Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 18 is called "Wuxia Week":
"Wuxia, which literally means 'martial heroes', is a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. Although wuxia is traditionally a form of fantasy literature, its popularity has caused it to spread to diverse art forms such as Chinese opera, mànhuà, films, television series and video games. It forms part of popular culture in many Chinese-speaking communities around the world. The word "wǔxiá" is a compound composed of the elements wǔ (武, literally "martial", "military", or "armed") and xiá (俠, literally "chivalrous", "vigilante" or "hero"). A martial artist who follows the code of xia is often referred to as a xiákè (俠客, literally "follower of xia") or yóuxiá (遊俠, literally "wandering xia"). In some translations, the martial artist is referred to as a "swordsman" or "swordswoman" even though he or she may not necessarily wield a sword. The heroes in wuxia fiction typically do not serve a lord, wield military power, or belong to the aristocratic class. They often originate from the lower social classes of ancient Chinese society. A code of chivalry usually requires wuxia heroes to right and redress wrongs, fight for righteousness, remove oppressors, and bring retribution for past misdeeds. Chinese xia traditions can be compared to martial codes from other cultures such as the Japanese samurai bushidō."
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Wuxia film.
This was a late substitute, after Tsui Hark's directorial debut, The Butterfly Murders, became unavailable. Come Drink with Me is an excellent replacement. It is one of the earliest wuxia movies, and stars Cheng Pei-Pei, who many years later played Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I realized after watching the film that I had the mistaken notion that wuxia films were all "wire fu". The above Wikipedia description shows that wuxia is much broader than that, and in fact, Come Drink with Me seems to have very little wire work.
Cheng had a background in dance, which King Hu thought was more useful than training in martial arts. (Michelle Yeoh had a similar story prior to her work in action films.) Given how influential Come Drink with Me turned out to be, it's interesting that there is probably more plot than action in the film. To my eye, the action was not as impressive as in later films, but I'm not certain King Hu intended the action to be mind-blowing.
Cheng is good (and very young, only 20 at the time). The rest of the cast are more archetypal than "real", which fits the way the story is told. The version I watched was dubbed, not ideal, but better than nothing, and it added a retro feel ... it was a bit like watching dubbed kung fu movies on TV back in the day. My favorite wuxia movie is probably A Chinese Ghost Story.