In A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, the esteemed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, best known in the United States for such eye-popping epics as House of Flying Daggers, Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower, casts his eye toward a smaller, more intimate tale – specifically, and curiously, a remake of Blood Simple, the merciless 1984 film that marked the debut of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.
Instead of the Texas badlands, the story now unfolds in a remote desert valley in ancient feudal China. The basic story line remains the same: A cuckolded husband (Ni Dahong) hires a detective (Sun Honglei) to murder his cheating wife (Yan Ni) and her lover (Xiao Shenyang).
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But the tone of Zhang’s version of the tale is radically different from the Coens’. The movie begins as a broad, clownish comedy, peppered with bits of the director’s signature flourishes (a stunning scene in which the noodle-shop employees knead dough in an acrobatic manner is as magical as the action sequences from Hero or Flying Daggers). The personalities of the characters have changed, too: The wife is loud and vivacious, her lover meek and cowardly (he’s always dressed in pink), and the detective taciturn and even more Machiavellian than M. Emmet Walsh’s slimy P.I. from the original.
There are long stretches without dialogue or music, and Zhang cleverly recreates the most memorable set pieces of Blood Simple – the corpse that won’t stay dead, the pinned hand, the beams of light that burst through a wall like bullets – while giving several of them a fresh twist.
But as a whole, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop doesn’t hang together. Blood Simple was a dark exercise in film noir, one of the quintessential genres invented in Hollywood (along with the western and the musical). Zhang’s film, despite having a higher body count and moments of striking visual beauty, feels like a mishmash of moods – a whimsical but fizzled experiment. Except for the ruthless and stoic detective, who is worthy of his own film, none of the characters can be taken seriously, and the suspense for which the movie strives so strenuously in the last half hour never materializes. You never really get the sense Zhang is taking the movie seriously, so you can’t either. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop proves that American filmmakers aren’t the only ones who can bungle remakes of foreign movies.
Cast: Sun Honglei, Yan Ni, Xiao Shenyang, Ni Dahong, Cheng Ye, Mao Mao.
Director: Zhang Yimou.
Screenwriters: Xu Zhenghao, Shi Jianquan.
Producers: Zhang Weiping, Bill Kong, Gu Hao.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 91 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Violence. Opens Friday Oct. 1 in Miami-Dade at South Beach and in Palm Beach at Shadowood.