Gone are the swordsmen, heroes and women crushed by a pernicious patriarchal system. Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), the once powerful auteur, has turned his hand to slapstick comedy in A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (三槍拍案驚奇) (previously titled A Simple Noodle Story in English), a remake of the Coen brothers’ 1984 Blood Simple.
In Zhang’s garish adaptation, the Coens’ bleak and noirish treatment of human nature is lost amid boisterous and boorish regional humor.
The film is aimed at neither the international market nor fans of Zhang’s earlier works, but the masses of China, who reportedly paid some US$32.4 million to see the movie within three weeks of it opening there in December.
The Texan bar in Blood Simple becomes a noodle shop in the vast deserts of Shaanxi.
At the roadside mom-and-pop operation lives miserly owner Wang Mazi (Ni Dahong, 倪大紅), his young wife (Yan Ni, 閻妮), her paramour Li Si (Xiao Shenyang, 小沈陽), an apprentice, and two dim-witted servants, Zhao (Cheng Ye, 程野) and Chen (Mao Mao, 毛毛).
In the film’s farcical opening, a Persian merchant stops by and sells a gun to the wife, who has had enough of her abusive husband. Meanwhile, corrupt police deputy Zhang San (Sun Honglei, 孫紅雷) secretly approaches the cuckold Wang to inform him of his wife’s ongoing affair with Li. The husband is furious and hires the stone-faced Zhang to murder the adulterers.
But the plot takes an unexpected turn and the A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop moves to darker territory as the killer’s hidden agenda surfaces, leading to a string of misunderstandings, double-crossings and the age-old problem of how to dispose of a corpse. The film abruptly changes tempo and style when, with a nod to the thriller genre, the murderer executes his crime with precision.
As Coen fans may notice, the plot closely follows the original, but the film is quintessentially Chinese, crammed with comical brawls and gags borrowed from the tradition of errenzhuan (二人轉), a folk art form from northeast China that involves storytelling, singing, dancing and clowning about.
Zhang calls on errenzhuan stage actors Xiao Shenyang (a showbiz sensation after his appearance on China Central Television last year), Mao Mao and Cheng Ye to elicit wows and laughs with tongue-twisting wordplay and acrobatic feats.
Sadly, the comical segments are farcical farragoes cooked up by the cast’s flamboyant acting, silly dialogue and crude humor. Even the cameo by celebrated comedian Zhao Benshan (趙本山) as a boggle-eyed police chief is nothing more than a gimmick for cheap laughs.
It’s as if Zhang couldn’t care less about the discord that arises from panoramic shots of awe-inspiring barren landscapes (recalling the director’s Hero (英雄)) populated by buffoons in gaudy costumes.
The film’s highlight may be the cast’s hip-hop routine, accompanied by Zhang rapping in his native Shaanxi dialect, during the end credits.
A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP
ZHANG YIMOU (張藝謀)
YAN NI (閻妮) AS THE WIFE, XIAO SHENYANG(小沈陽) AS LI SI, SUN HONGLEI (孫紅雷) AS ZHANG SAN, NI DAHONG (倪大紅) AS WANG MAZI
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