By Armond White
The Hollywood precedent for one great director remaking another’s work starts with Fritz Lang refashioning both Jean Renoir’s La Chienne and La Bête Humaine into, respectively, Scarlet Street and Human Desire—turning art into entertainment. Now Zhang Yimou remakes the Coen Brothers’ debut film Blood Simple into A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, turning pop into art.
Zhang keeps the basic story of an illicit couple attempting to escape the woman’s brutish husband—a transgression that looms into greed and murder. But in changing the Coens’ contemporary tale into a period meditation, Zhang elevates the moral reckoning as if retelling a classic cautionary Chinese folk tale. This doesn’t contradict Zhang’s own lushly moralistic, openly political films. In fact, the adulterous plot closely resembles Zhang’s 1988 Ju Dou, which was already quite similar to The Postman Always Rings Twice. But like the Coens, Zhang has grown into greater filmmaking. He achieves a mix of tones that always felt unstable in Blood Simple but comes naturally to Zhang’s elaborate showmanship in Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower.
After breaking-down the Coens’ plot to its almost comical essence, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop reveals its dark existential joke. What looked like snark becomes unironic amusement, as in a kitchen scene where noodle-twirling expands into a larger, awesome, pizza-like spinning demonstration, nearly an Olympic-event spectacle. Each character’s paranoia, cowardice or viciousness exaggerates them like commedia dell’arte figures. Humor is prompted by modern acting—pouts, grimaces, sass—in a period setting. Zhang portrays neo-noir folly as operatic farce. His visual style goes to Expressionist extremes to illustrate a world of moral chaos: cobalt skies, vermillion earth and eerie striations in mountains.
From one great director to another, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop pays tribute to the Coens by improving their earlier immature work. Zhang reinterprets the Coens’ least humorous film as extravagant deadpan. He articulates a deep, cosmic understanding of fate and reveals the inherent complexity that the Coens would articulate only in later, more dazzling and mature films.
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Runtime: 95 min
Trackback from your site.