What sounds as though it ought to be delicious - a Chinese remake of Joel and Ethan Coen's debut film, Blood Simple - winds up, instead, a soggy noodle. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop more or less follows the Coens' narrative construct about an adulterous wife and jealous husband who hires a private investigator to put an end to the problem, but director Zhang Yimou's version has little of the wit, surprise or memorable characterizations of the original.
Set in a remote location during some indeterminate period in the past, A Woman, a Gun is draped in color-drenched imagery that reminds us of earlier Zhang stunners such as Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern. But an overreliance on farce dilutes the drama without adding real hilarity, and the stony expression of investigator Zhang (Sun Hunglei) makes him a dull figure. It merely stirs recollections of the magnificence of M. Emmet Walsh's sweaty performance as Blood Simple's P.I., in the role of his career.
A Woman, a Gun follows its course as corpses are schlepped to and fro, guns are hidden and found, money is stolen, and, curiously, no one patronizes the noodle shop. A single scene of noodle preparation is included (in a balletic sequence as outrageous as any ninja battle) when the employees must serve a meal to the soldiers who come to their outpost checking in on the sound of gunfire.
Zhang's directing career is notable for the way in which it has responded to the political winds of change in Chinese society. Following his lush early films, Zhang moved on to more populist fare like To Live and Not One Less, which was then followed by the martial arts epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers. His success can perhaps be gauged by his selection to direct the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a dazzling spectacle that wowed the universe.
Seen in this political context, it is probably too early to calculate the full rationale for the misstep of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop. But check out Ju Dou and pretend you are watching a Douglas Sirk movie if you want a better example of Zhang's Western influences. But for the subtitles, you'll hardly notice the difference.