Dahong Ni, Ni Yan, Xiao Shen-Yang
Jianquan Shi, Jing Shang, (based upon "Blood Simple" by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
Over 100 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes
It had to seem like a surefire idea, blending the directorial talent of Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) with a storyline first brought to life by the Coen Brothers in Blood Simple.
Great idea. Modest result.
Wang (Dahong Ni) is a miserable yet rather ingenious noodle shop owner in a Chinese desert town. Wang's wife (Ni Yan) secretly goes out with Li (Xiao Shen-Yang), one of his employees. Wang schemes to murder his adulterous wife and Li, hiring a local detective named Zhang (Honglei Sun). However, Zhang appears to have an agenda of his own.
Adultery. Murder. Deception. More murder.
It's the character of Zhang that affords fans of Blood Simple the greatest opportunities to compare and contrast the two films, with Sun's character interpretation differing greatly from that of M. Emmet Walsh's portrayal of Visser in the original film. In Blood Simple, Visser was a more expressive and gleefully twisted man seemingly motivated by greed. Honglei Sun takes a quieter, more soulful approach to the character that seems befitting the Asian culture in which this film is set. There are other moments, many of them actually, that will either delight or horrify fans of the debut work from the Coen Brothers ranging from single, unforgettable shots to spoken lines and even entire scenes that seem to have been planted into an entirely different culture.
The first 20 minutes of A Woman, A Gun and Noodleshop is surprisingly light for a Zhang Yimou film, yet it fits will within the context of its original source material. While the Coen Brothers have always had a rather dark sense of humor, Yimou has always leaned more towards quieter, more somber tones. The quieter, more somber tones do quickly arrive in the film and for the most part never leave once the action begins to unfold.
Whereas Blood Simple exists in many ways as a contemporary example of the lasting power of noir, Yimou's film seems content to strive for some semblance of regard as a thriller. The Coen Brothers painted a world that was dark and dim, Yimou's world here is filled with vibrancy and color complemented by the camera work of Xiaoding Zhao. Yet, there's something about A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop that feels off-kilter or simply missing. Amidst its noir touches and palpable suspense, a looming menace and stark humanity hangs over Blood Simple to such a degree that it remains a powerful thriller to this day. The impact of this film, on the other hand, feels muted and more staged than suspenseful. It is staged well, but being staged well simply isn't enough when you are using a film such as Blood Simple as your model.
Fans of Zhang Yimou will, in all likelihood, not be disappointed by this film but will likely acknowledge that it is middling Yimou at best. While there are moments of pure cinematic delight to be found here, they pale in comparison to Blood Simple.
A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop comes out on DVD February 1, 2011 released by distrib Sony Classics. The film includes over 100 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes that are, in themselves, worth a rental or a purchase by diehard fans of Yimou. While the featurettes don't particularly feature any enlightening gems, they are still a delight.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic