This summer has been a good one for lady-led franchises. We had a first in the modern comic book film era – Wonder Woman, the first female-led superhero solo film. Jodie Whittaker is the next Doctor. Sure, we’ve had some excellent women characters take key roles in team flicks, like Black Widow in The Avengers, and Jessica Jones remains one of the best comic TV shows ever produced. But while Iron Man, Batman, and even Ant-Man have gotten their spotlight, we’ve all been waiting for that same treatment to come to lady heroes for quite some time now.
Ah, yes, give that hug monster a movie, immediately!
(Side note: If you haven’t seen Whittaker’s amazing role as Beth in Broadchurch, you should give it a watch – Doctor Who fans will see another familiar face hiding in the series, too.)
This week will see another face-punching woman hitting all the bad guys: Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron. With upcoming director of Deadpool 2 and heavily acclaimed stunt coordinator David Leitch at the helm, here’s hoping for another John Wick level flick.
So to commemorate this monumental season, we at Screen Geek would like to highlight a similarly ground breaking film in a typically male-filled genre – 1966 kung-fu classic Come Drink With Me.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Come Drink With Me falls more specifically into the wuxia film genre, where the martial artist is treated more like a superhero than a fighter. The earliest wuxia films can be traced back to the 1920’s, and are marked by choreography filled with acrobatics. Special effects were heavy in these early films, complete with trampolines, wire-work, and sped-up camera tricks to make the fights look even more surreal.
The golden age of wuxia came in the 60’s, with the emergence of production company Shaw Brothers Studio, where Come Drink with Me director, King Hu had much of his work distributed out from. With the rise of the genre came the rise in the female lead, not as a damsel in distress, but as a protector and warrior. Stars like Connie Chan and Yu So-chow flew across the screen, beautiful, as actors always are, but badass, ready to kick you in face and not afraid to get sweaty doing it.
Connie Chan, however, does not need to break a sweat when taking down a giant pile of bad guys. This is because she is cool.
This brings us to Come Drink With Me, one of the few wuxia films from this era with enough “oomph” to have made it across the sea to the good ole U.S. of A. A truly excellent example of the fun and drama that are the hallmarks of the genre, Come Drink With Me stars the immortally cool Cheng Pei-Pei as Golden Swallow, with almost as cool Yueh Hua and Chan Hung-lit playing respective roles as drunken hero and scary gangster villain.
Cheng Pei-Pei is simultaneously grace and strength, which makes a ton of sense when you consider her career as a ballet dancer before being discovered for the Chinese film industry. Her Golden Swallow is reckless and overconfident, but in the way that only someone who is really super good as ass kicking on a continual basis would be. She is on a mission to save her brother from bandits, and she really does not have time for any crap that may distract her from that goal.
“Get in my way, and I will distract you from your goal by cutting off many parts of your body.”
Come Drink With Me has everything you could want from a great wuxia film – flowing fight choreography, betrayal and redemption, beautiful music, singing orphans, and the destruction of typical gender norms. Plus, there’s a rumor out that Jackie Chan was one of those performing orphans. Now, you can play the riveting game of “Which Tiny Orphan Child Is Mr. Chan?” Keep in mind the rumor was denied by Cheng Pei-Pei herself, so the answer to the game is probably none of them, but don’t let that take away all of your fun.
I don’t want to give away too much about the film, as it is actually quite short, but I do have to say this: there’s a part with a band of women warriors just demolishing a whole bunch of bad dudes, and it’s one of the best things you’ll ever see.
The success of Come Drink With Me was echoed in the early 00’s, when wuxia broke through to Hollywood with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Fittingly, you’ll recognize Cheng Pei-Pei as Jade Fox, master assassin. The influences of wuxia are seen all over modern action films (The Matrix for a flashy example), but the female warrior is one of the tropes of the genre that hasn’t made as much of a stronghold in the industry.
Nearly 50 years later, and still very willing to come after your face with swords.
Here’s hoping Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde can help change that.
In the meantime, you can watch Come Drink With Me for a taste of the past and a long legacy of kicking ass.
Have you seen Come Drink With Me? Have any other films you’d like to see us do a retro review of? Let us know in the comments!