I’ve long condemned Hollywood remakes of Asian and European films for being lazy and redundant. Zhang Yimou’s remake of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple (1984) demonstrates that Asian remakes of Hollywood films are hardly better.
Since Hero (2002), Zhang has made superlatively beautiful period films brimming with opulent costumes and sumptuous landscapes. Zhang’s subsequent films, House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), likewise enjoyed an aura of the epic, traversing vast empires and immersed in the concerns of noble sovereigns. In contrast, A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (elsewhere marketed as A Simple Noodle Story) is a grittier, gravellier film whose greatest unqualified success lies in exposing another of Zhang’s telltale trademarks — the glaring narrative unsatisfyingness of most of his oeuvre.
The plot: A spiteful rich man discovers that his wife is having an affair with one of his noodle shop employees. (The script never explains why there is a noodle shop in the middle of a picturesque nowhere with three employees and zero customers.) The rich man hires a crooked cop to kill his wife and her lover discreetly (and this is as far as you get in the trailer above), but the cop kills the rich man instead and schemes to skip town with the dead man’s entire fortune, which lies in his safe. Unfortunately for his wife and employees, all of whom live in the same noodle-shop compound, they each run afoul of the now-homicidal cop one by one, and although the latter is surprisingly terrible at cracking safes, he’s just tops at killing people who get in his way.
To be fair, Noodle Shop is not without its merits. It’s darkly funny on occasion, and the director’s signature acrobatic spectacles are as dazzling as ever, if also rather gratuitous. On balance, however, Noodle Shop is a fairly standard thriller that happens to take place in an unspecified historical past somewhere on China’s wide, western border. (At least Blood Simple had going for it its forceful evocation of Texas as latter-day cowboy territory.) The acting is uneven, lurching between realistic and cartoonishly stylized, and the characters are merely types: the Shrew, the Boytoy, the Scrooge, the Affectless Serial Killer. The film provides nary a reason to root for the survival of any of these characters, and ends abruptly, leaving too many questions unanswered.
No respectable noodle shop would serve such pabulum.