Elegant cheap thrills in 'A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop'

Zhang Yimou's remake of 'Blood Simple' may give you the movie equivalent of an MSG high

  • Yan Ni as Wang's wife in "A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop."
Yan Ni as Wang's wife in "A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle… (Bai Xiaoyan, Handout photo )
December 09, 2010

The postman rings thrice in "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" (opening Friday at the Charles). Director Zhang Yimou transfers the Coen brothers'' "Blood Simple" — their merry-sadist variation on James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" — from 1985 Texas to an equally arid but wildly multihued landscape in feudal China. Cain's book is a lowdown masterpiece. The movies are trash with flash. But oh, what flash!

The film that established the Coens as our reigning cinematic smart-alecks, "Blood Simple" told a simple story of a woman, a gun and a saloon. Frances McDormand played the wife of a sleazy bar-owner ( Dan Hedaya) who becomes murderously jealous when she falls into an affair with a bartender. M. Emmet Walsh stole the film as an amoral private eye — a plugged-nickel philosopher and connoisseur of sleaze — whose cheerful, oozing malevolence inspired kicky melodrama. It's mostly Cain on steroids. People think of "Blood Simple" as a classic because of its jolting bloody-funhouse finale. Fate pushes the button for the bad and befuddled alike.

"Blood Simple" starts slow, finishes strong. "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" does just the opposite. Yimou ("House of Flying Daggers") brings elating scale and oddball humor to the story, which he resets in a noodle shop that reaps a fortune in the middle of nowhere.

Yimou substitutes noodle shop for bar, then mixes ingredients in a Chinese-menu fashion (one from Column A, two from Column B). He breaks loose in exhilarating images. Imperial mounted police gallop in blue armor — with rippling blue flags — through a striated gold-to-scarlet desert. Two noodle chefs operate like tag-team pizza makers, sending circles of dough flying and expanding in midair.

Yimou errs by turning Walsh's drawling private eye into a tight-lipped crooked cop. But in their mixtures of crass and class, his movie and the Coens' are like two snow peas in a pod.

—Michael Sragow

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