AsianMovieWeb logo
Original Title:
San qiang pai an jing qi

China 2009

Thriller, Comedy

Zhang Yimou

Yan Ni
Xiao Shenyang
Sun Honglei
Li Dahong
Cheng Ye
Zhao Benshan
Mao Mao
Julien Gaudfroy

Search AsianMovieWeb

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

aka A Simple Noodle Story

Story: In a secluded rocky desert area the rich businessman Wang (Li Dahong) is leading a noodle shop. His wife (Yan Ni) is abused by him day by day, yet also has a secret love affair with the cook Li (Xiao Shenyang). One day, when a persian merchant comes around at their noodle shop she finally sees her chance to change her life. She buys a gun and hopes to be able to define her relationship with her husband in a completely new way or to kill him otherwise. But before that the shop owners first get into some trouble when some soldiers patrolling the area pay them a visit because they heard the gunfire of the persian merchant and now want to check that everything is alright. Wang makes use of this opportunity to hire the soldier Zhang (Sun Honglei) for a small mission. He has to spy on Wang's wife and find out if she really has an affair with someone else. After Zhang can affirm this the businessman orders his wife's and her lover's murder. However, certain factors lead to things not going the way as planned...

Review: It really is a wry world and that doesn't just describe Zhang Yimou's new movie but also the fact that of all people the steal and copy-fond Chinese inform us right at the beginning of the film that this is a remake of the Coen-original "Blood Simple", something that Hollywood often happens to forget to do when they remake Asian movies. Maybe that is because director Zhang Yimou has always been excited about the movies of the Coen brothers and wanted to create his own hommage here. On a positive note it has to be praised that he wanted to take a much more calm approach with his newest work after his opulent "Curse of the Golden Flower" and his orchestration of the 2008 Olympic Games. However, what he delivers with "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" is a crude mix of a film noir, slapstick and a chamber play. A truely bizarre mix which charme we really want to find somewhere, but most of the time don't succeed to do.

The protagonists in the movie are garish and wacky, in any case it is everything but easy to sympathize with them. This garishness is also reflected in the colors and Zhang once again proves to be a master in this area. The costumes of the characters are very unusual, remind us of that of circus performers and at some points can even hurt in the eyes. The cook Li wears a pink coloured bare midriff that also looks like a vest, the fat casual cook also walks around with a brightly coloured vest that is always unbuttoned while his buck teeth are supposed to underline the film's slapstick nature. But what's that actually all about? The continuous squawking and running around, the perpetual falling over, the grimaces - is that supposed to be funny? In its best moments the film feels like a chamber play and even manages to create a certain dynamic and tension this way, but during the moments the slapstick is in the movies foreground it looks like a cheap theater performance at school.

In contrast to the overdone comedy insertions "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" can also be pretty serious. Eventually, there are even several murders. Here a completely different dynamic is unfolding. But somewhen during the second third of the film, starting with the appearance of the soldier Zhang, everything gets a bit more quiet and to a certain degree more tension-filled as well. However, the chamber play isn't really well achieved. The different individuals are running over the courtyard from one house to the other and just by chance they just happen to be not running into each others' arms by a second. A few of them are committing one or two murders and director Zhang Yimou keeps his camera on them longer than necessary and shows how they are covering up their tracks or panically cleaning up the crime scene. Somehow you think that all of this might have been pretty thrilling, but it simply isn't. Instead the pacing drops unnecessarily.

"A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" may not be an epic feast for the eye as we are used to see from Zhang Yimou, yet the director couldn't refrain from implementing appealing pictures. The red hills of the stone desert covering the whole horizon, the winding roads and the noodle shop isolated from the rest of the world are all captured with great finesse. The only negative thing is that for depicting the night scenes there has only been used a filter that has been put before the camera's lense. That's annoying and to the stern eye of the viewer it gives the feeling as if being part of an unreal world. Apart from the already mentioned garish colors it's most of all Sun Honglei ("Triangle", "Blood Brothers", "Seven Swords") that is sticking out. He is dressed completely in black and gray and moreover is the only one who can arouse interest by his subtle acting and the mysterious aura that surrounds his character. Unfortunately, this interest isn't really rewarded in the end. Nonetheless, the scenes with him are more worthwhile than those in which the rest of the cast tries to bring more comedy into the film with its overacting.

As you saw I refrained from comparisons with the original "Blood Simple", and that is not because of the simple reason that I haven't watched it, yet. However, I'm almost certain that if I did I would be disappointed by "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" on another level, too. The way it is there is simply left to wonder how a director who shot movies like "Hero", the heart-warming "The Road Home" or "Raise the Red Lantern", could create such an odd mix of comedy and film noir. A mix that doesn't work out at any time and oftentimes is outright alienating. Adding to this alienation is the completely surprisingly sudden ending. If you are looking for a cinematic suspense curve then you will find no either. Thus, there is only disappointment at the end and we can only hope that Zhang Yimou doesn't try to do another cinematic experiment next time...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
Buy this movie:

Yesasia Logo