POSTED ON OCTOBER 13, 2010:
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is a lackluster remake at best
You’ll Put an Eye Out. Yan Ni stars as Wang’s wife in A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop. The Japanese remake of the 1984 Coen brothers’ thriller Blood Simple doesn’t live up to the hype.
Remakes of every sort of stripe are a common occurrence these days. Recent or upcoming re-dos cover everything from beloved 1980s cinema like The Karate Kid or cult fare such as I Spit On Your Grave. Currently in local theaters, Dinner For Schmucks and Let Me In are both adapted from foreign sources (France and Sweden, respectively).
While Hollywood remakes are routine, as witnessed by the previously mentioned films and many, many more, an irregular event is a foreign version of an American film that came first. These films might get made from time to time, but rarely do they make the long journey back to Tulsa. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is just that -- a Chinese film based on the 1984 Joel and Ethan Coen crime thriller Blood Simple.
The reason A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is getting a national theatrical release is clear: Zhang Yimou. The most widely-known director in Chinese film history is Zhang Yimou and there is no one else in the discussion. Raise the Red Lantern, To Live and House of Flying Daggers are just a handful of Yimou's films that have garnered attention since the late 1980s. Unfortunately, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop doesn't live up to the level of expectations for a Yimou release, it's too uneven and unnecessary, adding nothing interesting to a story done smaller and more frightening nearly three decades ago.
Like all remakes, the story is familiar if you know the original. The key elements have been saved: adulterous wife, lover, older unsympathetic husband, paid killer. The setting is a remote, empty, dusty village. The quasi-western feel is a nice nod to the omnipotent isolation of Blood Simple while also harkening back to the spirit of the seemingly interchangeable Japanese samurai/Hollywood westerns popular in the 1960s.
What is a straightforward tale of an unfaithful wife takes a dark turn when money changes hands in a murder-for-hire scheme. The gun in the story is rarely seen in the region as swords and arrows are the preferred weapons of choice by the horse-riding soldiers who patrol the area. The wife buys a pistol that holds three bullets and it changes ownership frequently, alternating power based on whose hands are fingering the trigger.
The strangest thing about A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is how skewed the tone of it is. All of the intense brooding atmosphere of the 1984 Blood Simple has been shuttled off to an unknown location. Was it lost in translation? Instead, Yimou's take is an erotic-free, sexless affair with bumbling characters that has more of an air of slapstick comedy than a thriller. There's no danger, no suspense and it's baffling to think why Yimou chose to infuse broad comedy into such a dark story. The end result is strictly lightweight and forgettable.
Where Blood Simple feels authentic full of sweat, flies, dirt, beat-up cars, cheap apartments and a dive bar in the middle of nowhere, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is inauthentic. Artificial and staged, it resembles a set created for a movie instead of an actual place. The setting was a living, breathing supporting character in Blood Simple, in A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, it's just backdrop.
Another thing that hinders the suspense of the film is how devoid of civilization it is. There is literally no one to catch any of the characters if they decide to kill one another off. The noodle shop and village are located in a place completely isolated from everyone. There are no customers, no people, no one. It's that same old philosophical question: if a murder-for-hire plot kills off multiple individuals, but no one is around to take notice, did the killings take place? Ponder that.
Yimou, as he always does, photographs a beautiful picture. In fact, the best thing about A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop has going for it is the way it looks. Bright period clothes and vibrant colors abound at every turn. The terrain resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but gorgeous. Treeless, colorful rock formations of hills and mountains dot the landscape. The sky is so blue that I'm suspicious the film hasn't been run through an emulating Photoshop filter.
Thankfully, the misplaced comedy starts to taper off for the last third of the film as Li, the wife's lover, becomes more frenzied in his desperation. It's not enough. Li is too much of a sniffling whiner, the wife has very little sensual appeal and the paid killer is completely wooden and virtually mute. All that slapstick early on is just too hard to overcome to create genuine tension. Yimou tries, but he is unable to tap into the vast amounts of unrelenting foreboding that made Blood Simple so chillingly effective.
Maybe there's a reason we don't get to see many of the foreign remakes of American films -- they just aren't worth putting into theaters? If A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop didn't have a prominent director in Zhang Yimou, it would be a DVD-only release at best. It's a pale imitation of its inspiration, confused and misguided throughout. Although, can't you say the same thing about the majority of the remakes that Hollywood foists upon the masses? Yimou is just joining the American way of doing things -- ruining a film done better the first time around.
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