A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop -- Film Review
HONG KONG -- "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" (previously titled "A Simple Noodle Story") is Zhang Yimou's remake of the Coen brothers' "Blood Simple" as a Chinese period thriller-farce in a desert setting.
A high-rolling but garish production with untranslatable regional ribald humor, it is aimed squarely at the China market, where the genre of "e gao" (comic brawls and rascally high jinks) is all the rage. In less than three weeks, it has racked up $32.4 million from domestic cinemas.
You'd probably savor this more if you have some affinity with Northwestern Chinese culture than if you're a Coen or Zhang aficionado. To promote the film, Sony Pictures Classics, which owns distribution rights in some continents including the U.S., could highlight the novelty of this cultural crossover and the film's gung-ho energy.
The Texan bar in "Blood Simple" is transposed to a noodle shop in the desert of Shaanxi province, run by Wang Mazi (Ni Dahong). His shrewish wife (Yan Ni) buys a gun from traveling Persian salesmen, raising a cloud of suspicion among the staff.
When the Persians test fire a canon, it causes the local brigade to raid the shop. The brigade chief's aide, Zhang San (Sun Honglei), privately approaches Wang to tell on his wife's affair with apprentice Li Si (Xiao Shenyang). Wang hires Zhang to murder the adulterers. More double-crossings and crossed purposes ensue when Zhang's hidden agenda surfaces.
Although key plot points are taken lock, stock and barrel from the original, pacing is much more frenetic with characters and cameras in restless motion. The intervals are crammed with exotic sight gags and colloquial wordplay, such as a dough-making scene choreographed like a plate-spinning acrobatic show or the group hip-hop dance routine accompanied by Zhang Yimou's rap song in his native Shaanxi dialect.
Much of the film's tone of is set by Wang's servants Zhao Liu (Cheng Ye) and Chen Qi (Mao Mao), who function as hick Chinese versions of the leads in "Dumb and Dumber." When they debate whether to bust Wang's vault, they recite a chunk of tongue-twisting dialogue in one take -- an instance when technical showmanship shines through even if the parody is lost in translation.
These elements and the deliberate use of anachronistic contemporary slang give the film its quintessentially Chinese character. However, their specific cultural references and the cast's screechingly noisy acting style are what eventually wear out non-Chinese viewers.
Likewise, the Coens' cool, noirish observations on humans' cynical nature and mutual distrust are somewhat lost in the boisterous mood created by the stir-crazy characters.
Panoramic shots of brick-red sand dunes capturing the landscape's barren beauty are juxtaposed with gaudy art direction and costume design that cockily flout the usual aesthetic sophistication in Zhang's works, as if he has decided to dab all the separate color schemes of "Hero" onto one palette.
Opened in Hong Kong: Dec. 24
Production companies: Beijing New Picture Film Company, Edko (Beijing) Management Consultancy Co. Ltd, Sony Pictures Classics
Sales: Sony Pictures Classics, Edko Film Company
Cast: Yan Ni, Xiao Shenyang, Sun Honglei, Ni Dahong, Cheng Ye, Mao Mao
Director: Zhang Yimou
Comedy director: Shang Jing
Screenwriters: Xu Zhengchao, Shi Jianquan
Executive producers: Bill Kong, Zhang Weiping
Director of photography: Zhao Xiaoding
Art director: Han Zhong
Music: Zhao Lin
Costume designer: Wang Qiuping
Editor: Meng Peicong
No rating, 94 minutes