Starring: Ni Yan, Xiao Shen-Yang, Honglei Sun
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“Hero”)
Written by: Jianquan Shi (“Devils on the Doorstep”) and Jing Shang (debut)
While it’s a rarity, foreign countries have been known to take American movies and remake them for their own film industry. Sometimes the outcome is fantastic like in France’s 2005 film “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” a remake of 1978’s “Fingers” starring Harvey Keitel. More recently, there was “12,” a 2007 Russian remake of “12 Angry Men.” Other times, it’s evident that filmmakers have let their ambition get the best of them.
So is the case for artistically-savvy Chinese director Yimou Zhang (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”) and his film “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop,” a remake of the Coen Brothers’ first film, “Blood Simple.” Even without comparing Zhang’s version to the classic the Coen’s set on a Texas landscape back in 1984, “Noodle Shop” is nothing short of a debacle.
In “Noodle Shop,” wealthy restaurant owner Wang (Dahong Ni) hires police investigator Zhang (Honglei Sun) to kill his wife (Ni Yan) when he finds out she is having an affair with Li (Xiao Shen-Yang), a wimpy cook who works in the shop. The murder turns out more complicated than Zhang leads Wang to believe. Wang’s wife has purchased a gun from a Persian to protect herself. Zhang takes the money for the hit but turns out to have a much different agenda than simply going out and cutting down the couple with his blade.
As the story progresses, director Zhang and screenwriters Jianquan Shi and Jing Shang create a strong sense of silliness that far outweighs any tension or conflict between the main players. The slapstick takes center stage especially when secondary characters (Zhao and Chen, two bumbling employees of the noodle shop) turn what should be a merciless drama into a whimsy circus.
Sure, this is director Zhang’s version and he can set whatever kind of tone he’d like, but without giving consideration to the significance of the situation at hand, “Noodle Shop” isn’t effective. Even from a visual standpoint, Zhang has caught our attention with a lot more fervor in past films. Aside from the noodle making (a single scene which is actually quite hypnotizing), “Noodle Shop” is only a reminder of how well crafted the Coens’ debut film noir was and how inept remakes don’t always have to be credited to America.