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Our review of A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop, published February 1st, 2011, is also available.
"The gun…the greatest invention of mankind."
Known in the West primarily for historic epics Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower, as well as the romance/wuxia mash-up House of Flying Daggers, Chinese director Zhang Yimou is actually a filmmaker of diverse style who has experimented in everything from quiet character studies (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles), to crime pictures (Shanghai Triad), to political dramas (To Live). In 2009, Zhang decided to tip his artistic hat to two of his favorite filmmakers: Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo). His goal was to remake the Coens' first film, Blood Simple, retelling the tale in true Zhang Yimou style. The end result was A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (originally released as A Simple Noodle Story).
Transporting the Coen's story to the Guan Province desert in 19th-century China, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop concerns the young and ornery wife (Yan Ni, Kung Fu Dunk) of noodle shop owner Wang (Ni Dahong, Curse of the Golden Flower). She is having an affair with one of the shop's flamboyant employees. None-too-pleased, Wang hires an unscrupulous police officer to murder the lovers. Matters are complicated by the cop's double-dealing and the fact that Wang's wife has recently purchased a revolver from a Persian trader. Much murder, mayhem, and, oddly enough, slapstick ensues.
Ostensibly an Eastern remake of Blood Simple, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is more homage to the diversity of the Coen brothers' style than an actual remake. While its plot retains the basic shape of the Coens' debut feature, its tone is more of a kind with the absurdist comedy in Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski. Characters sport bright costumes and bug-eyed visages. One has cartoonishly outsized buckteeth. Pratfalls and cornball dialogue are plentiful. The movie's editing is sometimes a frenetic mix of whip pans and smash cuts. The mash-up of styles is an interesting experiment by Zhang Yimou, but one that doesn't quite work. It's easy to appreciate the filmmaker's strong craftsmanship; to admire his attempt at a style that diverges sharply from previous efforts like Hero and House of Flying Daggers; and to respect his desire to pay homage to Joel and Ethan Coen without merely copying them. But Blood Simple's story of infidelity, sexual jealousy, murder, double-crosses, and blind stupidity is surprisingly ineffective when separated from its Texas setting, neo-noir style, and bleak, intimate tone. Zhang's use of slapstick and broad characters feels empty compared to the grubby world of honky-tonks and duplicitous private investigators in the Coens' movie, his vivid cinematography shallow compared to Blood Simple's gritty chiaroscuro. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop would be easier to appreciate if it didn't evoke the superior texture of the film from which it borrows so liberally. Blood Simple grips the viewer with its earnest tone and the irritatingly poor decision-making of its lead characters. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop holds the viewer at arms' length with a self-conscious use of cinematic technique and zany slapstick. Signature moments from Blood Simple—as when Frances McDormand pins M. Emmet Walsh's hand to a window sill with a knife as he tries to attack her—have little narrative power or emotional weight when duplicated in Zhang's film.
Whatever its narrative flaws, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is a good-looking movie. Zhang and his go-to cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao shot the picture on high-definition digital video, digitally punching up the color timing in post-production. The result is a crisp and vivid image with incredible depth and detail. The heightened look is a perfect match for the movie's cartoon sensibilities, though it undermines the story's emphasis on the depravity of the human soul. This Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC transfer delivers startling color fidelity and an image so clear it's like gazing through a window.
The single audio option is a DTS-HD master audio mix of the movie's original Mandarin soundtrack. It's impressive in its fine detail, occasional bombastic effects, and subtle use of the entire soundstage. There are optional English subtitles, as well as a separate set of captions for the hearing-impaired.
Aside from a theatrical trailer, the only extra is Creating A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, a collection of 19 featurettes that, combined, run nearly two hours in length and cover nearly every aspect of the production. The pieces, which favor behind-the-scenes footage over interview segments, can be accessed individually from the Special Features menu, or viewed as a feature-length documentary by way of a Play All option.
Zhang Yimou's A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is a noble experiment that ultimately fails. Undeniably beautiful to look at, it's a shadow of the movie it aims to honor.
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