In 1966, director King Hu (Dragon Inn) released Da zui xia, also known as The Great Drunken Hero and Come Drink with Me, a martial arts tale that’s equal parts swordplay and drama. The film starred Cheng Pei-pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as the female lead Golden Swallow and Yueh Hua (Three Kingdoms) as the male lead Drunken Cat and was submitted to the 39th Academy Awards as a potential Best Foreign Film nominee, but was not selected for the short list. Watching the film now, modern audiences can see a great deal of progressivism in the genre that would be squashed as more martial arts films skewed toward more male-centric leads, characters, and narratives; so much so that, according to the essay “A Deadly Beauty” by Anne Billson, Come Drink with Me will be utterly forgotten by the time Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) would release, appearing to critics as the first of its kind. Thanks to Arrow Video, there’s an opportunity for a new audience to see King Hu’s influential work for the first time on Blu-ray, exploring a side of the genre often left uninvestigated. Though the home release mostly includes repackaged bonus features, greater access to the film is the real prize.
Upon the kidnapping of the governor’s son by several bandits trying to procure the release of their master, an emissary of the governor, renowned fighter Golden Swallow, seeks out the bandits with the intent of rescuing the kidnapped and arresting the kidnappers. Outnumbered, though not necessarily outmatched, Golden Swallow is given occasional help from a seemingly hapless drunkard, enabling Golden Swallow to find opportunities to survive several of the encounters engaged in. What Golden Swallow doesn’t realize, however, is that there’s more going on than a bid to secure the release of their boss, there is a familial dispute which can determine success for either side.
Being a high-definition remaster, let’s start with the technical aspects before getting into the film proper.
According to the liner notes, distributor Celestial Pictures gave Arrow Video the HD master, enabling them to offer an on-disc experience in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and original Mandarin/English monaural soundtracks. The picture looks fantastic, with few frames possessing any kind of time-produced grain. The colors are vibrant and the textures on clothing more detailed. Though the sound is only offered in 1.0, listening to the film on the Mandarin track via my 5.1 stereo still sounded clean and crisp. All in all, the reproduction work is solid and easy to recommend to either long-time fans of Shaw Brothers or folks, like this reviewer, who are still playing catch-up.
Included with the home release are several on-disc bonus features and a few reading materials available on the liner notes included in the first-pressing of Come Drink with Me’s Arrow edition. Though the feature-length commentary track from film critic and historian Tony Rayns, who’s worked with Arrow on several releases, is the only new on-disc feature, buyers are treated to five videos which provide a significant dive into the history of the film and the actors who participated in the making of it. There are three actor interviews — Cheng Pei-pei (Golden Swallow), Yueh Hua (Drunken Cat), and Chen Hung-lieh (Jade-Face Tiger) — averaging 42 minutes, as well as a 2016 Q&A with Cheng (11 minutes), and the second-part of a three-part documentary focused on Hong Kong cinema that’s around 50 minutes. On-disc, nothing new was created for this release specifically. In the liner notes, there’s a new essay from Anne Billson and a portion of a 2010 essay George Chun Han Wang, as well as a cast list and transfer information. All-in-all, if you’ve seen the on-disc material before, there’s little reason to get excited. But if you haven’t, then the on-disc materials offer approximately 187 minutes of extensive exploration of Come Drink with Me.
What struck me immediately about Come Drink with Me, and frankly what made me want to cover the film in the first place, is that films released by Shaw Brothers almost always tend to be male-centric. One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) immediately come to mind, but even the follow-up sequel, Golden Swallow (1968), places more focus on Golden Swallow as a love interest than as a character with agency. For the bulk of Come Drink with Me, Golden Swallow is not only the central character, she’s treated as a deadly one with serious responsibilities. So much so that the bandits, only knowing the character by reputation, presume Golden Swallow to be a man, helped of course by Golden Swallow’s costuming which serves as a mild disguise of her gender. Even still, the audience knows and Cheng Pei-pei presents her as, more or less, the kind of badass we’d see Michelle Yeoh play countless times over the years, yet would still be considered as revolutionary today in the upcoming A24 release Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). Even Walt Disney Studios seemed extraordinary for designing a story around an female Asian lead in 2021’s Raya and the Last Dragon, despite King Hu and co-writer Erh Yang’s film being released 55 years prior. This is, of course, without realizing that King Hu and Erh Yang were inspired by the opera Jiu gal (The Drunkard Beggar), an item I wouldn’t have known without Billson’s essay. I mention all of this because the story is, in my estimation, at its most interesting and compelling when Cheng’s Golden Swallow is the focus of the narrative. It’s not just because we learn that the governor is her father, therefore making the rescue mission personal for her both as the sister of the kidnapped and a representative of the law enforcement, it’s also because she’s a force to be reckoned with, skilled, smart, and able to go toe-to-toe with the men. That none of the men recognize her gender at first, speaks a great deal to their own presumption and worldview, which she is miles ahead of. That the film basically ejects her from the story and makes it about Drunken Cat diminishes the delight and presumed progressivism of the film.
It was damn refreshing to see Drunken Cat get introduced and stay in the background, helping out in a variety of silly ways, without ever really taking the shine from Golden Swallow. I didn’t even mind how he became the means by which she survives her throwdown with Jade-Face Tiger and the other bandits. I did mind that, once we learn of Drunken Cat’s back story and his ties to the bandits, that the film essentially becomes his story. It’s a sharp turn from where the film begins and one which, frankly, removes the character we’ve followed for the majority into little more than a background character herself. I’d like to think that I’d have the same narrative concern if Golden Swallow were a male character, because the diminishing of Golden Swallow has nothing to do with sex and all to do with narrative focus. Particularly through a modern lens, that Golden Swallow is a female character — strong, capable, fierce — whose skills are never in question makes her seem remarkable, thus making the reduction to the character later feel like a terrible slight.
Arrow Video already released a Shaw Brothers limited edition set, dubbed Volume One, in December 2021, so one can safely presume Volume Two is in the works. With no information on that, the only way for Shaw Brothers enthusiasts or physical media completionists to add Come Drink with Me to their collection is through this individual release. In researching Come Drink with Me, I learned that this is part of a greater trilogy of films known as King Hu’s “Inn Trilogy” with Dragon Inn (1967) and The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) make up the other parts. With this release, now the full trilogy is available to own. From a technological standpoint, this release will impress on how it looks and sounds, so have confidence in the purchase, should you move to add it to yours.
Come Drink With Me Special Features:
- First Pressing Only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson, and a 2010 essay by George Chun Han Wang about the relationship between director King Hu and producer Run Run Shaw
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation
- Uncompressed Mandarin and English original mono audio
- Optional English subtitles, plus English hard-of-hearing subtitles for the English dub
- Brand new audio commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns (1:34:37)
- Interview with star Cheng Pei-pei, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2003 (51:55)
- Interview with star Yueh Hua, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2007 (30:16)
- Interview with star Chen Hung-lieh, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2003 (43:33)
- Talk Story with Cheng Pei-pei, a 2016 Q&A at the University of Hawaii moderated by George Chun Han Wang (10:48)
- Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting, a documentary on the history of the wuxia genre and Shaw Brothers’ contributions to it, produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003 and featuring interviews with Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Kara Hui, David Chiang and others (50:21)
- Original theatrical trailer, plus trailer for the sequel Golden Swallow
- Image gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
Available on Blu-ray March 22nd, 2022.
For information, head to Arrow Video’s website.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.