A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2009, dir. Zhang Yimou, U.S.A. release 2010) is one of the most delightful, weird and suspenseful arthouse type films I have ever seen. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious yet it had a combined air of Hitchcock and Kurosawa. A remake of the Coen Brothers' first film, BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), NOODLE SHOP got the ancient Chinese treatment, and I've never seen Chinese actors excel like this since they did CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.
Set someplace in the Taklimakan Desert in China, along the Silk Route, set around the late 1700s, this is a tale of four young innocents and a nasty, bitter old miser. Wang, the old miser with the fortress-like little mini-village all his own along the Silk Road, keeps almost as a prisoner his young wife of ten years. She is nearly insane with boredom and the desire to flee old Wang. But she is trapped.
In a hilarious rickety train wreck of a story, the restaurant employees (a chubby simple fellow, another young woman, and the rather gay best friend to Mrs. Wang) entertain a group of Persians. The leader (an incredibly goofy Julien Gaudfroy), dressed a bit like a colorful Captain Jack Sparrow, sells Mrs. Wang a pistol. The most powerful weapon in the world, and the sales pitch, haggling and general dialogue is some of the best I've seen. They try to sell her a 6" gun (meaning a typical ship's cannon) and the crazy Persian fires it into the distant desert to show it off.
"I'll just stick with the gun" Mrs. Wang says dryly. The cannon fire brings along a Monty Python detachment of Imperial police, their leader one of the funniest performers I have ever watched. I called him "Officer Cookie Monster" because of his Muppet-like demeanor and his goggly crossed eyes. Absolutely fall-down-on-the-floor. It is his 'best detective' who will play a role in this sad, evil story of four innocent people, an idiot paranoid old miser, a robotic Imperial police officer and a murder scheme.
I will not spoil it further: I have this feeling no one has really seen this film in America. All I can tell you is it is much better than a typical martial arts film - and this one aside from its bit of violence has no martial arts. Never have I seen a Chinese movie so compelling and fun without martial arts or Shao Lin Temple involved.
However, since a lot has been made over the noodle dish that is cooked for the police officers, I can say it is a type of Chinese noodle soup known as ho fun, (and no, I am not joking). This hot-n-sizzle soup is made with wide, flat rice noodles and is as good as it looks in this film. And all the employees except Mrs. Wang display their kung fu when preparing the noodle dough - it makes the cowardly goofiness of their characters all the more tragic.
One additional item: Mrs. Wang does not have a 'lover'. The young gay boy she relies on for friendship and comfort is nothing more than that, though they have plans to escape and get married. The first time you get a gander at this young man, you will wonder how he could possibly be anyone's "lover".
But a lack of proper and deserved hype ruins a film's chances here quicker than the speed of light. This film opened in the U.S. on 5 September, 2010, on 5 screens and pulled in a measly $35,000. In its general release that December, it grossed $190,666. Barely enough to cover Mitt Romney's weekend expenses. Sad, sad, sad.
Shot ... I really do not know where they shot this, its canvas is a gorgeous, Grand Canyon background complete with zebra stripes across the mountains. It gives a deep feeling of really being in that time and place. The Silk Route has been a special area of study for me for over 20 years. This is the first time I've ever seen a movie set on the actual Route.
You cannot afford to miss this film. Though it has gaps that you will never understand, it is so funny and riveting you won't care. Get the DVD, as it will be one of the better additions to your collection!