Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Simple Noodle Story

Based on the 1984 film Blood Simple by Joel & Ethan Coen, A Simple Noodle Story (internationally known as A Woman, a Gun, & a Noodle Shop) is the story about a tyrannical noodle shop manager whose wife asks her lover to kill her husband only for a crooked cop to be involved in the scheme. Directed by Zhang Yimou with a script by Shi Jianquan and Xue Jianchao, the film is a more comedic and stylish take on the Coen Brothers film as it’s set into a different period in mainland China. Starring Sun Honglei, Ni Dahong, Xiaoshenyang, and Yan Ni. A Simple Noodle Story is a stylish but heavily uneven film from Zhang Ymou.

After purchasing a gun from a traveling Persian merchant (Julien Gaudfroy), Mrs. Wang (Ya Ni) is hoping to have in case something happens as she is already embroiled an affair with noodle shop cook Li (Xiasoshenyang). Mr. Wang (Dahong Ni) is the noodle shop owner who already suspects about his wife’s affair after a corrupt cop named Zhang (Sun Honglei) reveals the information to him. The already abusive Wang decides to confront his wife and Li leading some trouble as he asks Zhang to kill the two with payment in return. Zhang decides to do the job but he would do something that would complicate things as Li is aware something is wrong. Trying to cover things up, Li tries to deal with what happened as Zhang decides to get more of Wang’s money while cleaning things up.

The film is essentially about a noodle shop manager hiring a corrupt cop to kill his wife and her lover only to be later played by the cop. Set in the Gobi desert in a different time period, the film’s re-telling of the Coen Brothers’ tale of infidelity and revenge is one that is intriguing as Zhang Yimou goes for a film that takes that eerie, noir-suspense thriller into something more comical but retain some of the chills of the Coen Brothers film. The only problem is that the screwball comedy approach to the story makes the whole thing uneven. Notably as it includes a subplot involving two employees named Zhao (Cheng Ye) and Chen (Mao Mao) who are both trying to break into their bosses’ vault over owed payments.

It’s a subplot that doesn’t work as it would confuse the viewers into thinking what kind of film is seeing as the script also has issues in its approach to the narrative. Notably in the lack of suspense that occurs in favor of action while there are a few noteworthy moments involving no dialogue as it’s about action and what the characters are doing. For viewers who aren’t familiar with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, it’s a plot approach that is confusing while for those have seen the 1984 film. It feels very familiar and the suspense doesn’t really work despite the performances and what Yimou tries to do with the directing of the film.

Yimou’s direction is very stylish as it includes a lot of slanted shots, slow-motion action shots, and other scenes that includes an amazing idea of how noodles are created in the old style. Along with wonderful and gorgeous depth-of-field shots of the Gobi deserts with its hills and roadways, Yimou creates a film that is style over substance but also more intimate as he goes for more exploration into characters and their place in the world. Due to the script’s inability to try and be a genre-bending film about revenge and infidelity. Yimou’s approach to the comedy doesn’t really work as the slapstick feels a bit forced and out of place with the rest of the film. Despite a lot of great moments in the directing including some of the violent moments, Yimou ends up creating a film that does do enough to create an engaging story that its premise would suggest.

Cinematographer Xiaodong Zhao does a fantastic job with the film‘s photography from the lush yet colorful look of the daytime exterior settings along with more eerie shots for the film‘s climatic moments at the interior. The nighttime scenes for its interiors and exteriors are very entrancing its bluish looks including the skylines that is a real highlight of Zhao’s work. Editor Peicong Meng does a nice job with the editing to capture the rhythm of the action scenes including some slow-motion shots to intensify the action of the film.

Visual effects supervisors Phil Jones and Jaing Yanming do excellent work with some of the visual effects moment that occur in the film including the climatic fight towards the end of the film. Sound editor Jing Tao does a terrific job with the sound work from the way the police siren sounds to the way swords and gunfire sound in some of the film’s action moments sound like.

The film’s cast is pretty good though some of the actors are forced to play into the silliness of the script. Among them is Julien Gaudfroy as the Persian trader and Zhao Benshan as the police captain in very small roles while Mao Mao is alright as the more cautious Chen. Cheng Ye is OK as the more conniving Zhao who tries to steal from Wang while sporting two big front teeth that is a bad play on Asian stereotypes. Xiaoshenyang is terrible as the cowardly cook Li who is Mrs. Wang’s lover as he doesn’t really get to do anything but be scared and screw up. Yan Ni is excellent as the more willing Mrs. Wang who is trying to divorce her husband while getting a gun in order to defend herself in case anything happens.

Ni Dahong is very good as the vile Mr. Wang who seeks revenge against his wife as there’s a he brings a dark, comical approach to his character while being very despicable. Finally, there’s Sun Honglei who gives the best performance of the film as the smart and cunning Zhang. Honglei doesn’t get to have a lot of lines but always maintain a quiet yet eerie presence whenever he’s around while being the one villain who is always there to make sure he’s doing things the right way as it’s a truly marvelous performance.

A Simple Noodle Story is a decent but very messy film from Zhang Yimou. Despite some stylish scenery, fantastic action sequences, and a brooding performance from Sun Honglei, it’s a film that tries too hard to be two different genres while not doing enough to create a very interesting story. It’s among one of Yimou’s weaker films despite his attempt to re-tell the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple into a different setting and period. In the end, A Simple Noodle Story is an underwhelming remake of Blood Simple that lacks the engaging suspense of the Coen Brothers classic.

Zhang Yimou Films: (Red Sorghum) - (Codename Cougar) - (Ju Dou) - (Raise the Red Lantern) - (The Story of Qiu Ju) - (To Live) - (Shanghai Triad) - (Keep Cool) - Not One Less - (The Road Home) - (Happy Times) - (Hero (2002 film)) - House of Flying Daggers - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles - Curse of the Golden Flower - (Under the Hawthorn Tree) - (The Flowers of War) - Coming Home (2014 film) - The Great Wall (2016 film) - (Shadow (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2012

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