For our third week, we watched King Hu’s Come Drink With Me. At the start of the movie, I was fully expecting it to be centered around Golden Swallow since she is the focus of the trailers, the movie posters, and the cover of the DVD. It did not occur to me that her character, a straight-laced daughter of a governor, did not correlate with the title at all. Even when the actual drunk character appeared for the first time, it did not occur to me immediately that the story is about him. Despite being a little put off that such a strong heroine was snubbed in favor for Drunken Cat, I cannot help but find how King Hu presented him throughout the film (mainly the first two thirds of the movie) to be an interesting way to add depth to this character.
The whole background of Drunken Cat is that he is a martial arts master in hiding, so it does not come as a surprise that he initially shows up as some random bystander during the showdown between Golden Swallow and Smiling Tiger and his underlings. Although it soons becomes apparent that he knows more than it appears, he is very reluctant to own up to his efforts to help. It says a lot about his character where he is a good person who cannot stop himself from helping, even though it could risk his identity being revealed.
The second half of the fight scene at the temple best showcases Drunken Cat’s overall role in Come Drink With Me. While Golden Swallow and Jade Tiger’s gang drive the action, it is really Drunken Cat who saves the day. There’s a short shot of Golden Swallow jumping out the suddenly open temple window before the bad guys follow where Drunken Cat is hidden in the foreground, hinting he was the one who opened the way for her. His presence becomes more obvious as the fight carries on, but King Hu cuts it in a way that shots of Drunken Cat appear quickly in contrast to the long shots between Golden Swallow and Jade Tiger. This pacing makes the audience focus on Golden Swallow and Jade Tiger while also slowly drawing attention to “the man behind the curtain”, the real star of the movie, Drunken Cat.
This week we watched King Hu’s Sons of Good Earth and as the first East Asian film that I’ve watched in awhile, it reminded me how different Asian storytelling is from Western (Or should I say, Hollywood) storytelling. One element in particular I noticed was that the overall pacing of the film felt natural, given that events were unfolding over years. Time was taken to show the development of relationships, especially for the main characters, Yu Rui and He Hua. When at first we can see that He Hua is clearly uncomfortable with Yu Rui and his friend as she is very hesitant to go with them, the audience is eventually shown a scene where she’s hesitant to part with Yu Rui even when the times get very difficult during the Japanese occupation. This pacing left an impression on me because some of the movies I’ve watched consisted of the entire two hours of the film occurring within a single night, leaving me with a very jarring feeling since the development of the plot felt too rushed or too convenient to conclude so quickly.
Alongside pacing, I liked how the acting really developed the characters, which helped my understanding how they were feeling since I had difficulty interpreting their intonations in their Chinese dialogue. There is one scene in particular that I liked a lot in Sons of Good Earth that I felt illustrated He Hua’s character well. It’s the scene soon after He Hua makes a deal with the General in order to release Yu Rui. Now, the audience has already seen her ready to jump out of a window to escape prostitution in the beginning of the film, but here we see her as technically a free woman. She didn’t have to make a sacrifice for Yu Rui. As the audience watches her follow the General with a deadened expression we can really feel that she’s practically sold her soul for her husband. After she sees Yu Rui walking free in the streets below the restaurant, we can see that she understands that she cannot join him. I don’t remember exactly when she does it, but I distinctly remember her readily accepting a drink (when earlier she could hardly bring herself to lift her glass) and then chugging it down to brace herself before she attempts to fling herself off the balcony. In comparison to the previous lady who became the General’s mistress who broke mentally, He Hua refuses in serving him after seeing that her husband is actually free. She would rather die than submit to the General, is how I took it. Although she’s not firing a gun, I considered it showing how strong willed He Hua is.