A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop
I walked out of the screening of A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop feeling vaguely dissatisfied. While the official selection of the 2010 Berlin Film Festival bills itself as a “black comedy thriller [which serves] as an expose of how intense desires can consume humanity,” it neither thrills nor tickles the funny bone. Instead, I found myself repeatedly checking my watch despite the film’s ninety-five minute run time.
A Chinese re-telling of the Coen Brothers’ classic debut, Blood Simple, A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop is set in a desolate area of northern China during the Late Imperial period. The action opens on the employees (Cheng Ye, Mao Mao, and Xiao Shenyang) looking on as their boss’ wife (Yan Ni) purchases state-of-the-art weaponry—a handgun—from a band of wandering Persians. The boss’ wife is having an affair with Li (Xio Shenyang), a clownish man with a “soft spirit.” After buying the gun, the boss’ wife (she’s never given a name, incidentally) makes it clear that she expects Li to help her kill her abusive and miserly husband, Wang (Ni Dahong). When Wang discovers the affair, he hires Zhang (Sun Hunglei), a patrol officer to murder the two. Greedy and cold-blooded, Zhang has plans of his own—plans that will result in even more bloodshed.
This film is sort of like pectin-free jelly; it has all the right ingredients except something that would firm it up and give it texture. And several hours after leaving the Sony Pictures screening room, I still can’t think of what that indescribable something may be. Better character development? A slightly more sympathetic Zhang? More background characters to give the film more local flavor? Real acting on Xiao Shenyang’s part as opposed to his constant mugging and gesticulation? Genuine comedy or, perhaps, more of a neo-noir feel? Or maybe a tender love scene between Li and the boss’s wife that would have helped me understand why she was willing to tolerate such a cowardly buffoon?
Then again, this film had too much of some things as well: slapstick, time-lapse montages, all of its characters hatching schemes and working at cross purposes. A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop also has plot holes galore. How does Wang amass such a fortune as a proprietor of such an out of the way business? Aside for the imperial police who stop by early in the film, this shop never has any customers. And why do Wang’s employees stick around when they aren’t being paid? For that matter, how does Zhang find so much time away from his patrol duties and from where does he get the blood-stained clothes?
This is not to say that A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop was a total waste of time. Many of its early sequences have a colorfully frenetic quality. A scene where employees twirl around like whirling dervishes as they handle noodle dough was beautifully inventive, and the Persian gun dealer’s swordplay was transfixing. The cinematography granted the film’s arid landscapes a bleak sort of beauty.
I admit that I’ve never seen this film’s source material, but given that Blood Simple had the Coen Brothers sharing the director’s chair and a pre-Fargo Frances McDormand in the lead, I am tempted to conclude that this retread isn’t worthy to undo the original’s sandals.