Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Wonder if They Serve Punch

Film: Da Zui Xia (Come Drink With Me)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

The wuxia genre is a fun one, but not one I know very well. There are only a couple of films from this genre on The List, so I won’t be getting too familiar with it in the near future, either. Da Zui Xian (Come Drink With Me is a relatively early entry in the genre, and an early one in the career of direction King Hu. It shows its age and its relative ineptitude in places, but it stil proves to be a movie very much worth seeing, if only for the history of the genre.

Like many a wuxia film, I’m not completely positive I followed every nuance of the plot. Only the most diehard fan will have the desire to unravel all of the different plot threads here. It’s perhaps too complicated for a film that is based on seeing people punch each other repeatedly. A group of bandits has had their leader captured by the authorities of the area. The leader is being led off for execution. In retaliation, they kidnap the son of the governor, hoping to enact a trade—the leader for the son. If they don’t get their leader back, they’ll kill the son, no questions asked.

Rather than negotiate, the governor (whom we never see) sends an agent named Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei, best known to American audiences as the evil nanny Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). Golden Swallow happens also to be the brother of the captured young man, so not only is she fighting for what her governor wants, she is looking to rescue her brother as well. Fights start almost immediately. Her initial negotiations with a man named Smiling Tiger (Lee Wan-chung) devolves into bloodshed almost immediately.

Golden Swallow is also assisted in her task by a man commonly called “Drunk Cat” (Yueh Hua). Disguised as a beggar, he is actually the leader of a Kung Fu sect, moving from place to place to establish schools. He has a mortal enemy, another Kung Fu master who assassinated the original leader of the sect in an effort to take it over. Naturally enough, he shows up here to assist the bandits.

Really, that’s all that’s going on here. Golden Swallow tries to figure out where her brother is being held and fights break out along the way with disturbing regularity. Drunk Cat, who goes by a few other names throughout, jumps in to help when he can, and despite his evident love of alcohol, is actually quite effective in doing so. Eventually we get a couple of showdowns that put the two stories to an end before the film pretty much stops abruptly.

Da Zui Xia is not going to make anyone who isn’t a fan of chop-socky films into one. It is very rudimentary in a lot of ways because it was the first wuxia film from director King Hu. Because of this, it does not have the same level of fight choreography or fascinating stunts that the genre is really noted for. It’s far too tame in comparison to most other films of a similar nature. Again, this comes from the relative inexperience of the film’s novice director.

This sort of issue actually plagues the film a great deal. The plot, for its surface simplicity, is actually quite complicated in places, or is simply but poorly explained. Connections between characers simply happen without any real rhyme or reason. Things just sort of…happen…because the plot needs them to.

Much more damning is that the conclusion of this film is a huge letdown. We’re essentially promised a couple of real barnburners of fights, but we get battles that end up being little more than a yawn. The final confrontation between Drunk Cat and his evil mentor lasts maybe a couple of minutes all told, and not a lot happens here to warrant any excitement.

The stunt work is also very odd, and that’s being nice. In a few places, the work appears flat-out amateur. It leaves me to wonder if King Hu left these scenes in on purpose or simply didn’t notice It appears like the intent is to make this a trend-setting film, the kind that everyone who makes films in the genre want to redo.

My understanding is that Da Zui Xia is influential and in fact has been copied many times over. That, more than any other reason, is why it’s worth an hour and a half of your time.

Why to watch Da Zui Xia: An early entry into a fascinating genre..
Why not to watch: It has strange continuity and plot problems.

2 comments:

  1. You are quite right,Steve,this film together with Hu's Raining in the Mountain influenced Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon.

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    1. I can see that. Crouching Tiger is a better film, but I can see where Lee got a lot from Hu's style.

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