A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (2010)

Director:  Zhang Yimou
Cast:  Ni 
Dahong, Yan Ni, Xiao Shen-Yang 

Plot:  The owner of a Chinese noodle shop's scheme to murder his adulterous wife and her lover goes awry.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).
Runtime:  95min
Rating:  PG for some violence.

Five minutes into the film, I asked myself, “Is this a Zhang Yimou picture?” When the film ended ninety minutes later, I asked myself a more relevant question, “What the f*** happened to Zhang Yimou?” A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop is easily the worst film of his career. I cannot imagine such a talented director stooping any lower than this.

Based on the Coens’ debut feature Blood Simple (1984), A Woman is a remake of an acclaimed film best left untouched. To be fair to Zhang, he is entitled (and has the pedigree) to remake any American film to suit Eastern tastes. After all, Hollywood have been “accused of stealing” ideas from the East, the most high profile of which is Scorsese’s Oscar-winning Boston crime drama The Departed (2006), a loose remake of Alan Mak and Lau Wai-keung’s Infernal Affairs (2002).

Zhang is perfectly capable of remaking a Coens’ picture, no matter how idiosyncratic their works are. But he gets nearly all his bearings wrong here. A Woman starts off with an overly farcical situation over the sale of weapons by a Persian to the Chinese workers of a noodle shop. This situation sets a bright, comical tone to the proceedings. However, there is a possibility that such perky mood setting will make the film feel “cheap” like a recycled comedy sitcom shown on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The morbid seriousness that characterized the original will then be difficult to project later in the film.

Zhang’s attempt to bring in elements of suspense is obligatory but it feels unsurprisingly odd. The mood change then becomes the most glaring fault of the film. No one makes a thriller which starts out with silly comedic situations – unless you are Hollywood lacking in ideas (see the irony?) – and then tries to get it right later on. Half the time I am unable to determine where Zhang is heading with the film.

Fans of Zhang will admire the art direction and costumes used in the film, but only a true Coen fan will identify the story as the film’s main ingenuity. Zhang does well to faithfully adapt the source’s screenplay. And as a tribute to the Coens, he even tastefully copies nearly every major set-piece from Blood Simple especially towards its spine-chilling climax. As a cinephile, I enjoy such references. But when it is done too faithfully, the story in the remake version loses its meaning. The most telling example is the final shot of the “water droplet falling onto the guard’s face”. In Blood Simple, that scene holds multiple meanings, but in A Woman, it achieves nothing to that effect.

The final nail in the coffin would be the Slumdog Millionaire (2008) influenced end credits in which the rural characters of the film joyously dance to the (in this case) embarrassingly modern Chinese pop music. Zhang should have known better to remake Blood Simple as it is – a gripping, thought-provoking tale of the macabre. Perhaps the most pertinent learning point here is: When in doubt, never remake a masterpiece.


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