Who would have thought that Zhang Yimou, once art house darling and for trying too hard at the martial arts genre, could be capable of pulling off an all-out, slapstick black comedy with A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop? It certainly took my by surprise, and showed that he's more than willing and capable of stepping outside his comfort zone, to remake what's essentially The Coen Brother's Blood Simple, albeit set in a period Chinese era and in context as well, with the bar in an unnamed Texas town becoming a noodle shop out in a desert.
And paying homage to The Coens isn't just the only one here. Curiously, the finale sequence was very similar to how Danny Boyle decided to end Slumdog Millionaire, with an out of place song and dance sequence that became more absurd as the clip ticked by. Serving little purpose other than to get everyone lip sync, dance, spin some dough, break the 4th fall and essentially telling us that everyone had a swell time making the film, I thought this could be done without since the end was quite pitch perfect.
Beginning with an introduction to the important plot element of introducing a gun into the story, a group of Persian merchants come into Wang's (Ni Dahong) noodle shop to sell some wares, and ultimately Wang's Wife (Yan Ni) decides to buy a three-barrelled gun. Nobody knows what for, and a cannon demonstration brings forth the local police, whose chief investigator Zhang (Sun Honglei) gets engaged in an expensive scheme by Wang to finish off his adulterous wife and her lover, employee Li (Xiao Shen-Yang). But of course things never go according to plan, especially when everyone has their own agenda, and it becomes one heck of a comedic blood bath with motivations questioned, and you the audience left wondering just how everyone will get out of this mess.
Zhang Yimou once again goes for very saturated colour schemes for his films, from the rich blues of the skies to the orange-brown sands of the desert land, and this time too keeping his characters in single-toned striking colours. If anyone doubts the director in being able to helm a comedy, the opening scene itself will allay those fears, and indeed much of the physical comedy come thanks to the wonderful casting, especially that of the two bumbling shop assistants caught up in the complicated events only because they're looking toward settling their back pay.
It highlights how men become easily tempted by money, the root of all evil, when faced with bucket-loads of them, and how coincidences play a huge part in getting the characters where they end up, with each unfortunate moment ending in becoming a corpse (yes, there will be blood, and death) in a seemingly convoluted narrative that has to be seen to be believed the kind of rich writing which can pull it off. But what I enjoyed more, is how modern day devices are given the old fashioned treatment, such as the police "siren" - horse mounted and wind-generated - and a combination lock, designed with an abacus, no less!
A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop may seem like a less than epic film from Zhang Yimou, but it sure is a lot of fun delivered by its outstanding casting who seem all too comfortable in dishing out black and physical humour. Recommended, just so you know that the director has the bandwidth to do a lot more than what his filmography thus far has pigeon-holed him into.