Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
King Hu’s Come Drink With Me is the paragon of the type of films that populated the Hong Kong cinema market in the 60s and 70s, thanks to a global explosion of kungfu and wuxia-philia. The film contains all of the common tropes of Hong Kong cinema of the time: an unassuming martial arts master, the rogue gangster, the female sidekick, the struggle between the government and outlaws, and (quite obviously) the use of martial arts.
The film is placed in the Ming dynasty and starts off with a confrontation between government officials and bandits, who demand that their leader, who has been incarcerated, be released. When their demands are not met, the outlaws kidnap a general’s son. Golden Swallow, the general’s other child, sets out to free her brother. Golden Swallows fame precedes her and the bandits attempt to attack her while she stays at an inn. Enter Fan Da-Pei, a drunkard who turns out to secretly be a martial arts master and acts as Golden Swallows guardian angel of sorts, passing her to location of the bandits, helping her avoid being ambushed, and healing her when she becomes incapacitated by the poison of the bandit leader’s arrow.
The film can certainly be read as an allegory for the conflicting emotions of the Hong Kong public over its then current master, the English, and its former master, Mainland China. At this point, the nation has been suffering from the feeling of betrayal as, after a series of natural disasters and droughts, its motherland implemented harsh rationing tactics that limited the water it sold to Hong Kong. In addition, communism was spreading across China and for democratic Hong Kong, there was a great fear of the spread of this “evil”.
The first bandit leader we encounter is Shadow, a flamboyant and unfeeling man who is noted for his pure white dress. Even more notable is the way the character’s face is powdered a chalk white. The director’s decision to implement this cosmetic tactic cannot be looked, especially when we consider history: logistically speaking, bandit leaders cannot maintain such a fair complexion. Indeed, compared to the other bandits of his troupe, Shadow is markedly paler. Second, Hong Kong was still in the middle of its occupancy by the British during this time, which only serves to bring to mind the image of the white man (no less, a white man who is a bandit, harkening back to the English’s “stealing of Hong Kong” from the mainland during the Treaty of Nanking).
The larger threat, however, turns out to be Fan Da-Pei’s past peer, the evil abbot and kung-fu master Liao Kung. Liao Kung has killed their master in has turned corrupt in his years as an outlaw. Fan, however, is reluctant to confront Liao Kung once the abbot’s identity is revealed, as the abbot was the one who managed to convince their master to take Fan as a student, essentially pulling Fan out of a life begging on the streets and “saving” his life.
Fan’s relationship with the two bad guys reflects Hong Kong’s own relationship with its white father and Chinese mother. Hong Kong, even then, was torn between two masters: the foreigner who stole it away at night and the countryman who saved it, both of who are evil (or, at the very least, not wholly good for it), just as the movie is propelled by the appearance of two villains. Fan’s ambivalence over fighting his former peer and “life saver” speaks to China’s position as Hong Kong’s original “maker”. It perhaps also speaks to the acts Mao Tse Dong set into motion that were generally viewed in an unfavorable light on the global scale (i.e. spreading communism, etc.) Fan’s second reason for not confronting Liao is his fear that he is not strong enough. At the time, Hong Kong had yet to attain its status as a global power and was generally worse off than the PRC. If the PRC attempted to regain control over Hong Kong (as it attempted and failed to do) Hong Kong was not sure it would be able to prevent its own demise.