Friday, September 10, 2010
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (三枪拍案惊奇)
Renowned award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) must be the best known director in this world, with the enormous population in China. Not only he has a distinguished filmography including master pieces such as "Red Sorghum" (红高粱, 1987) and "Raise the Red Lantern" (大红灯笼高高挂, 1991), he is also the master mind behind 2008 Beijing Olympics's magnificent opening and closing ceremonies. He is also the creator of a fantastic production of Puccini's "Turandot" inside the one and only Forbidden City (紫禁城).
Understandably, people have high expectations for Zhang Yimou's films to be visually stunning, mentally stimulating, socially provoking, and financially profiting. However, after the Beijing Olympics, Zhang surprises everybody with "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" (三枪拍案惊奇 | China 2009 | in Chinese | 95 min.) which is a mix bag of light-hearted goofball comedy including folk art er-ren-zhuan (二人转), suspensive thriller, and stunning visual.
Why is this film a surprise? To begin with, it is a remake of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's directorial debut "Blood Simple" (1984). Unlike Hollywood, Chinese directors rarely remake American films. Secondly, Zhang does not just follow the story from "Blood Simple," he truly transforms the story into an authentic Chinese fable tale. And the most unusual element of the film is that he adds a great amount of comedy and casts a recently famed Xiao Shenyang (小沈阳), who studies er-ren-zhuan (二人转) from the most popular comedian in China—Zhao Benshan (赵本山). That is similar to invite Tina Fey to play skits in "The Silence of the Lambs."
While the dancing and singing folk art form er-ren-zhuan (二人转) is extremely entertaining and popular in the Northern-Eastern region of China, it is also famous for its often vulgar humor. Because many of Zhang's films are nothing short of being operatic, it is intriguing to see how he mixes Saturday Night Live alike comic into a suspensive thriller.
That is precisely what a master can do, and Zhang does it gracefully in "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop".
Everything happens in a quiet courtyard located in a gorgeous looking remote dessert, where nothing green grows. Pockmarked Wang (Ni Dahong 倪大红) is a greedy noodle shop owner who abuses his wife (Yan Ni 闫妮) and refuses to pay his employee Zhao (Cheng Ye 程野) and Chen (Mao Mao 毛毛). Wang's wife develops a fair with a fainthearted noodle shop employee Li (Xiao Shenyang 小沈阳). She buys a gun and plans to kill Wang so she can happily live with Li. After Wang finds out the plan, he bribes a patrol officer Zhang (Sun Honglei 孙红雷) to carry out a hitman job. The seemingly quiet place turns very deadly.
Zhang Yimou skillfully composes a terrific thriller with impeccable details. Zhang's version of the story is definitely much superior to Coen brothers' original tale. Plus, the cinematography is breathtaking as always.
For the comedy part, however, Zhang Yimou obviously makes this film for Chinese speaking audience. One of the trademarks of er-ren-zhuan is its rhymed hilarious dialogues, which often cleverly make references to current Chinese pop culture. There is no way to translate these witty and funny exchanges into any other language. As a result, the US theatrical release by Sony Pictures Classics cuts off most of these comic scenes and dialogues.
Unfortunately, the US release also cuts off the delightful dancing scene in the end when the credit rolls. That handkerchief-turning dance is also a signature of er-ren-zhuan, as well as this noodle-making scene is originated from. However, even with all the loss of these comic moments, this US release is still humorous, suspensive, and entertaining.
This film shows what Zhang Yimou can do—just about anything, including having a little fun in the middle of nowhere.