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


A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

Two out of three...

(2009) Comedy (Sony Classics) Honglei Sun, Xiao Shen-Yang, Ni Yan, Dahong Ni, Ye Cheng, Mao Mao, Benshan Zhao, Ran Cheng, Julien Gaudfroy, Shuo Huang, Wenting Li, Sisi Wang, Xiaojuan Wang, Na Wei. Directed by Zhang Yimou

People are fallible. We are prone to making mistakes and letting our hearts guide our actions when our heads should prevail. We often fail to recognize or foresee the consequences of those actions when we take them.

Wang (Dahong Ni) is the owner of a noodle shop in the middle of nowhere. Location being everything (even in ancient China), his clientele mainly consists of wanderers and nomads on their way to somewhere else – anywhere else but there. He has a comely wife (Ni Yan) who has been unable to give him children. Frustrated at both his wife and his lot in life, the miserly Wang takes out his frustrations on his wife and his staff, but mostly on the former whom he humiliates sexually whenever he can.

She responds by buying a gun from a Persian trader (Gaudfroy). Now, she exclaims, she has the most powerful weapon in the world at her disposal. She also has a lover, the cowardly and timid Li (Shen-Yang) who mostly wears pink and rarely does anything that his lover doesn’t approve of.

Wang doesn’t like this much, as you might imagine. So much so that he talks to the corrupt and jaded local magistrate Zhang (Honglei Sun) and persuades him to kill his wife and her lover, then make the bodies disappear – for a large fee. Zhang figures he can do better and so he kills Wang instead, hoping to get all of his loot – except he killed Wang before he could get the key to his safe…and Wang just won’t stay dead…

Yimou, the award-winning director of such movies as Raise the Red Lantern and Curse of the Golden Flower (not to mention the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics), remade this from the Coen Brothers 1984 cult classic Blood Simple and overlaid it with his stylish and colorful visual sense.

He also chose to take the dark, noir-ish thriller that the Coens made and turn it into a broad comedic thriller. Purists are going to be horrified about that, and a lot of critics who loved the original had a hard time with the remake.

It certainly is a different film, although it strikes all the right plot points as the original, only approaching them differently and adding a subplot about a rival gang of thieves. The darker tones of the original are gone though; this is far more light-hearted.

However, Yimou has that distinctive sense of color and scope that make his films so breathtaking and awe-inspiring and he uses it to his advantage here. Although the noodle shop is grim and colorless, those that live in it wear brightly colored robes and carry on in an epic vista that wouldn’t look out of place in a John Ford western.

Sun gets the most of my attention; Zhang is laconic and somewhat low-key but he has a vicious side that reminds me of a cobra. Sun gives him that sense that something dark and nasty hides just below the surface. Playing a man who is dangerous is a difficult proposition; doing it without giving much away emotionally is even harder but Sun pulls it off.

The comedy is very broad and exaggerated, which while common with Asian audiences might be out of step with more subtle American tastes. Think of it as a Hanna Barbera cartoon without the intellectual undertones. It’s not for children though – but some of the set pieces would definitely appeal to less sophisticated senses of humor.

There is some bloodshed though – this isn’t strictly comedy – but considering how sexual the situation is there is almost no sexuality, which again illustrates the cultural differences between the Americans and the Chinese. This gives the movie a curiously sexless feel, and the sex did add a certain amount of kick to the original like adding jalapenos to a salsa.

I’m a big fan of Yimou but this one misfired for me. I’m recommending it mainly because the man always knows how to make a great-looking movie and this isn’t an exception but be advised that American audiences might have a tough time with the humor and the tone. If you can overlook that, you will find yourself enjoying the movie on purely a visceral level, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

WHY RENT THIS: Yimou is one of the most striking visual directors of our time. Some broad laughs.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The noir tone of the original is sorely missed.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence and some sexual themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the original was sent in modern (at the time) rural Texas, the remake is set in the remote desert Gansu province of ancient China.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The making-of feature is longer than the actual movie, but there are parts of it which are fascinating.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $38M on a $12M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Illusionist

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Four-Warned: September 2010


Devil

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.
Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation
Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. DEVIL (1.9)
TIE. MACHETE (1.9)
3. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2.0)
4. THE AMERICAN (2.1)
TIE. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2.1)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. CATFISH (1.1)
2. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (1.9)
3. NEVER LET ME GO (2.1)
4. A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

SEPTEMBER 1, 2010

THE AMERICAN (Focus) Genre: Suspense Thriller. An American assassin prepares for one last job in an idyllic Italian village, not realizing that love may be deadlier than any bullet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 I’m always up for anything George Clooney does.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy Thriller. A Chinese remake of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, the owner of a noodle shop whose wife is cheating on him pays a patrolman to kill her, but the patrolman has his own agenda. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Director Zhang Yimou is in my opinion one of the top five directors on the planet; he has an amazing visual sense which makes this like catnip to me.
LAST TRAIN HOME (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. The human cost of China’s economic ascent is measured in families separated by members working factory jobs far from home. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A different look at China than we have ever seen.
MACHETE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. One of the faux trailers from Grindhouse gets its own feature film as an ultra-violent 70’s-style B-movie with a Latin flavor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Nobody does this kind of movie better than director Robert Rodriguez, except for maybe Quentin Tarantino.
MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 (Music Box) Genre: True Crime/Gangster. Gangster Jacques Mesrine, an anti-hero who has captured the imagination of his native France, escapes from prison only to find the police closing in on him. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 The second of two films about the notorious gangster.
PRINCE OF BROADWAY (Elephant Eye) Genre: Drama. A Ghanaian immigrant to New York City finds himself unexpectedly charged with raising his baby. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.0 A New York story reminiscent of The Visitor.
WHITE WEDDING (Dada Films) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A bride’s perfect wedding is threatened when the groom goes to pick up his best man in a neighboring town. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 South Africa has been turning out some impressive movies of late.
THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Sports Comedy. An adult misfit is called upon to coach the local high school girls’ basketball team. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Sam Rockwell stars in this, so that makes it of interest to me from the get-go.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

AHEAD OF TIME (Film First) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the amazing life of 97-year-old Ruth Gruber, once the world’s youngest PhD and later a key member of the FDR administration and a journalist in the Middle East in the 1940s. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 2.5 This is the kind of movie that always piques my interest; someone who I’ve never heard of yet had a profound effect on history.
BRAN NUE DAE (Freestyle) Genre: Musical. An aboriginal couple in Australia has a series of misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 One of Oz’s most popular stage musicals of all time but I wonder if it will translate for American audiences.
HEARTBREAKER (IFC) Genre: French Romantic Comedy. A young Frenchman who is hired to break up relationships falls in love with his target. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The French are the best at romantic comedies, but this sounds a bit too much like My Best Friend’s Girl for comfort.
HIDEAWAY (Strand) Genre: Drama. After her boyfriend dies of a drug overdose, a pregnant young girl flees to a relative’s house far from Paris but is joined there by her dead boyfriend’s brother. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 17). RATING: 2.9 Sounds a bit melodramatic, but I have confidence that director Francois Ozon will make a terrific film.
I’M STILL HERE: THE LOST YEAR OF JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The star of Gladiator decides to retire from acting and reinvent himself as a hip-hop artist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 A quirky doc that could be fascinating or could be surreal.
LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) Genre: Family Drama. A young boy seeks to reunite his family a decade after his father, a celebrated wrestling coach, passes away suddenly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Wrestler John Cena makes a dramatic turn as an actor; could he be the next Dwayne Johnson?
LOVELY, STILL (Monterey Media) Genre: Romantic Drama. A chance encounter leads a lonely elderly man into a romance that takes an unexpected turn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Considering the leads are Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, this one might be worth seeking out.
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) Genre: Horror Sci-Fi Action. Alice continues to find survivors of the zombie plague and try to lead them to safety but the Umbrella Corporation has a fiendish trap set for her and her team. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.1 This series has been the best videogame adaptation of them all.
THE ROMANTICS (Paramount Famous Productions) Genre: Dark Romantic Comedy. The night before a wedding, the bride and her friends go for a swim with the groom and return…minus the groom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Haven’t seen much about this one but Josh Duhamel is in it and I usually like him.
THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) Genre: Sex Comedy. Three guys try to get their buddy, who is still a virgin, laid. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Sounds to me like a raunchier version of The 40-Year-Old Virgin without Steve Carell, although Will Ferrell is a producer on this.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Sci-fi Drama. A sheltered group of young people at a British boarding school discover a terrible fate awaiting them when they graduate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From what I can see this is a thought-provoking drama with sci-fi elements concerning what it means to be human – sounds intriguing to me.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) Genre: Animated Feature. Two wolves – one an Alpha female at the top of her pack, the other an Omega male at the bottom, must rely on each other to get back home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 From the trailer, the animation looks just plain awful.
CATFISH (Rogue) Genre: Documentary. A young man’s Internet romance is documented by his filmmaker brother, only to turn into something completely different. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 One of the most amazing trailers I’ve ever seen – I’m hoping this will be the next Paranormal Activity-like buzz film.
DEVIL (Universal) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Four people are trapped on an elevator with someone who isn’t who they appear to be. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 A very interesting concept that could yield a pretty decent movie.
EASY A (Screen Gems) Genre: Teen Comedy. A teen girl lies about losing her virginity and discovers that she is being seen in a whole new light. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Looks like a cross between The Scarlet Letter and High School Musical.
THE FREEBIE (Phase 4) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A married couple that has lost interest in sex gives each other a “freebie,” one night where anything goes with no questions asked, no repercussions. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A very sexy concept but Dax Shepard, not one of my favorite actors, is the guy.
THE GIRL (Olive) Genre: Coming of Age Drama. A young girl left on her own by humanitarian parents and a bohemian aunt decides to take care of herself. Release Strategy: New York (opening in Los Angeles October 1). RATING: 3.1 Could be intriguing if the juvenile actress is solid enough.
JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) Genre: Dramedy. A pair of shy, lonely New Yorkers begins to come out of their shells when they meet one another. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands September 24). RATING: 2.9 Very indie in concept but with the great Philip Seymour Hoffman headlining this could be a gem.
KANDAHAR BREAK (Peace Arch) Genre: War Drama. A British bomb disposal expert falls afoul of the ruling Taliban and must flee pre-9/11 Afghanistan on foot. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.9 Intriguing considering the production crew actually did come under fire from pro-Taliban forces while filming this.
PICTURE ME (Strand) Genre: Documentary. A look at the modern fashion model culture as seen through the eyes of Sara Ziff who went from juvenile model to world famous supermodel. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 3.8 In all honesty given all the problems in the world, the problems of women who want to have glamorous pictures taken of them doesn’t really move me all that much.
THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Crime Drama. A bank robber falls in love with a bank manager he took hostage and begins to court her, she being ignorant of his true identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A very strong cast with Ben Affleck in the lead; yes, I know but Affleck has been very strong in supporting roles of late.
THE WILD HUNT (Hannover House) Genre: Thriller. A young man follows his girlfriend into a medieval re-enactment game that quickly gets out of hand. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Originally scheduled for July 16; hopefully that’s not a sign that this sucks.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) Genre: Dramedy. A distinguished cast stars as a family trying to overcome tangled love lives and their tendencies to be their own worst enemies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste that I’ve never acquired.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

A MOTHER’S COURAGE (First Run) Genre: Documentary. Kate Winslet narrates the story of a woman who refuses to give up on her autistic son and works tirelessly to find a way to unlock his mind even when conventional medicine has turned its back on them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 The story of an admirable fight that I might catch on cable someday.
BURIED (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. A contractor in Iraq awakens to find himself trapped in a coffin buried underground with only a dying cell phone, a lighter and limited air. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening Wide on October 8). RATING: 2.7 A hit at Sundance, but can it sustain my interest over the course of 90 minutes?
ENTER THE VOID (IFC) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. A small-time drug dealer shot in a police raid tries to fulfill his promise to his girlfriend even as his soul begins to leave this world. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 If done right this could be a very interesting film.
FRICTION (Hyrax) Genre: Dramedy. The lines between script and reality blur as a high school student writes a script about a love triangle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Has gotten good reviews on the festival circuit.
HOWL (Oscilloscope Labs) Genre: Bio-Drama. Partially a biography of the life of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, partially a chronicle of the obscenity trial surrounding his masterpiece Howl and partially an animated ride through the landscape of the novel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Ginsberg might have loved this but not so sure audiences will.
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A teenager who checks himself into a mental institution is taken under the wing of a fellow inmate. Release Strategy: New York and Los Angeles only (although I’m seeing trailers at the AMC in Orlando so likely this will turn out to be limited release at some point). RATING: 3.0 It will be interesting to see if Zach Galifianakis is ready to take a critical supporting role in a movie that isn’t strictly comedic.
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Animated Feature. A courageous young owl searches for legendary warriors to save the owls from the forces of evil. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.4 The 3D animation from 300 director Zack Snyder looks absolutely astonishing.
WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Documentary. The director of An Inconvenient Truth takes on the American education system. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A timely film that will give night terrors to any parent hoping for something better for their children.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. 80s greed icon Gordon Gekko is released from prison, this time taking on his prospective son-in-law as a protégé. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Director Oliver Stone revisits characters and situations that are as relevant now as they were 20 years ago.
YOU AGAIN (Disney) Genre: Comedy. A young woman tries to prevent her brother from marrying her high school rival, only to discover that the rival’s aunt was her mom’s high school rival. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Strong female cast including Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White but the trailer didn’t really look good.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The American, Machete, Devil, The Town, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps