Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009)

The 30th Atlantic Film Festival


"This is nothing like BLOOD SIMPLE," I thought, as Zhang Yimou's remake of the Coen Brothers' first film began. I mean, it opens with a gaudily-dressed Persian pirouetting around with a fancy sword , dicing up random things in the noodle shop and generally shocking the hell out of the collection of buffoons who worked there. This scene is shot like a pastiche of the overly-choreographed action in Yimou's better-known (in North America) films, HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (action scenes which are practically pastiche already). It's incredibly fast and hard to follow, and doesn't seem to sync up with anything in the Coen Bros original. Which, when you're doing a remake of a great film, is probably a good thing.

The situation is similar: the boss wants to find out if his wife is cheating on him, and hires someone to do so. When his suspicions are confirmed, he hires the same person (in this case, a steely-faced police officer named Zhang, played by Sun Hunglei; in the original, the inimitable M. Emmett Walsh) to kill both his wife and her lover. And then things go wonky. But, despite this similar situation, for the first part of the film, it really seemed like a stretch to call this a remake. And then things all fall into place.

OK, so, the plot points all end up being similar. But stylistically, there is virtually no similarity between the two films: NOODLE SHOP is a slapstick comedy set against a vibrant, technicolor background, with weird comedic characters that must be stock characters of some sort (but of what stock I don't know), and broad performances that outpace realism so greatly that they end up lapping it.

This results in an incredibly quirky film. The four employees of the noodle shop, along with the wife (Yan Ni), are all played with break-neck absurdity; the killer, Zhang, on the other hand, is played with such quiet intensity that he's capable of building a good deal of dread, even in his ridiculous surroundings. So, it ends up like you're watching the Three Stooges get offed by Anton Chigurh, in a period piece. The stark contrast between the murderer and his prey--it's like they've come from two different movies--adds what I can only call a unique "weirdness" to the film that I've never encountered before.

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