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  Simple Noodle Story, A A steaming bowl of malice, mischief and murder
Year: 2010
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Sun Honglei, Xiao Shen-Yang, Yan Ni, Ni Dahong, Ye Cheng, Mao Mao, Zhao Benshan
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: How’s this for a sign of the shifting global economic balance? Where once Hollywood remade foreign films, now a major Chinese auteur remakes an American indie classic. A Simple Noodle Story (also known in China as A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop) finds Zhang Yimou transforming the Coen Brothers’ Texas set neo-noir Blood Simple (1983) into a period farce in feudal China. When the cruelly abusive noodle shop owner Wang (Ni Dahong) learns his adulterous wife (Yan Ni) has purchased a gun from a Persian merchant, he suspects she is plotting his death. Old Wang bribes a local patrol officer named Zhang (Sun Honglei) to kill his wife and her lover, the mild-mannered noodle chef Li (Xiao Shen-Yang) while providing him with an alibi. Unfortunately, a series of unexpected events driven by greed, vengeance and simple misunderstandings, spin this scheme wildly out of control.

Unlike many remakes, this version is very much its own entity, trading the Coens’ grim and gritty dustbowl setting for spectacular skies and sweeping sand dunes with colour-coded characters garbed in glorious costumes. Whereas the Coens drew upon the noir stylings of novelists James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler, Yimou leans towards the Chinese tradition of knockabout screwball comedy, complete with breakneck pace, outlandish visuals and disarmingly broad humour. He adds a comical Greek chorus in the form of the kitchen duo of big, bucktoothed chef Zhao (Ye Cheng) and his diminutive spouse Chen (Mao Mao) who prepare noodles with the kind of acrobatic verve normally seen in slapstick classics like Tsui Hark’s The Chinese Feast (1995) and Stephen Chow Sing-Chi’s The God of Cookery (1996).

Despite the expansive scenery and goofy humour, this retains the claustrophobic tone of the original story with Yimou in masterful control of the narrative as it shifts from funny to suspenseful then shocking. The original Blood Simple scrutinises its characters like bugs under a microscope. As they scurried from one nightmarish misunderstanding to the next, only the audience were made aware of the bigger picture. Although Yimou depicts Zhang as a frighteningly inscrutable menace and plays the gruesome incidents for pitch black comedy, his approach is slightly more humane. His inclusion of a band of patrol men who scour the land punishing those that commit adultery, places the lovers’ plight in a wider context.

When Zhao and Chen break into their boss’ safe, the latter resists the urge to steal more than her rightful wage, thus ensuring she does not come to a sticky end in a tale whose calamities are caused largely by greed. Xiao Shen-Yang brings tragicomic pathos to his role as cowardly klutz Li. However, Wang’s wife is drawn a far more shrill and consequently unsympathetic character than Francis McDormand played in the original. Nevertheless, the conclusion is every bit as taut and suspenseful while executed with a bravura that cements Zhang Yimou as one of the world’s most consistently idiosyncratic and inventive filmmakers.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Zhang Yimou  (1951 - )

Chinese director responsible for some of the country's best known international hits. A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Yimou made his debut in 1987 with Red Sorghum, which like much of his later work combined a small-scale drama with stunning visuals. His breakthrough film was the beautiful Raise the Red Lantern, the first of four films he made with then-partner Gong Li. The Story of Qui Ju, To Live, Shanghai Triad and Not One Less were among the films Yimou made throughout the 90s. The Chaplin-esque comedy Happy Times was a bit of a misfire, but 2002's Oscar-nominated martial arts spectacle Hero was a massive hit, critically and commercially. Another martial arts film, House of Flying Daggers, followed in 2004, as did Curse of the Golden Flower and later the internationally-flavoured fantasy The Great Wall and acclaimed, stylish Shadow.

 
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