'A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop' an homage to Coens' 'Blood Simple'

Yan Ni as Wang's wife, Ni Dahong as Wang in Zhang Yimou's dazzling rethinking of "Blood Simple."
Yan Ni as Wang's wife, Ni Dahong as Wang in Zhang Yimou's dazzling rethinking of "Blood Simple."
Posted: September 17, 2010

Zhang Yimou, director of operatic spectacles such as Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is a dazzling stylist with a painterly command of color and an eye for panoramic compositions.

For reasons known only to himself, in A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, China's greatest living director chose to remake the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, their bare-bones Texas noir of 1984, and to set it in feudal China. The result is akin to using a frayed shoestring to make a silk purse.

In truth, it's more rethink than remake. If I had to guess what drew Yimou to the Coens' movie, itself a gloss on people behaving badly, it would be its prototypical characters caught in a prototypical situation. The principals - a wealthy husband, his beautiful and faithless wife, her feckless boyfriend, and the detective who hunts down the lovers - are figures as universal as they are timeless. As are the safe full of money, the forbidding lock, and the gun, sold by a Persian merchant, that fires endless bullets but does not always kill.

To the cuckold, his wife, her lover, and the private dick (a mercenary policeman here), Yimou adds two buffoonish employees of the wealthy Wang (Ni Dahong), proprietor of a noodle house isolated on the ridge of a red-rock mountain range in what looks like western China. It is the kind of mythic landscape one might encounter in a Sergio Leone movie, light-years away from the two-lane blacktop of Blood Simple. For the Coens, the parable of lust and greed suggested that nothing was certain but death and the battle of the sexes. For Yimou, it's a ghost story of sexual lust and money lust.

The principal quartet are color-coded, like tokens in a cosmic game of Sorry! Remorse, however, isn't in their emotional vocabulary. Wang, who abuses his wife, is swathed in amethyst purple robes; his spouse (Yan Ni), who vows revenge, is in emerald green; her beau (Xiao Shenyang) is clad in tourmaline pink, while Zhang (Sun Honglei), hired by Wang to track and kill the lovers, wears armor of lapis-blue. Zhang is less interested in acquitting this task than in cracking the lock of Wang's safe. It's a round robin of double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses.

Familiarity with Blood Simple is not required to understand Yimou's homage. One might say that in this, one artist's tribute to the collaboration of two others, the power of the story is found in translation. It's a minor work in the Yimou canon, but a major visual treat.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

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