A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français)
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It looks like a perfect plan: the affair will come to a cruel but satisfying end when a Chinese noodle shop owner plots to execute his unfaithful wife and her lover. But the lover has a lethal plan of his own in this violent tale of adultery and revenge based on the Coen Brother’s debut classic Blood Simple.
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The basic story: Cheaters are discovered. Cuckolded husband is most unhappy and makes plans. Plans veer off course. People get . . . injured.
The eighties version was set in present-day Texas. The 2010 production is set in a small noodle shop surrounded by a desolate lunar-like desert region. The shots involving this landscape are somewhat surreal and often spectacular. The time may be the 1700's or 1800's; it's when guns were still a novelty in remote parts of China, and people rode their mustangs instead of driving their Mustangs. Time and place are significant factors in the Chinese movie; they are virtually irrelevant in the Coen brothers' film.
Director Zhang Yimou's version definitely has more comedy than the original. There's scarcely a giggle in the dark eighties tale. Related to this, a fundamental difference between the films is the portrayal of the wife's boyfriend. Actor John Getz's Ray is far more believable than Xiao Shenyang's Li. Li emerges as a strangely innocent buffoon. He provides a big part of the comic relief that is lacking in the original. There are also two helpers in the noodle shop who generate grins.
Yan Ni, portraying the Chinese cheating wife, brings a lot more passion to the film than Frances McDormand brought to the original. Sun Honglei is great as the ruthless and greedy police officer, Zhang. M. Emmet Walsh was also great as the slimy, slovenly detective, Loren Visser, who, like Zhang, equates infidelity with opportunity.
You don't have to see the original film to enjoy the recent production. But I did find it most entertaining to compare the two.
The movie was kind of slap-stick Chinese Theater, but it worked fine. Much has been made out of the director's adaptation, actually homage, of the Cohen Brother's movie "Blood Simple," but frankly most people won't even recognize that. This story works just as well in Chinese cinema as it did in America. The humor is funny, the characters are large and obvious, but oh so human. As is the usual case with this legendary director, the cinematography is wonderful. Some of the landscapes are stunning. Over-all the film also has a Clint Eastwood, Italian Western feeling about it. It's kind of a successful chop suey-spaghetti western. It's a very entertaining escape from the boring daily routine.
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!
The movie this time around changes not just locations but time period as well. Taking place in the not too distant past, a woman purchases a gun during the opening sequence. She is the wife of Wang, the owner of the noodle shop and a woman unhappy in her marriage. As we find out, she was purchased and nightly punished by her husband, Wang. It's little wonder she's taken up with one of his employees, Li.
The movie shifts back and forth from drama to comedy depending on the circumstances and actors involved. Li comes off as a bit of a buffoon, always concerned that the boss will find out about their indiscretion and do him harm. The wife (as she is known) shows less concern and more of a plotting attitude, not planning on killing her husband but still attempting to find a way out of the marriage and into the arms of Li.
As for Wang he appears to be an older man who knows his wealth buys him power. So much so that when he learns of the affair between his wife and Li, he asks a policeman/solider named Zhang to kill them both for a fee. They discuss the amount and Wang goes to his safe to retrieve the money for Zhang who sees just how much the safe holds.
The culmination of these events, the purchase of the gun, the affair, the planned murder and what happens to each of these characters makes for an interesting story. But what makes the film better than most isn't just the tale but the arresting visuals used. The reddish dirt covered hills around the shop, the deep blue skies with pure white clouds, even the night time sequences all seem to pop off the screen with some amazing camera work.
Director Yimou Zhang is well known for his films like RAISE THE RED LANTERN, HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, each having the same sort of visual appeal. He doesn't disappoint here with some amazing things to see and experience. The colors are the brightest I've seen on film and work well, everything from the costumes to the setting.
The actors all come off good as well; even through the barrier of language (the film is in Chinese with English sub titles). Keeping in mind these characters live in a time very different from our own, they each display characteristics that are original rather than simply playing them as they've been done before.
On the whole I would recommend this movie to anyone who hasn't seen a film from China yet. There is a whole world of wonder to be experienced out there. Forget the washed out visuals seen in tons of poorly made kung fu films in the past, the doors have opened for something different from this country.
Recommended for the "noodle dish" acrobatics as well. Made me want to chow down on those darned noodles!
Wonderful cinemaphotography - whats new - Zhang Yimou is an absolute master of cinemaphotography.
Go for it!
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