact, a woman, leads them to underestimate her martial prowess. Along the way, she is aided by Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), a beggar who somehow knows how to help her in moments of dire need. As Golden Swallow fights to save her brother, she becomes part of a larger and longer fight than she initially realized, raising a band of female warriors to help her in her mission.
Fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will recognize Cheng Pei-pei as the character Jade Fox. Come Drink With Me launched her career, and with good reason: She’s electric as Golden Swallow, who is as deadly as she is graceful. Director King Hu purposefully envisioned the fight sequences to feel like dance and hired her for her ballet experience. Despite the relative level of gore in the fights (and there’s quite a bit of red blood), Swallow’s movements in particular never edge into the level of brutality as the studio’s later efforts.
My greatest surprise upon first watch, as well as on rewatch, is the role of Drunken Cat. Yueh Hua is hilarious in the role. He navigates a delicate balance between bumbling comic relief and stoic master.
Arrow Video, which released the first volume of its incredible Shawscope box sets last year, is bringing Come Drink With Me to Region 1 Blu-ray for the first time this month. It is on the level of their previous treatment of the Shaw catalog, with a gorgeous transfer, tons of special features and a booklet with essays that put the film in its historical and cultural context. Like the Shawscope sets, this is a must-own.