The latest releases from the Weinstein Brothers’ Dragon Dynasty DVD label are two classics from the Shaw Brothers vault: 1966’s Come Drink with Me and 1979’s Heroes of the East. Both are classic chopsocky flicks, with a whole lot of fighting, cheesy dialogue, fight scenes crammed full of stock sound effects (“THWAP THWAP THWAP! WHOOSH!”), and bright, bold colors. Even though both films--which have been restored, and look great--boast various audio tracks, I think maybe the best way to describe them is that they’re exactly the sort of movies that don’t feel right unless you’re watching them with the goofily dubbed English audio tracks.
More thoughts on Come Drink with Me and Heroes of the East, plus trailers for both films, after the jump. THWAP THWAP THWAP! WHOOSH!
“Well, aren’t you the feisty one! And you’re bloodthirsty as well!” one character says to Come Drink with Me’s heroine, the dubiously named Golden Swallow (played by Chen Pei Pei, who was then 19, and is probably best known to Western audiences for her role as Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Come Drink with Me is one of the first kung fu flicks to feature an asskicking chick as one of it’s main characters, but it also stars Yueh Hua as a drunkard beggar, which, of course, is code in kung fu movies for “secret kung fu master who's transparently pretending to just be a drunk beggar.” There’s some great fighting, and the set design is big and broad and hypercolored and cartoonishly gorgeous and plasticine. Actually, Come Drink with Me is exactly the sort of flick that people think of when they hear “kung fu,” for good and for ill: On one hand, the film rigorously follows the kung fu template (from the aforementioned drunk beggar/kung fu master character to a fey, pale-faced, simpering villain); on the other, it’s bloody and fun and shows why that template’s so effective and fun.
Heroes of the East starts off with the plot of a romantic comedy, which is weird, seeing as how the comedy’s all slapstick and the romance is, at best, uncomfortable. Long story short: Kung fu legend Gordon Liu (who, like Pei Pei, is probably best known to Western audiences for his role in another modern kung fu flick: he played Pai Mei in Kill Bill) is betrothed to a Japanese chick, Kuda (Yuka Mizuno). Upon marrying Kuda, he finds out that she’s also a badass martial artist, and Gordon gets alternately insecure and controlling about his wife’s hobby--and through various plot contrivances, he soon discovers, as the film’s trailer puts it, “eight ace Japanese fighters” who've come to China to kick his ass/defend the honor of Kuda in particular, and of Japanese martial arts in general. Heroes of the East’s lighthearted plot takes a long time to set up, but once it gets rolling, there’s not much more to the film than a series of different kung fu fights showing off different weapons and fighting techniques, with Liu facing off against the aforementioned ace Japanese fighters. (The chapter titles on the DVD are a pretty good indication of the film's plot: Chapter 9: “Drunken Boxing,” Chapter 10: “Karate,” Chapter 11: “Pole & Staff,” Chapter 12: “Yali & Sai,” Chapter 13: “A Slippery Situation,” Chapter 14: “Ninjitsu,” etc.)
Heroes of the East is cool, though: The fighting’s solid, the bright, surreal Shaw Brothers visual style is in full effect, Liu’s great as a character who alternates between being a douchey milquetoast and a kung fu hero, and Mizuno, as his strong-willed wife, has a punchy personality and charm that’s usually missing from these sort of productions. (Come Drink with Me gets a lot of credit for having one of its main asskicking roles held by a woman, and rightfully so, but it’s actually Heroes of the East that has a stronger and more likeable female character--or at least it does until she totally gets forgotten about in the midst of the kung fu demo that the film becomes.)
(There’s also some interesting racial stuff going on Heroes: One of the films’ big themes is that Chinese kung fu is apparently straightforward and honest and honorable, while the Japanese style of ninjitsu, according to the film, is a sneaky and underhanded way of starting/winning fights.)
The special features on both discs are pretty standard for the Dragon Dynasty line: There’s commentary on both films by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, interviews with cast members, and the original trailers. All of it feels pretty rote, though in one featurette on Come Drink With Me, Logan has some interesting things to say about the contributions of director King Hu and star Chen Pei Pei, while Heroes has a pretty bewildering featurette in which a chipper host, Kea Wong, goes to different martial arts studios and has various experts teach her some introductory basics of different fighting styles. While it’s nice to see Dragon Dynasty starting to branch out a bit from their standard array of special features, I guess, this thing’s just kind of weird--it’s like watching somebody you don’t really know attend a stilted fist-time karate lesson.
But the special features aren’t really the reason to check these DVDs out--the films themselves are. If you’re into this sort of stuff, both of these discs will make solid additions to your DVD library, but if you're just curious about old school kung fu, it'd be hard to think of two better films as introductions to the genre. (Well, after another Gordon Liu flick, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, I guess. That one's just totally unfuckwithable. I think the RZA would agree with me.*)
*Just FYI, from here on out, I'm going to end everything I write with the phrase, "I think the RZA would agree with me."