By Marc Glassman
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Zhang Yimou, director
Xu Zhengchao and Shi Jianquan, script
Based on Blood Simple by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Sun Honglei (Zhang), Ni Dahong (Wang), Yan Ni (Wang’s wife), Xiao Shenyang (Li), Ye Cheng (Zhao), Mao Mao (Chen)
You’ve got to hand it to Zhang Yimou. Who else but the internationally acclaimed Chinese director–a Cannes, Berlin and Venice Film Festival winner—could have brought to the screen an eccentric and comic version of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple? And, quite frankly, who else would have wanted to?
Blood Simple launched the Coen Brothers’ careers back in the 80s. Back then, critics were enamoured by its stark, brutal quality. Stripped of any comic or sentimental touches, it reduced a film noir plot to its essentials. An owner of a bar hires a detective to find out if his wife is cheating on him; when he finds it that she is, he arranges for them to be murdered. Naturally, things don’t work out well. There are lots of betrayals and murders before a final, quite quirky death scene concludes the film.
Zhang Yimou, who has staged Turandot at the Forbidden City and directed Tan Dun’s The First Emperor at the Met has taken the Coen Brothers’ dark tale (inspired by a Dashiell Hammett story) and turned it into mock operatic tale–without the music. Apparently he was inspired by the famed Chinese opera San-Cha-Kou as well as Hammett. Now, that’s as global as you can get.
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is placed in the gorgeous sandy dunes of Northern China, far from the Coen Brothers’ small Texas town. Yimou has added comic characters to his tale, a buck toothed, quite large male servant and a dithering tiny maid named Zhao and Chen. They overact in a buffoonish manner but then so do the leads.
Wang, the cuckolded husband, is a mean, over-bearing character; his wife would be a femme fatale but she whines too much and Li, the sexy suitor is nearly paralyzed with fear. Only Zhang, the killer, played by Sun Honglei is allowed any dignity.
It’s hard to fathom what Yimou wanted to do with this film. It’s beautifully shot and the plot still is fascinating. But A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop isn’t funny. Nor is it scary. Too bad he didn’t put in some music. The film might have had a chance as a “noir” opera.