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A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 23, 2011 by  



Entertaining, fun, twisted and beautiful… “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” may be loosely-based on the Coen Brothers “Blood Simple” but Zhang Yimou creates a different but yet fantastic film all on his own. Visually impressive, fantastic cinematography… this film is definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2009 Film Partner (2009) International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop (San qiang pai an jing qi)

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2009

DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), Chinese Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Some Violence)

RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2011

Directed by Yimou Zhang

Screenplay by Jianquan Shi, Jing Sang

Based on the film “Blood Simple” by Ethan and Joel Coen

Produced by William Kong, Weiping Zhang

Cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao

Edited by Peicong Meng

Starring:

Honglei Sun as Zhang

Xiao Shen-Yang as Li

Ni Yan as Wang’s Wife

Dahong Ni as Wang

Ye Cheng as Zhao

Mao Mao as Chen

Benshan as The Captain

Julien Gaudfroy as the Persian Trader

It looks like a perfect plan: the affair will come to a cruel but satisfying end when a Chinese noodle shop owner plots to execute his unfaithful wife and her lover. But the lover has a lethal plan of his own in this violent tale of adultery and revenge based on the Coen Brother’s debut classic Blood Simple.


Trailer

Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is known for his epic films such as “Hero”, “House of Flying Daggers”, “Curse of the Golden Flower” and he also happens to be a fan of the Coen Brothers 1985 film “Blood Simple”.  So, as a departure of the kind of films that Zhang is known for, a Chinese (loosely-based) adaptation of the film was created and “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” was born.

Shot in Northwest China at the Gansu province, “A Simple Noodle Story” is a mixture of a dark thriller but also comedy.  Praised for its visual look and vibrant colors (as Zhang Yimou was praised for his use of colors in “Hero”), “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” was nominated for a Golden Bear when the film had its international premiere at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival.

The film begins with four people at the noodle shop looking at the various items for sale by a Persian trader.  The Persian trader shows the wife (played by Ni Yan) of the owner of the noodle shop a gun and how it can kill a person immediately.  He shows them how the gun takes three bullets and the employees are shocked that Wang’s wife would even buy a gun.

The Persian trader tries to get her to buy a cannon and shows them how it is used.  They fire a blast in which the cannon shoots off towards the mountains but Wang’s wife decides that she is happy with the gun instead.

Unfortunately, the police are alerted by the cannonball explosion and head off to the noodle shop.

As the police arrive, Li (played by comedian Xiao Shen-Yang) is scared that Wang’s wife bought a gun but she tells him to not worry as she has hidden it in a vase and for now, the employees should make noodles for the police.    The police captain (played by Benshan Zhao) at first suspects that the people of the noodle shop maybe responsible for firing a cannonball and he asks one of his detectives Zhang (played by Hongeli Sun) to keep an eye out for them and any trouble in the area.

Meanwhile, the foolish employee Zhao (played by Ye Cheng) goes down to where the owner Wang (played by Dahong Ni) is staying and tells him that his wife has purchased a gun and now Wang suspects that maybe she purchased it to kill him.

As Wang’s wife is with her husband, you realize that their love is not equal.  He purchased her from someone and she has not been able to deliver a baby and is dismayed by her.  So much that he tortures her by burning metal and branding her.

The only person that knows about her pain is Li and each time, the two leave the noodle shop, ride out to the hills and talk.  Wang’s wife looks at him as her only confidant and is happy that he is with her.  He knows how badly his boss treats her and tries to help her with her injuries by putting medication on her.  Unfortunately, when he does that, it sounds like the two are making love.

The police detective, Zhang, overhears this and he has suspected that each meeting the two have up in the hills is sexual and he reports to Wang about his discovery.

Now Wang is paranoid.  He feels that his wife is having sex with his employee and he has to see this for himself.  After paying Zhang for watching his wife, Zhang escorts Wang to the hill area where the two are staying and a confrontation between Wang and his wife (and Li) develop.  But she pulls the gun out on him and eventually he runs off leaving.  He meets with Zhang and tells him that he feels his wife is trying to kill him and he wants both of them dead.

He wants to rid of his wife and Li and make it seem like they ran off together.  Zhang agrees if only Wang will pay him 15 Guan and both have a deal.

The following day, both Wang’s wife and Li go to the hills once again and when Zhang goes to kill them, he thinks they have committed suicide as Li is laying on the bottom as if he was dead of the carriage and Wang’s wife looks dead as well. He takes a piece of their clothing which looks bloody, as well as the gun that Wang’s wife had bouht and returns to Wang and he tells them that he killed them and now wants payment.

Seeing that Wang is a rich man with a lot of money hidden inside his safe, Zhang shoots and kills Wang.  He tries to make it look like his wife killed him with the gun.

Meanwhile, as Zhang tries to break into the safe, he is unable to and must leave to find a way to break the lock.  Unbeknown to Zhang, both Li and Wang’s wife have woken up and returned home.  Wang’s wife drinks herself to sleep, while Li wants forgiveness by Wang for him catching them together and to let him know that he has not had an affair with his wife.

When he goes down to the cellar to talk to Wang, he finds him dead and the gun laying in front of him.  Scared that Wang’s wife is now in trouble for murder, Li will do everything he can to hide the murder of Wang and protect his wife.  But first, he must get Wang and the gun of the cellar and he must bury him.

But what Li doesn’t know is that Zhang will return to try and steal Wang’s money from the safe and also that the other two employees, Zhao and Chen (played by Mao Mao), who haven’t received their pay, want to sneak into the safe and get the money that is owed to them.

And Zhang will not hesitate to kill any of them, if they discover that he is trying to steal the money.

As a paranoid Li tries to bury Wang’s body, to his surprise while burying him, Wang is not dead.  He is still alive!

By the end of the day, which one of these individuals will remain alive and who will be dead?

VIDEO:

“A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” is presented in 1080 High Definition (2:40:1).

When Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” was released, the film caught everyone by surprise by its use of color and the overall vibrant colors were a magnificent accomplishment by cinematographer Chris Doyle.  And since then, every production, may it be for the Beijing Olympics, Chinese New Year or any film that Zhang Yimou has taken part in has embraced color.

This time around, Zhang Yimou collaborates with his cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao, who he worked with previously in “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower” and once again, color use in this film is magnificent.

For one, the characters are wearing colors that pop.  Wang’s wife in green, Li in pink, Zhao in orange and Chen in blue.  The background of where the film is shot is very close to these hills that are red and earthtone ambers and the colors absolutely pop!

Also, what I found amazing is the detail.  The details of the hills and mountain around the area, to the wood-based design of the noodleshop.  But you can also see the detail of the clothing and fabric.  The curvature of the police uniform that Zhang is wearing and everything is so detailed, that I found it to be amazing in HD.  And typically when you get these colors, you expect to see some banding and I didn’t see any banding at all.  Nor did I see any crush, especially during the scenes with Wang (who tends to stay in the dark in the cellar).  Blacks are nice and deep, I didn’t notice any artifacts or edge enhancement.

“A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” looks amazing in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Similar to the picture quality, “A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” has its moments where the lossless audio track really catches your attention.  Presented in Chinese Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA, from the opening scenes with the cannonball being blasted or when a gun is being shot.  But where you will hear awesome audio is when the noodle shop is working and you can hear the flames through the surround channels, also the ambiance of the police men inside the restaurant or when they are traveling and you can hear the whirl from a fan that they are carrying.

While the majority of the film is dialogue and music-driven and a lot of it through the front and center channels, you do get enough of noise coming through the surround channels as well and it’s well-utilized throughout the film.  Even for little things such as Li’s clumsiness as he keeps tripping, Zhang firing off arrows or hearing him unsheat his sword or trying to break into the safe, these moments really come alive as if it is happening right near you in real-time.

So, overall, the lossless audio soundtrack is amazing.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” comes with the following special features:

  • Creating A Woman, A Gun and a Noodleshop – (1:59:14) Presented in standard definition, this featurette actually comprises of probably close to two dozen mini-featurettes.  This special feature goes through so many elements of what took place behind-the-scenes of the film and also featuring mini-featurettes focused on the director and the six major talents of the film.  From covering the costume design, casting, what the talent like to do during the off-time, singing, learning dance moves, stunt coordination and also giving us an idea of a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of “A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop”.  But also to showcase how busy a director Zhang Yimou is because while he was working on this film, he was also working on a Chinese New Year event.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:55) The original theatrical trailer to “A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop”.

Absolutely enjoyable, fun and a bit twisted… “A Women, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” was a pleasant surprise!

If anything, Zhang Yimou is a fantastic filmmaker.  He knows what he wants, he has been able to create these visually fantastic films and also epic Chinese films but “A Women, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” is a big surprise.  For one, I never expected to see Zhang take on a Coen Brothers film and do a loose adaptation of it.  And because of the departure from his previous films, many see this film as a way for the director to try something experimental, crazy but also a homage to the Coen Brother’s 1984 debut classic but done in a Chinese way, using impressive and visually appealing colors.

I have to admit, I’m still surprise by how he was able to take the storyline of the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” and transform this film to a Chinese period film.

As mentioned, “A Women, A Gun and A Noodle Shop” relies heavily on visuals, physical comedy, even the use of gags that may have been seen in ’70s and ’80s Chinese comedy/period films, these are not the type of films that Zhang Yimou is known for.  But he is able to craft this film, using “Blood Simple” as a blueprint and having fun with the storyline.  And to see this balance of comedy, vibrant colors to moments of dark twisted planning, with wonderful cinematography, beautiful costume design and also impressive set design as everything is shot with these breathtaking red/amber-colored hills and blue sky, this movie was not only artistic, creative and fun, it’s another great film among the many awesome films in Zhang Yimou’s oeuvre.  It’s literally a work of art!

And typically with many Chinese period films, there are so many characters and special effects that at times, the storyline can get convoluted or even derivative of past Chinese films but this time, the story is kept simple within six characters.  The visual storytelling and how each of these characters are displayed was quite fascinating.

The performance by Honglei Sun as the police detective Zhang turned crooked and literally a murderer, was quite interesting and there is this sinister feeling that among the five other characters of this film, this lighthearted comedy was going to quickly change to a sinister, dark and twisted drama of who will be the last person standing?

Actress Ni Yan does a wonderful job playing Wang’s wife.  Submissive to him but also strong-willed in front of the employees, this is a woman who has been hurt so much by her husband that she seems to be staying because of the financial convenience.  The only person keeping her sane is the employee Li who has become like a good, listening friend for her.  Mischievous, playful but also a woman trying to find her inner strength.

The comedian Xiao Shen-Yang does a wonderful job playing the paranoid Li.  A man who knows between right and wrong but yet feels sorry for his boss’s wife and thus has her interests in mind, despite trying to keep his job at the noodle shop.  Li does his own stunts but just captures the look and feel of a paranoid man quite well!

Dahong Ni as Wang is the elder man who is jealous that his wife is having an affair behind his back and now wants her gone.  Dahong Ni does a great job of playing the rich man who has power because of money and knowing he has control over his wife which he bought and over his employees.

As for Ye Cheng as Zhao and Mao Mao as Chen, these characters are almost like characters that seem quite common when you watch a Shaw Bros. film.  But this time in a Zhang Yimou film.  Zhao is not very bright and has the big overbite, while Chen is the good friend of Zhao, who just works at the noodle shop and wants to keep out of trouble.

The Blu-ray release is magnificent and once again, Sony Pictures Classics gives us an incredible visual film that definitely stands out amongst Zhang Yimou’s previous, magnificent work.  The special features has plenty of mini-featurettes and about two hours worth of material on the making of the film and also showing us how life is quite busy for the world renown director.

Overall, “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” was a fantastic film and also a refreshing escape from the kind of film that we are used to seeing from Zhang Yimou.  I’m not sure if I would qualify this film as being a masterpiece because of it’s crazy use of comedy at times, but still, it was an impressive film that I can see myself coming back to quite often.

Entertaining, fun, twisted and beautiful… “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” may be loosely-based on the Coen Brothers “Blood Simple” but Zhang Yimou creates a different but yet fantastic film all on his own. Visually impressive, fantastic cinematography… this film is definitely recommended!

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