In “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop,” the esteemed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou – best known in the United States for such eye-popping epics as “House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero” and “Curse of the Golden Flower” – casts his eye toward a smaller, more intimate tale.
Curiously, it’s a remake of “Blood Simple,” the merciless 1984 film that marked the debut of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.
Instead of the Texas badlands, the story unfolds in a remote desert valley in ancient feudal China. The basic story line remains the same: A cuckolded husband hires a detective to murder his cheating wife and her lover.
But the tone of Zhang’s version of the tale is radically different from the Coens’. The movie begins as a broad, clownish comedy, peppered with bits of the director’s signature visual flourishes.
The personalities of the characters have changed, too: The wife is loud and vivacious, her lover meek and cowardly (he’s always dressed in pink), and the detective taciturn and even more Machiavellian than M. Emmet Walsh’s slimy P.I. from the original.
Zhang cleverly re-creates the most memorable set pieces of “Blood Simple” – the corpse that won’t stay dead, the pinned hand, the beams of light that burst through a wall like bullets – while giving several of them a fresh twist.
But, as a whole, “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” doesn’t hang together. “Blood Simple” was a dark exercise in film noir. Zhang’s version, despite having a higher body count and moments of striking beauty, feels like a mishmash of moods – a whimsical but fizzled experiment.
It proves that American filmmakers aren’t the only ones who can bungle remakes of foreign movies.