Monday 24 December 2018

Come Drink with Me (Da Zui Xia) (1966)

Da Xui Zia
Hong Kong movies is a by-name for a certain sub-set of movies with a focus on oriental martial arts. They have become synonymous with over the top fighting sequences, simplistic plots and poor dubbing and are often ridiculed.

I myself is of two minds on this genre. On one hand they are fun to watch and quite exotic, while one the other they often go in ridiculous directions and the cultural rooting of these movies is often so far from western that I often get confused.

“Come Drink with Me”, I am to understand, is the mother of all Hong Kong films and certainly one of most acclaimed. I understand why. I found it thoroughly entertaining and of surprisingly high production value and better than most martial arts movies I have watched. By watching the Mandarin language version I also avoided the usual dubbing issues.

A group of bandits led by a white face “Jade Faced Tiger” (Chan Hung-lit) attacks a group of travelers to take hostage the son of a local ruler. The purpose is to exchange him for a ruler of their own, currently imprisoned. Clearly these are highly skilled swordsmen. Their plan, however, starts to become unhinged when Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) enters the fray. She is a super skilled swords master and the sister of the hostage.

While the movie seems to be leading up to an epic clash between the Tiger and the Swallow, two other characters intervene. These are Drunk Cat (Yueh Hua), a Kung Fu master of truly awesome skill disguised as a foolish drunkard and Liao Kung (Yeung Chi-hing), Drunk Cat’s old mentor and also Kung Fu master and an ally of the bandits.

This sounds simple enough and it probably is deep down, but there is an attempt at cooking up a real story here that goes a bit beyond awesome Kung Fu and while some of it was lost on me, it does make the movie interesting. I was reminded in several places of the Chinese intricacies of “The Outlaws of the March” and “The Three Kingdoms”, previously reviewed on my book blog, both in terms of plot themes and the way the characters are presented. Golden Swallow is almost certainly modelled on a female fighter with two blades in “The Outlaws of the March” and the martial arts master disguised as a drunken fool seems to be a common theme in Chinese tradition.

Yet there is no way around it, “Come Drink with Me” is mostly about awesome martial arts. Blindingly fast swords play, acrobatic jumping and battle as ballet. In fact, Cheng Pei-pei was a ballet dancer who was asked to apply the ballet grace, control and rhythm to her fight sequences and it works amazingly well. Battles in this sort of movie tend to get boring and repetitive, but “Come Drink with Me” balances the over the top fighting with a grace and speed that keeps it interesting. Sometimes the age becomes apparent when it becomes silly, but mostly it stays on the good side of the tipping point. It helps of course when you consider these Kung Fu masters as oriental super heroes of awesome powers. It is sort of the same suspense of disbelief that required watching Superman. As long as opponents are matched well, it works.

In the final analysis this was a pleasant surprise, being a lot better that I expected. I had to double check the date to ensure that this was not a more recent remake, the production value was not what I expected from Hong Kong, 1966, but far better. Definitely recommended.

Also, this is December 24th and I would like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas. May you have an enjoyable holiday.

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