In the opening scene of Come Drink With Me we witness a roving clan of thieves laying waste to a government convoy and the kidnapping of an important political officer. The reasoning behind their actions is that they intend to use their captive friend as a bargaining chip so that they can force the government to release their leader who has recently been locked up for his criminal activity.
In order to free the hostage without having to give up their prisoner, the local officials decide to send in Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), a brilliant swordswoman disguised as a male, to take on the bandits and save the day. She soon, by chance, meets a likeminded individual named Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua of The Iron Bodyguard) who teams up with her to help stop the thugs in their tracks. Though at first he appears to be nothing more than a local small town drunk, everyone is soon surprised to find out about his martial arts skills.
Plenty of killer fight choreography and some great swordplay and a cold, calculating performance from the female lead make Come Drink With Me a prime example of just how good vintage martial arts films can be. Cheng Pei Pei is smart, cunning and just pretty enough even when posing as a man to make for a fantastic heroin and the carries the film with ease. She moves quickly and gracefully with a steely gaze and the precision of a master swordswoman in this film, lending an air of class to the proceedings.
Directed with loads of style by the late King Hu, the film does a great job of focusing on the fluid movements of the combatants on screen and directing the film with some deliberate pacing and interesting plot twists. The interplay between Drunken Cat and Golden Swallow might seem a little cliché by today's standards, but it works really well and provides for a lot of fun throughout the film. Though they work together for a similar cause, they couldn't be more different and at the same time, they're more alike than either one of them truly realizes.
Of course, like any good martial arts film, Come Drink With Me builds up to a final showdown in which the hero must overcome insurmountable odds to save the day. In this film, Golden Swallow squares off against a small army of men in a scene which gives Cheng Pei Pei ample opportunity to show off her unique fighting style and sword skills. While the film isn't the bloodbath that many of Chang Cheh's films made around the same time period would turn out to be, there's still plenty of violence on display here and the movie hardly shies away from bloodshed, as evidenced in the opening scene when a man has his hand cut off in a sword fight.
While Come Drink With Me isn't the best or most original martial arts film of its day, it's certainly one of the most influential. The care and detail in the cinematography and fight choreography raised the bar for competing directors and studios, and it's at least partially because of this film that the later entries from the Shaw Bros. studio looked as good as they did. This film made the fights artistic, and it is because of this that the movie has some serious historical significance.
Celestial's 2.35.1 transfer looks great and, aside from the glaring omission of anamorphic enhancement, really leaves very little to complain about. The colors are bright and bold and the reds don't bleed at all. Black levels remain strong and deep and flesh tones look lifelike and quite natural. There are no problems with mpeg compression and while there are a few instances we're you're going to notice some edge enhancement, thankfully those instances are few and far between and when they do occur, they are quite minor.
As is typical with the Shaw Bros. discs that Celestial has been releasing, the only audio option available is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in the film's native Mandarin language. Optional subtitles are provided in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, English, Bahasa Malaysian and Bahasa Indonesian. While the 5.1 mix itself isn't bad, it's not the original track that was created for the film and there are some spots in the movie where the effects sound rather off in their directional placement. Dialogue also gets a little lost in the music and effects sometimes, though thankfully this only happens once or twice. Overall, the track does sound pretty decent, but the purist in me regrets that the original Mono track wasn't included. As far as the subtitles go, I did notice one or two typos in the words as the film played out, but they're few and far between and don't prove to be too distracting. Every once in a while, if you pay close attention, you'll notice that a few of the lines in the subtitle track tend to repeat themselves for some reason.
Celestial has put more effort into the extra features on this release than they have one the majority of the other Shaw Bros. releases that have been coming out so far. First up is a commentary track from actress Cheng Pei Pei, her daughter Marsha Yuen and Hong Kong cinema wunderkid, Bey Logan. It's quite an enjoyable track that Bey keeps moving along at a decent pace, asking Cheng all the right questions so that we get a nice little crash course in the history of the film and some interesting details about her life and career as well.
Next up are five on camera video interviews. The first interview is with Yueh Hua and is in Cantonese with no subtitle options, but the other four are conducted in English. Bey Logan, Marsha Yuen, Paul Fonoroff and Cheng Pei Pei are each quizzed about the movie on camera and none of them are at a loss for words. Sometimes the English is a little broken but if you've got at least half an attention span at all you should be able to listen and figure it all out. Everyone seems pretty amicable and has nice things to say about the film and while it doesn't cover a lot of different ground from the commentary track, they're still quite enjoyable, even if the three of the interviewees really have nothing to do with the movie.
After that we get a newly created trailer for the re-mastered version of Come Drink With Me as well as the film's original theatrical trailer. A digital reproduction of the film's theatrical poster art can also be found lurking within the menus as can some biographies and a modest color still gallery.
Finally, Celestial has included trailers for a few of the other Shaw Bros. films that they've released on DVD: Hong Kong Nocturne (which looks like a lot of fun), Heroic Ones, Love In A Fallen City, and The Warlord.
Even though the original sound mix is missing and the transfer really should have been anamorphic, Come Drink With Me is still a disc that's easy to suggest to martial arts fans. Great fight choreography, two truly solid performances, and plenty of historical significance in the world of martial arts films make this one a keeper. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.