Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, A (2009)

Possibly the worst film in Zhang Yimou’s career, this remake of the Coens’ ‘Blood Simple’ is a travesty on every count.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Review #487

Dir. Zhang Yimou
2009 | China | Drama | 95 mins | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
PG (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Ni Dahong, Yan Ni, Xiao Shenyang
Plot: A visit by a Persian gun salesman sets off a series of fatal double-crosses involving a police deputy, the owner of a Chinese noodles shop scheme, his adulterous wife, and a pair of inept employees.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)

Distributor: Sony

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 23 Feb 2010
Spoilers: Yes

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), 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. But he gets nearly all his bearings wrong here. 

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.

“For once in my life… l own the world’s most powerful weapon! Everyone will be amazed!”

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.

Grade: E


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