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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: September 1, 2010 10:16 AM

It seems like a weirdly cross-cultural idea: the notion of Chinese master Zhang Yimou doing a remake of the Coen brothers' debut film, Blood Simple.

But Zhang makes the movie uniquely his own with the spaghetti-western-style title, A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop. If the film lacks the dryly mordant Coen wit, it offers other pleasures -- but also some problems.

Most of those have to do with the film's tone, which has an antic quality that is distinctly Chinese in style. The acting has an exaggerated, Peking Opera flavor and the comedy is unfortunately slapsticky, lowering the stakes and otherwise distracting from the noir twists and ultimately violent undoing of most of the characters.

The skeleton of the story remains the same, though the location has been changed from mid-1980s Texas to what appears to be 17th-century China. In this case, the setting is a noodle shop in a remote outpost of China, a way station for travelers that isn't anyone's destination.

The owner of the noodle shop is the manipulative and nasty Wang (Ni Dahong). Wang is unhappy because he knows that his wife (Yan Ni), is having an affair, though he's not sure who with. In fact, she's having it off with the clownish noodle shop assistant Li (Xiao Shenyang).

When a troop of soldiers come through collecting taxes, Wang waylays one of them, Zhang (Sun Hunglei), offering him a pile of cash to kill his wife and her lover. Instead, the soldier fakes the deaths, then kills Wang instead. But, as in the Coens' film, this guy won't die easily.

Even when he does, his cause of death remains a mystery to both Wang's wife and Li, each of whom thinks the other has committed the murder. The ending of the film is not quite shot-for-shot with the Coens, but it's close. And, oh yes, there's a gun -- a novelty in this particular era.

Once the film kicks into suspense mode, it hits a groove. But that's a long wait, given the stylized silliness that precedes it. Better you should go rent Blood Simple and see what it's all about.

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