A 19th Century China Remake Of Blood Simple? Crazy I Calls It!

Woman, Gun, Noodle Shop

To be completely honest, when I first heard there was going to be a Chinese remake of the Coen Brothers brilliant first film, Blood Simple, I thought it was a crazy – and completely idiotic – idea. Even after I learned that it would be directed by Zhang Yimou [Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero], I wasn’t convinced. Then I blinked and missed its brief theatrical run. Fortunately, I was able to garner a review copy of this week’s DVD release and I am flabbergasted by just how good it is.

The short version: when a Chinese noodle shop owner, Wang [Ni Dahong], hires a policeman, Zheng San [Sun Honglei] to kill his adulterous wife [Yan Ni] and her lover [Xiao Shengyang], things do not go as well as he’d hoped.

A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop opens with a Persian trader putting on a dazzling show with a sword in order to entice the noodle shop owner’s wife to buy the weapon. When she’s unimpressed, he unveils the latest technology – the gun. When she’s impressed, he goes for the clincher – a cannon! It’s too big – and too loud – so she decides to buy a gun. It’s a stocky, three barreled thing, with huge bullets. A problem in translation convinces everyone it’d kill a moose, so she’s happy with it.

When Wang, the noodle shop owner, hears his wife has bought a gun, he concludes that she’s purchased it to kill him – and promptly hires an impassive policeman to kill her and her flamboyant lover, Li. Li and two others – Zhao Liu [Cheng Ye] and Chen [Mao Mao] – work in the shop, where they wait tables and make noodles [there’s a great sequence where the three make noodles and it has the same kind of theatrics as a great martial arts sequence].

The characters are sketched in fairly quickly: in one scene, we learn why Wang believes his pretty, much younger wife wants to kill him, as we see him burning her back with a hot pipe; in another, we learn why Wang’s wife loves Li – and is sometimes frustrated by him; discover Zhao’s love of money and his unrequited adoration of Chen, and see that Chen suffers the same kind of unrequited adoration for Li. The only character who is a cipher is the corrupt policeman, whom Sun plays as stoic to a fault.

One of the reasons that Noodle shop works is that it is not, quite, a beat for beat remake. There are variations in storytelling and detail. Events may transpire in the same sequence as the original, but there are significant differences in setting, timing and humor. Where Blood Simple is dark in terms of both atmosphere and humor, Noodle shop is bright and sunny, its characters in striking colors and sequences that recall martial arts and slapstick. Where Blood Simple is set in a contemporary city, Wang’s noodle shop is in the middle of nowhere – it’s customers mostly travelers and platoons of patrolling police.

The cinematography, by Zhao Xiaoding [House of Flying Daggers], is frequently spectacular. He captures the beauty and isolation of the area in ways that both hold the eye and propel the story. A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop is one of Yimou’s most gorgeous films and certainly his most unusual.

Where Blood Simple is a darkly twisted blackly comic take on noir, A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop is a bright, sunny, deeply twisted period piece with equally black [but more sunnily shot] humor.

Features: Creating A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle House [a collection of nineteen short featurettes: Styling The Actors; Workaholic Director Zhang Yimou; Casting the Film; Director Zhang Yimou Discusses the Look of the Film; Director Zhang Yimou Discusses The Script; Actors Who Like to Sing; The Filming Starts; Actors Joking Around; Behind The Scenes Antics; In the Make-Up Trailer; Actors Discus Their Roles; The Actors Discuss Zhang Yimou; Zhang Yimou Directs the Cast; Actor’s Features; First Day of Shooting; Time to Dance; Actors Trying New Things; Actors In Their Roles]; Theatrical Trailer.

Grade: A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodle Shop – A

Grade: Features – B

Final Grade: A-