Based on the Coen Brothers’ 1984 classic, “Blood Simple”, this Chinese version about infidelity, murder and miscommunication is a remake by renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern”, “Hero”).
As always, Zhang demonstrates his advocacy for women’s independence by imbuing his two female characters with slightly more smarts than their fellas.
Adding his own special twist to the original story, Zhang sets his a few centuries prior, in a northern China desert outpost where a noodle shop thrives even though no customers ever come. The sand, sky and wind all provide a brilliant backdrop for the carnage and drama that unfolds.
Wang (Ni Dahjong) is the old, wealthy shop owner who treats his young, pretty wife – ironically, nameless – (Yan Ni) with cruel contempt leaving her no choice but to seek solace in the arms of Li (Xiao Shenyang), a cute but skittish male employee.
One day, Persian merchants arrive and the wife purchases a gun. Soon, armored soldiers descend, creating mayhem with one greedy renegade and two earnest employees (one lusting for the other) also caught up in the fracas.
Unfortunately, Zhang veers from the restrained absurdist approach so effectively utilized by the Coens in favor of something more akin to slapstick. Where the Coens relied on purely American dialogue surrounded by silent spaces that accommodated misinterpretation to the point of hilarity, Zhang employs broad movements and goofy faces that don’t quite convey the “aha!” moment. Sure, it’s all tongue-in-cheek, but Zhang’s adaptation is not as cleverly wicked as the Coens’.
Still, the cinematography is astounding with sunburst colors creating a sleek surrealism, but the shrieking women, the shouting men, the falling over one’s feet, the hideously bucked teeth, and the crossed eyes are just too over the top.
A noodle-making scene where a hunk of dough is spun into a bigger and bigger sphere each time it’s tossed to another employee seems like a metaphor for this out of control movie.
The Harimaya Bridge
After losing his only son in a motorcycle accident in Japan, an African American man arrives there to collect his paintings. Already filled to the brim with bitterness because he and his son were not on speaking terms, Daniel Holder (Ben Guillory) is also angry about having to be in a country where he doesn’t get the cultural nuances nor does he attempt to understand them.
The problem is Daniel hates all Japanese because his father was captured, tortured and killed by soldiers in a WWII POW camp. Now, the same country that took his father has taken his son, and Daniel is not about to relent.
But what he discovers in Japan baffles him. In spite of his rude behavior (insisting that Japanese speak English, refusing to remove his shoes indoors, making unreasonable demands of his hosts), the Japanese show their stoicism and acquiesce to his whims. As Daniel unravels one secret after another – his son marrying a Japanese woman among them – he begins to open up.
Filmed in Kochi Prefecture where the city of Tosa is located (famous as the birthplace of feudal hero Sakamoto Ryoma), director Aaron Woolfolk accurately captures modern-day, rural Japan. The lush countryside, the studied manners of its people, the impolite whisperings of “gaijin” (foreigner) all ring true. A JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) program participant, Woolfolk once lived in Japan.
Executive Producer Danny Glover appears in a small role as Daniel’s brother. But it’s Shimizu Misa who shines as Hara Yuiko, the efficient official that manages the school where Daniel’s son taught art, and who runs interference between her unyielding employers, the sulking Daniel, and even agitated neighbors of the widow’s parents who complain to the mayor about Daniel’s behavior. The dignified manner in which Hara-san bears Daniel’s emotional train wreck and balances it with her own traditional upbringing is admirable.
The legend of Harimaya Bridge says two monks fell for the same woman and all three met with a tragic end. In this film’s case, the bridge stands between two cultures giving each a way to reach the other.
“A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” opens September 10, at the Harvard Exit.
“The Harimaya Bridge” opens September 17, at the Grand Illusion Cinema.