Legendary director King Hu cast the young Cheng Pei Pei in this, her first swordplay film which firmly cemented her as the queen of martial arts cinema in the late sixties and on into the early seventies. Probably best known to the modern day audience as Jade Fox in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Cheng Pei Pei was just 16 when she appeared in Come Drink With Me as the feisty hero of the piece, Golden Swallow. A revered figure in the film her name is feared by those who live outside the law, and for this breakthrough movie those who dare to cross her path are a group of bandits who have kidnapped the Kings son and are holding him ransom in return for their own leader.
Golden Swallow is not their only problem though as an all singing and dancing drunkard, better known as Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) steps into the fray and turns out to be one of the most predictable characters as he turns out to possess an exceptional martial arts ability which comes in handy when he decides to aid Golden Swallow in her fight against the bandits. The story progresses exactly as you would expect and sees several encounters between Golden Swallow and the bandits until the final showdown where Drunken Cat also plays a part as he squares off against a face from his past, and indulges in a little 'internal energy' style martial arts in the process.
Although the plot is quite straightforward there is plenty here to enjoy as unlike most of the other swordplay movies from this era King Hu has taken the wise decision to inject some subtle humour into the action, mostly through the exaggerated villains and the more obvious humour in the form of Drunken Cat and his antics (including a few songs with a band of merry children). Martial arts filmmaking with some added comedy, where have we seen that before? That is the real beauty about watching these old classics, while they may not offer the breathtaking action seen in the work of 1980s Hong Kong cinema they do reveal where much of the inspiration seen in said films came from, and Come Drink With Me is no exception as it includes many great characters and scenes, including a fine example of how to do a Tea House stand off.
Cheng Pei Pei deserves special mention as she gives a good, if slightly flawed performance, but you can easily overlook her misgivings at this early stage in her career thanks to the sheer presence she has onscreen. From the beautifully framed opening shot of Pei Pei as Golden Swallow I guarantee you will be enamoured with her radiant beauty and strong confident persona from start to finish as she carries the movie with ease. As an onscreen fighter for the very first time Pei Pei is certainly able to wield the sword well, though in general the choreography and performances tend to have a graceful, almost balletic approach to them which although still a pleasure to watch, results in some moves lacking in conviction, though the generous levels of blood always ensure you know who has been affected by the brawls.
King Hu's status is well deserved as he directs with great confidence and keeps the film moving at a brisk pace with only a few moments of inconsistency, while the choice of camera angles and the depth of the picturesque frames he creates ensure the detailed sets are always done the justice they deserve. Combine all of the above with a competent set of supporting actors and an energetic score and you have a fine swordplay movie from the sixties that serves as a fine example of filmmaking at its best from that era of Hong Kong cinema.
Published by IVL in Hong Kong and produced by Celestial Pictures Ltd this Region 3 DVD is part of a new range of restored Shaw Brothers classics.
The Shaw Brothers range of releases all use clear armaray cases with an outer cardboard sleeve that uses a high quality piece of artwork. The rear cover contains a synopsis and disc details in both Chinese and English languages along with a small reproduction of the original movie poster art. Inside the case you will find a 'Shaw Brothers Films DVD Catalogue', a questionnaire, and of course the disc with full colour label artwork. The only minor flaw to my mind is the lack of interior sleeve art, which is always a welcome bonus when using clear armarays.
Upon inserting the disc you will be given the choice between a Chinese or English language menu, meaning the discs are easy to navigate for both Chinese and English persons. The menus (in English) do exhibit one minor problem, that being their inability to settle on peoples names. An example is how within the Interviews section Marsha Yuan is referred to as Marasha Yuen, this happens for several of the actors in both this and other sections of the disc.
Like all of the new Celestial DVD releases of these Shaw Brothers classics Come Drink With Me has been digitally remastered and looks better than ever in this DVD release that maintains the original 2.35:1 Widescreen aspect ratio, though sadly lacks anamorphic enhancement and the added resolution that comes with said feature. The print sourced has been cleaned up and looks superb throughout; yes there are a few blemishes here and there but its nothing to worry about, while detail levels and colour reproduction are also of a high quality. The compression handles the wide range of colours and textures with relative ease and shows no sign of pixellation (that I could see) while the image still manages to be more than acceptable when zoomed in on a 32" Widescreen set, though anamorphic enhancement is of course missed.
The original Mandarin language track is provided here in a DD5.1 remix that offers a fine reproduction of the original audio. Very much focused towards your front speakers the rears are only brought into use to project the musical accompaniment, which although a little harsh in tone (due to the age of the elements I suspect and quality of the original recording) is as good as you could hope for from a title of this vintage.
The optional English subtitles are presented in an easy to read white font that uses a fine black outline to make sure the words stand out over the onscreen action. Using up to two lines of text onscreen, the lines are positioned one inside the picture frame, and one outside, and as such are widescreen (zoom) friendly. Spelling and grammatical errors are fairly minimal (no worse than most recent Hong Kong DVD releases), making them for the most part easy to follow, though a strange timing error does stand out as rather than a line of text staying onscreen throughout the dialogue being spoken, the line will appear twice (blinking off and then back on again). Strange, but you soon get used to it.
Celestial have put together an interesting set of extra features that are kicked off by an excellent audio commentary with none other than Hong Kong cinema expert (and HKL regular) Bey Logan at the helm, who is fortunate enough to be joined by the films star Cheng Pei-pei, and her daughter Marsha Yuan. The three (recorded together) make for interesting listening as they discuss Pei Pei's first movie and delve into its production, her personal thoughts and stories from this experience whilst also pointing out various actors and directors who have gone on to greater things (or not as the case may be). In between all this the three are given opportunities to divulge other interesting stories about themselves or someone relevant they have met, though in most cases no matter how far the subject may seem from the movie in question it somehow ties in. What makes this better than your usual audio commentary is the energy from all three participants. HKL regulars will be familiar with Bey Logan, and for anyone who has heard the Red Wolf commentary will know he is at his best with a lady in the room - so with two by his side he really keeps up the pace and the three have a lot of fun together which really comes across to the viewer. Included but not restricted too are the likes of Cheng Pei Pei giving Bey a Mandarin lesson, correcting him to the point of him questioning his own facts, and many a sly joke from Bey that I don't think the girls entirely get (so he moves swiftly on) while the banter surrounding the likes of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and a few members of the cast will all raise a smile and more than likely a laugh from the viewers.
There is however an unfortunate technical flaw with this commentary track that may spoil your enjoyment of its content. Though all three participants are in the same studio, there is quite obviously just the one microphone in use and no post recording tweaks have been implemented. As such the recording levels are way off, with Cheng Pei Pei coming across at an extremely low level, Bey Logan just about right, and Marsha who is obviously right next to the microphone is extremely loud (though is speaking normally). This means that when you turn up the volume to hear Cheng Pei Pei and Marsha steps into the conversation, boom, your ears can take quite a beating and means you will be sitting with remote control at hand throughout the films running time. As an example of how irritating this can be for those with sensitive ears (or neighbours!) I, in my infinite sadness (with a touch of melon collie) went to the extent or ripping the audio commentary and tweaking the levels myself.
An Interviews section is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen and includes five speakers, one of which is Yueh Hua (4:47mins) who plays Drunken Cat in the movie, though as he conducts the interview in Mandarin and there are no subtitles I cannot tell you anymore than what I already have. The rest of the speakers conduct the interviews in English, the first of which is the films star Cheng Pei Pei (18:34mins) who in a slightly dull interview (edited together from two separate sessions) covers several topics on the making of the film and her thoughts on those she worked with. Up next is Pei Pei's daughter, Marsha Yuan (6:44) who gives us a little background on herself before discussing her thoughts on Come Drink With Me and her mothers performance. Marsha also gets a chance to talk of the sequel in which she will star and should easily match her mother in the looks department.
Paul Fonoroff (9:52), a film critic based in Hong Kong gives us an excellent insight to the early part of Cheng Pei-pei's career as well as a brief overview of Kung Hu's career along with his own thoughts on Come Drink With Me, while Bey Logan (4:42) takes a break from his audio commentary duties to discuss the importance of Come Drink With Me and the influence it has had on future Hong Kong action movies, as well as the merits of the films director King Hu. Oh, and he takes the chance to yet again confesses his love for the Cheng Pei Pei of 1966 (as he does frequently throughout the audio commentary).
A small selection of static extras can be found in the Movie Information section which includes a set of Colour Stills, the Original Poster art, Production Notes that are merely a reproduction of the promotional text on the rear of the case, and last but not least, Biographies and Selected Filmographies for Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua and director King Hu (all of which are sufficiently in-depth).
Rounding off the extra features is the Original Trailer for Come Drink With Me and five new trailers for these DVD releases: Come Drink With Me, The Warlord, Love In A Fallen City, The Heroic Ones and Hong Kong Nocturne. All are presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with DD2.0 Mandarin audio, while the new promotional trailers also include optional Cantonese (voice-over only) tracks.
Come Drink With Me is an enjoyable swordplay movie from the Shaw Brothers catalogue that offers an interesting change of pace (i.e. much slower) to the action movies of modern Hong Kong cinema and serves as a great introduction to the Shaws catalogue.
The only reason to fault this DVD release (other than a few quality control issues with the menus and subtitles) is the lack of anamorphic enhancement, though I personally found the image to be of a high quality even when zoomed in to a 32" set.