I know what you’re thinking, American filmmakers have been ripping off ideas for films from Asia in the past recent years (most especially in horror and drama) that it would be fine if Asian filmmakers turned the tables on them. Well, director Zhang Yimou seems to have this very idea when he made a Chinese re-issue of the Coen Brothers’ now-classic “Blood Simple” with “A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” (or if you prefer “A Simple Noodle Story” as it was called in Asia).
The basic premise of the Coens creation remains the same with some obvious changes such as the story takes place in 19th century China and that the characters have some different dynamics allotted them by the direction. Wang (Ni Dahiong) is a rich businessman who owns a noodle shop and he has a wife (Yan Ni) who is having an affair with one of their employees, Li (Xiao Shenyang). Suspicious after he heard news that his wife had bought a pistol from a Persian merchant, Wang instructs a detective named Zhang (Sun Hong Lei) to look into the matter and then to kill his adulterous wife and her lover if proven guilty. Through accident, misunderstanding, and pure coincidence, things begins to spiral out of control, resulting not just the deaths of one or two, but several other people not involved in the affair at all.
The film has a very similar script as with “Blood Simple” but this time around, the wife (unnamed here) is the central focus of the story as well as the detective who plays the odd, dark wildcard. Set in the 19th century, the film also incorporates certain cultural issues as with Wang’s ability to buy a bride, and this is obviously a time when rich men can have numerous concubines that they can abuse if they wish. The wife sees her affair with Li as something that she can hold on to while she bears the abuses of her rich husband, whom she married for social status. Li may either be in love or not with the wife, but one thing was fairly obvious, he has this twisted loyalty towards his boss that even though he is in this affair, he feels guilt. Zhang is the film’s Visser in the original; he is methodical, careful and he sees this as an opportunity to change his life and he can clean up his act after all is said and done.
There are no heroes and villains in Zhang Yimou’s film, (as with the Coen original) the film is entrenched in themes of betrayal, greed, guilt, stupidity, over-zealousness and serves as a cautionary tale for those whose actions are based on less than noble reasons. I have to admit, “Noodle Shop” is just as enthrallingly clever as “Blood Simple”, Yimou maintains a pace that keeps his viewer intrigued. I have to say that Yimou and the screenplay by Xu Zhengchao and Shi Jiangvah may be more energetic and fun than the original. It has that grim humorous atmosphere that makes its characters very interesting, as they all try to cover their tracks and to stay one step ahead of one another. The supporting cast played by Mao Mao and Ye Cheng prove their worth as they fumble, gossip, scheme to make sure that they get paid for their work. I was also impressed with the way the direction remembered to inject some nice touches of Chinese noodle making, and it looked more like art than anything else.
I am quite familiar with Yimou’s work and I’ve always liked his manner of letting his jokes play off of each other. He doesn’t do the comedy in a slapstick kind of way, rather he allows his viewer to see certain details as odd and humorous. There is an odd way for the police to announce themselves, as they are on horseback and yet they have this unique device that manipulates air that makes an odd siren-like noise. Yimou also knows when to use cinematic pauses to let the viewer take in all he has seen, Yimou has a knack for making meager devices into a charm; and aided by the unique form of photography executed by Yimou’s cinematographer, the viewer is kept in a place where everything looks fresh. I loved the way the barren wasteland is given character through the use of simple, yet snazzy light effects to express the passage of time; it almost speaks as if the darkness hides the schemers and the light reveals the hidden truth.
“A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” stays true to the story that inspired it, I liked the ending but I thought while its similarities to “Blood Simple” may be its strength, I thought Yimou could’ve played it differently. I am not sure, there was a lot of inventive touches here and there, even for a remake and I felt somehow let down that it just became that simple in the end. I guess I liked the clever changes Yimou had set in the film’s entirety and I felt that the climax was a tad bit lazy that he could’ve done it better. But hey, I loved the idea of a Chinese director giving his take on a premise such as “Blood Simple”. The fresh new style and flavor he had incorporated were very appealing and arguably even more attractive than the source material. The film is a form of appealing stylish art, it maintains that clever execution that spiced up its flavor. Yes, the film is a good exercise in direction, but it is to be argued if it was necessary.
Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]
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