Over the last twenty-five years or so, the Coen Brothers have carved out quite a name for themselves, consistently rehashing the same basic themes—greed, idiocy, and mortality—in compelling new packages. That they’ve managed to reinvent the same story so many times while remaining fresh is a testament to their creative genius—it was only a matter of time until somebody adapted their films with a unique directorial vision. Enter Yimou Zhang’s A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodle Shop, a 2009 adaptation of 1984’s Blood Simple set amongst the mountains and sand dunes of imperial China. It’s odd to consider, as the Coens’ style is so unique amongst American filmmakers, but Zhang has recreated the feel of the orginal near-perfectly. Sure, there are a few cartoonish caricatures (like the oafish, bucktoothed noodle-shop assistant) and even a light touch of slapstick, but this film smacks of everything that made Blood Simple so great. The question, then, is whether it needed to be made at all.
The film opens with a flamboyantly dressed Persian providing a display of foreign weaponry to the employees of a noodle shop on the outskirts of civilization. One woman (Yan Ni) is particularly impressed by the troupe’s three-shot pistol and purchases it for some ungodly amount before the show is concluded with an alarming cannonball eruption in the surrounding mountainside. This woman, we soon learn, is the wife of Wang (Dahong Ni), the decrepit and miserly owner of the desert noodle shop. Long-tormented by her husband’s abuse, the woman has committed herself to murdering her husband, stealing his fortune and absconding with her boy-in-wait, Li, the pink-robed, weak-willed noodle shop intern (Xiao Shen-Yang). The story putters along all willy-nilly, with everything from crazy noodle-cooking acrobatics to cross-eyed police lieutenants foolishly overlooking evidence, until one soldier steps up to Wang’s request to investigate his wife’s relationship with Li. This soldier, lured by the song of sweet sweet cash, agrees and sets off on what becomes an intricate game of double and triple-crossing. As relationships sour and bodies begin piling up, the soldier, Li, and Wang’s wife find themselves caught in a confusing web of murder and theft from which few can escape.
Though the settings of A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop are drastically different from Blood Simple, everything feels especially familiar—the long stretches of highway are replaced by windy mountainside paths, and there’s more than one shotgun burial in deserted wastelands. Characters’ actions are determined by misunderstandings about the objects they leave behind; a soldier’s pipe and intern’s purse play Desdemona’s handkerchief in this film. Unless you’ve never seen Blood Simple I can’t imagine a reason to seek this movie out—it’s basically the same story punched up by Zhang’s penchant for opulence. It’s a great dark comedy on its own, and features lots of brightly-robed eye candy against the desolate Chinese hillsides to boot, but it also convolutes the original story with a meandering opening, silly character additions, and a third act that drags at points. None of Zhang’s contributions enhance the story, and the film takes no liberties with the themes of its source material; though it’s a wonderful homage to the Coens’ careers and a pretty entertaining film, I simply can’t think of why it exists. I’m torn on recommending this one–it’s a genuinely engaging film audiences will likely enjoy, but they may like Blood Simple more.