By Don Simpson | September 21, 2010
Director: Zhang Yimou
Writer(s): Jianquan Shi (screenplay), Jing Shang (screenplay), Ethan & Joel Coen (1984 screenplay Blood Simple)
Starring: Ni Dahong, Yan Ni, Xiao Shenyang, Cheng Ye, Sun Honglei, Mao Mao
Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern, 2008 Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony) has created a very odd (borderline crazy) “remake” of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1984 iconic cinematic debut, Blood Simple. Taking the basic botched murder plot of Blood Simple (missing gun, ransacked safe and undead corpse) along with its basic slapstick elements, Yimou transplanted his film into a strange (if not surreal) cinematic world — the highly stylized 19th-century universe of China featuring elaborately colored costumes, an unreal setting and classic characters (the wicked older husband, the scheming younger wife, the fumbling coward and the funny-looking buffoon).
Wang (Ni Dahong) — Blood Simple’s Julian Marty — is the miserly owner of a noodle shop that sits all by its lonesome on a dramatically painted desert mountain range. Wang’s unnamed wife (Yan Ni) — Blood Simple’s Abby — is having an affair with the supremely effeminate Li (Xiao Shenyang) — Blood Simple’s Ray. There is also the comic relief of the bucktoothed Zhao (Cheng Ye) — Blood Simple’s Meurice — and his girlfriend, Chen (Mao Mao).
Wang’s wife is plotting her revenge for Wang’s abuse; she has recently purchased a gun, so Wang has just cause for concern. Wang hires Zhang (Sun Honglei) — Blood Simple’s Detective Visser — a police officer who, clad head to toe in blue armor, specializes in adultery to track and kill his (presumably) cheating wife and Li. Zhang does not give a damn about Li and Wang’s (presumably) cheating wife; he has his eyes on the prize — the innards of Wang’s safe.
Yimou’s re-creation does, at times, mirror Blood Simple down to the compositional level (such as the camera tracing a trail of blood down an arm, following the trail until it reaches a puddle on the floor), yet by setting (and focusing on) a tone of clownish buffoonery, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop truly pushes the limits of absurdity. Where Blood Simple was ironic and dark, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is flamboyantly over-the-top. Yimou’s use of ultra-vivid colors (bright blue skies, striped mountains, brilliantly colored fabrics) adds to the overall sense of hyperactive, cartoonish energy.
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is quite silly and visually it is pure eye-popping candy, but unfortunately there is no plot or character development to hold it all together. Sure the subject matter in Blood Simple plays second fiddle to the compositional and technical feats, but with A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop the subject matter is not even a blip on the radar.
Presumably A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop did receive the Coens’ seal of approval. Then again, would the Coens actually tell an esteemed filmmaker such as Zhang Yimou that they did not approve of his remake?