September 25, 2023

Left to Right: Yan Ni as Wang’s wife and Ni Dahong as Wang Photo by Bai Xiaoyan, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

A Film Review by Wu Yi

Saying goodbye to caparison in Curse of the Golden Flower, international famous actors in Hero, a huge number of walkers-on in House of Flying Daggers, eminent Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings the world a surprise by simply painting life with A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop (Sony Pictures Classics, 2009 Rated R, Mandarin W/English Subtitles).

Wang (Dahong Ni) is a cunning noodle shop owner who lives in a desert town in China, with his wife (Ni Yan) and three employees: a waiter, Li (Shenyang Xiao), Zhao (Ye Cheng) and a waitress Chen (Mao Mao). Facing abuse from Wang for 10 years, Wang’s wife buys a gun from a Persian businessman and plans to kill him one day and join her secret lover, Li.

Then enter patrol officer Zhang (Honglei Sun) who sells this fatal secret to Wang and promises to kill the illicit couple for a large amount of money. He does not deliver on the promise, however, and in this air of betrayal, Zhang has a more sinister plan for Wang and the wait staff after taking all of their money.

A woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is a dark comedy that weaves together a story of how love, passion, power and money can consume the lives of otherwise ordinary people. These dynamics drive people to greed, to take risks to chase their dreams or illusions of happiness.

The film is a remake of the 1985 directorial debut of Joel and Ethan Coen, “Blood Simple.” Adding a sense of farcical humor and a rich Chinese flavor, director Zhang finds a new way to rebuild this riveting suspense.

Zhang unfolds the story in a brand new way that is entirely different from his earlier films. Zhang is credited with epic masterpieces with a lot of star power and fantastic period costumes.  A woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop seems to be strange among his works.

There are no international stars, no fancy clothing and none of the grand spectacles that were so prominent in his earlier films. The scenes mainly focus on the noodle shop and the desert.

However, Zhang still remains true to his tradition of showing an audience a splendid landscape and excellent cinematography. It is worth mention that this is the second time Zhang made a dark comedy. It is almost 13 years now since his first one, You Hua Hao Hao Shuo.

Zhang tries his best by using four known comedians in the six member central cast. There are plenty of funny conversations.

A woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop made the list of official selections in 2010 Berlin Film Festival and this says much about the success of the film as a comedy. However, moviegoers rated the film from low-to-high on, the most popular website for reviews and recommendations in China.

It was on Douban that fans expressed disappointment over the controversial topic, and both slighted and praised Zhang for his success in making a vulgar film work. Other reactions suggested that Zhang stay away from comedies, while others felt he had a good grasp of dark humor.

In the film production notes, Zhang himself said the original purpose of the film was to “lay bare the absurdity of life – something ironically repetitive, always beyond our control.”

A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop is now showing at the Lagoon/Landmark Cinema in Minneapolis.