A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
by M. Faust
In 1985 the Coen Brothers made a splashy debut with Blood Simple, their distinctive take on the Postman Always Rings Twice subgenre of film noir. A few years later, Zhang Yimou had his first international hit with Ju Dou, also mined from the same noir vein though distinctly Chinese. Is it closing some circle that Zhang has now remade Blood Simple as a Chinese folktale? The project seems to have a pleasing kind of symmetry, but the result is a muted exercise, more watchable than Gus van Sant’s remake of Psycho but still too wedded to the original to breathe on its own.
Zhang became an international star in the last decade with a trio of luxuriantly visualized period movies—Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower—that capitalized on the post-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon interest in Chinese action cinema. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is set in China of the past (the period isn’t specified, but a gun is regarded as a significant new invention), though that’s where the similarity ends. At least for the first few reels, this is more like the kind of films made for home release in Asia, with broad characters that will grate on the nerves of western viewers who aren’t used to the style. Aside from a few flourishes (who knew that rolling noodle dough was such an art?) you may find yourself wondering if, like Tony Leung,there may not be two Zhang Yimous.
Those fears are laid to rest in the film’s extended finale, which takes up nearly half its running time and condenses the similar events of Blood Simple into a single evening and setting. As the characters stalk each other with malign intents, none of them having a correct understanding of the whole situation, it almost resembles a French stage farce without the laughs. It’s a bravura exercise that finally lacks the sting of its inspiration simply because we know how its going to end. It’s an enjoyable film that oddly will be appreciated best by people who are big fans of Blood Simple and those who have never seen it at all.
Watch the trailer for A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop
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