A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

ethnic china

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

Directed by Zhang Yimou: 2009. 85. Min.

A Woman and a Gun and a Chinese Noodle House is a quite singular work within Zhang Yimou’s filmography.

His light-hearted style starts from the first scenes, in which we see the protagonist with a mood not only of humor, but with a grotesque, exaggerated, and archetypal condition. What a difference I think now with that always transcendent countenance of the Gong Li of her first films, wherein any activity, no matter how small, the fate of the world seemed to be at stake. And the whole development of the film follows along with black humor, which in general takes the viewer through a tangle in which you never know what will happen, leading to increasingly absurd situations. Tragically absurd.

The film, once adapted to the characters-roles of the main characters, is concatenating surprises, in such a way that we could well call it a work of mystery. And from a certain moment on, reality becomes capricious, and of the multiple options presented by each situation, it always seems to be defined by the most absurd, by the least expected. 

The film is actually about a woman who runs a Chinese noodle store near the desert, married to an older and unattractive husband, who has a love affair with an employee with whom she counts every day they spend together. The weak-willed employee dares not take any steps in their relationship that might endanger his life, and the appearance of a police patrol reminds everyone that any violation of the law, including adultery, can be severely punished. The husband is older than she is and seems to be secluded in his office-storeroom. A police captain and two somewhat buffoonish-looking servants complete the picture. In fact, all the characters are exaggeratedly typical, as if they were taken out of an old theater manual, one of those in which it was so clearly specified how each character should appear and act.

The action gets underway when the husband finds out (falsely) that his wife has indeed taken the employee as a lover. He hires the policeman to carry out his revenge by killing the two lovers, but as we have said the events begin to tangle in a capricious way, always leading to situations that are both comic and dramatic at the same time.

The director’s interest in making each shot become a work of art, and that interest, which I have already spoken of on other occasions, in showing landscapes of preternatural beauty in his films, is manifested here by the choice of the colorful lands of Danxia, in the vicinity of Zhangye, at the beginning of the Silk Road, as the setting. The landscapes and the solitary house are the background of all the action, and end up creating a seduction for the environment in question that makes you want to go and see it or to see it again.

The film is already presented as a tribute to «Blood Simple» by the Coen brothers (1984), a black humor joke in which a plot is created in which you never really know what is going to happen, full of surprises and pleasant emotions, not very predictable and easy to enjoy. A totally recommendable film even without being one of the author’s masterpieces. It was awarded in 2010 at the Berlin Film Festival and at the Sitges Film Festival.  But the press critics did not forgive the director for dedicating his time to this minor work.

Perhaps it is necessary to add here how the director himself saw this work, and we rescue his words from the interview he had with James McCormick for Criterioncast:

“I first saw Blood Simple about 20 years ago at Cannes Film Festival and it really left a deep impression on me… And when I was considering doing a new film, that came to mind: a remake of Blood Simple… there was something about that really grabbed me… at the core is this element of the misunderstanding or the mistake in the film… that misunderstanding is an action that sets into place this whole linkage of further actions that carry the plot, creates suspense, creates mystery, and really makes the whole narrative of the plot operate. And I thought that misunderstanding was really a fascinating aspect of the film and I wanted to not only hone into that but really blow it up. To magnify it, to take it into a whole new direction. And so I had everybody involved in this web of mistakes and misunderstanding.”

Original title: 三枪拍案惊奇 – The strange case of the three shots.

Casting: Sun Honglei, Xiao Shenyang, Yan Ni, Ni Dahong, Cheng Ye, Wang Xiaohua.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop," in Ethnic China, 16 abril 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/a-woman-a-gun-and-a-noodle-shop/.

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