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.
Dragon Dynasty's anamorphic 2.35.1 transfer looks great. It's progressive scan and the colors are bright and bold. 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. Expect to see a bit of mild grain, but for an older martial arts film this really does look quite nice. The previous release from Celestial for Region 3 was neither progressive nor anamorphic so this is a nice improvement here.
Audio options include the original Mandarin track in Dolby Digital Mono and a funky sounding brand new English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. While the mono has a few scenes that demonstrate an odd bit of reverb in the mix, it's still preferable to the English track and unless you've got a strong aversion to subtitles, the Mandarin track is the way to go as quite simply it just fits the movie better. Aside from the bouncy reverb in some spots, the mono track is clean and clear. The 5.1 mix is of decent quality if you don't mind the dubbing and some will be glad that it's there, but purists will most certainly opt for the Mandarin track.
Dragon Dynasty has done a great job with the extra features on this release starting with a great commentary track from actress Cheng Pei Pei, 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. We learn that the opening shot wasn't actually shot in China but in Hong Kong, and we learn the significance of the title. Bey points out a lot of interesting facts as the track goes on and he goes into some interesting detail about the cast, the crew, and about how Run Run Shaw was worried about whether or not this film would be successful due to the absence of a male lead. He notes how intricate the sets that were built for this film are, and Cheng, who was nineteen when she shot this film, talks about how King Hu wanted her to keep her hair long for the film. We hear how she accidentally injured a co-star on the set, about the influence of spaghetti westerns on certain shots, and about some of the fight choreography created for the film. All in all, this is an excellent track.
Next up is The King And I (13:53), an interview with director Tsui Hark in which he talks about the influence of King Hu's films. Hark is a smart dude and he's got some interesting points to make about Hu's style of filmmaking and about how and why it went on to influence a whole lot of other directors. Up next is Come Speak With Me (16:39), which is a keen video interview with lead actress Cheng Pei Pei. The very amicable actress speaks about her career at the Shaw Brothers studio and how she had a contract with them in the sixties. She tells a few interesting stories about her life and work within the Shaw system and really seems to appreciate how popular some of her films have become. A Classic Remembered (17:22) is an on camera interview with Bey Logan who further details the influence of the film (noting quite astutely it's influence on a few different films, most notably in how it set a fight in an old fashioned in - something that's gone on to become a staple in martial arts movies). He also talks about the importance of Cheng Pei Pei's cheekbones and her ballet training. The last featurette is The Drunken Master (17:50) which is an interview with male lead Man Yueh Hua. He discusses the influence of Peking Opera on the martial arts film industry and how it gave many of its major players their training. He talks about his own style on film and how sometimes King Hu would reel him on and have him deliver things differently, and he talks about how he worked his way up to the point where after a while he didn't have to audition for parts. These four featurettes are a little clip heavy in spots but they're interesting enough that they're absolutely worth a watch and they serve as very nice companion pieces to the commentary track.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for the feature and Heroes Of The East as well as animated menus and chapter stops.
While fans have probably already got the Celestial import from Hong Kong, Dragon Dynasty's new release of Come Drink With Me is a noted improvement in the video department and it contains some excellent features on top of all of that. The film holds up remarkably well and this release comes highly 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.