In last year’s Smokescreen series, we featured Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s tender film Happy Times, a story of an endearingly persistent retired steel worker’s attempt to woo a woman by taking care of her blind step-daughter; however, that film is one of his more obscure ones. He is much better known for his masterful cinematic works such as Red Sorghum, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, or his martial arts epics like Hero and House of the Flying Daggers.
So why, in 2009 as he when he was one of the most feted Chinese directors, loved by both critics and the Chinese government (not an easy feat in itself) alike, did he choose to remake the Coen brother’s debut Blood Simple, shifting the action from a dusty Texas bar to an equally dusty, but otherwise disconnected, noodle shop in China’s northern desert? Where did A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop come from?
Hard to say really, and at the time of film’s release, critics had an equally hard time figuring it out. ‘ . . . a spectacular departure from his previous work . . .’ is about as even-tempered as the reviews got with pundits struggling to reconcile this anarchically wild interpretation of Western and Chinese movie traditions.
The first half is pure Chinese comedy, heavy on the slapstick, heavy on the visuals, very heavy on the very-heavy-over-the-top-approach to acting, facial expressions and timing. Subtlety be damned. Then about half way through it becomes much darker as the intent of the characters becomes clear and matters of life and death come to the fore. Its tone begins to reflect the more subterranean ethos of the Coen brothers. And in case you hadn’t already developed whiplash from this sudden turn of events, the closing credits bring another surprise, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out what that is ;)
It would be wrong to term it a cinematic masterpiece - though it premiered internationally at the Berlin Film Festival (Zhang was an art-house darling after all) it did not get a rousing reception. Words such as ‘garish, untranslatable, suspiciously computer generated’ are not generally used to describe a film festival winner. And indeed, it did not win a thing. It remains one of the more curious curios in Zhang’s cinematic history.
Well, in truth, it did win one thing. Its relatively small budget of $12 million returned $36 million
in just six weeks after its Chinese release.
And now, it’s coming to Dubbo.