A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop

 

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop

(San qiang pai an jing qi)

A Simple Noodle Story

Written by Shi Jianquan & Shang Jing

Directed by Zhang Yimou

2009


Cast:

Sun Honglei

Xiao Shenyang

Yan Ni

Ni Dahong

Cheng Ye

Mao Mao


Studio:

Theatrical: Beijing New Pictures & Film Partner International

Video: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 30.02 GB

Feature Size: 20.86 GB

Avg. Video Bit Rate: 25.73 Mbps

Runtime: 90 minutes

Chapters: 16

Region: A


Audio:

Chinese DTS-HD MA 5.1


Subtitles:

English SDH, English, French & Spanish


Extras:

• Creating “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” (2 hrs)

• Theatrical Trailer

• Previews


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Release Date: February 1, 2011



Introduction:

I guess I can’t fault the English language distributor for the catchy title, but I prefer the more ironic Hong Kong English title: A Simple Noodle Story.  No matter, for well ahead of the title bi-language card, in fact right off the bat, we are informed: ‘Based on the motion picture “Blood Simple”’.  That would be Joel & Ethan Coen’s debut feature - quirky, violent, funny.  Zhang Yimou’s retake on that movie is all of these, only in different proportions.


     

 

Over the past couple of decades Western audiences have known the work of Zhang Yimou first through his association with Gong Li (Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) and later, by ay of his more stylish period pieces like House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower and Hero.  Some of us in the West might have seen The Road Home (1999), Zhang Ziyi’s first important role or Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005), both of which are set in 20th-century, post-revolutionary China.  The action of A Simple Noodle Story takes place in some desolate area of China’s northwest frontier sometime in that country’s feudal past. 


And by “desolate” I mean: not a tree, house or animal standing. Anywhere. Anywhere, save a lone little castle on the main road that functions as a kind of one-dish truck stop for travelers.  Only there aren’t any travelers.  Well, hardly any.  Just the few people in our little drama, a traveling salesman and a small police detachment that seems bent on rounding up infidels - that is, people who commit adultery.


     


The Movie: 8

Ah! Adultery!  Remember that theme from Blood Simple and where it got the antagonists (there were no protagonists, really)!  Here it is again, and by virtue of the travel advisory placed before the movie starts and the mission of the police, we can see that this little group of irregulars are in for it.


But even before the police arrive, the noodle shop is visited by a traveling Persian salesman and his retinue who introduce the noodle shop to the gun and, OMG, the canon, just in case he found a customer on whom he could unload the contraption.  It certainly makes a great deal of noise, but the noodle shop owner’s wife (Yan Ni) decides that the 3-shot, 3-barreled gun will do nicely.


     


Wang (Ni Dahong) abuses his wife every night, and has done so for years - his complaint being that she won’t bear him any sons, but we think the problem may be deeper and simpler that that.  When Li (Xiao Shenyang) arrived on the scene some while before the story starts, she had hopes he would have sufficient backbone to take her away from all this, but besides servicing her from time to time, he’s not much good for anything but a distraction and a few laughs.  In this last Li has considerable competition from the two in-house workers, Zhao (Cheng Ye) and Chen (Mao Mao), who provide the movie’s more vaudevillian humor.


     


When the police leave, unsure if there is adultery afoot in the house, Inspector Zhang remains (Sun Honglei).  Zhang is the M. Emmet Walsh character from the Coen movie.  Contrary to the garrulous Walsh, Zhang doesn’t talk much, but his meaning is always clear.  He strikes a deal with Wang to kill the lovers, from which point the tone of the film moves gradually but certainly from clownish humor to darkest irony by way of several murders, some grisly, some by chance, all sudden and brilliantly executed by Zhang Yimou in as many different ways and settings as weapons on hand permit.


     


As we have seen in any number of Zhang Yimou films, the man is seriously into color and light - and A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop is no different.  The opening scenes are garish, nearly to the point of overwhelming the image, while the second half is filmed in deep shadows or filtered night.  We feel like we’re in some macabre tale of the Arabian Nights in China.  I loved it.


     


Image: 9/9

This is one movie that demands your color setting be on the money, because your display could easily bleed right out into oblivion if you don’t take care. (Plasma owners, take note.)  “Dazzling” is a term that understates the case.  Black levels are perfect and never swallow any detail not meant to be seen.  Watch how Zhang emerges in and out of shadows like an impassive wraith.  As expected from Sony, the transfer is absent artifacts or print damage.


     


Audio & Music: 9/7

I have a special place in my heart for an audio mix that keeps track of balance and proportion, while at the same time permitting moments of dramatic importance to leap off the screen when called upon.  The movie starts off in a whirl of activity during which we will set our volume control accordingly.  The Persian shows off the gun, but doesn’t shoot it, the director calculatingly hold back until it is needed for the ultimate act.  Instead the salesman invites the party to enjoy a wallop from the cannon.  Hold on to your chairs on this one because it has all the power and thundering crash that your surround system can handle.  Then sit back and enjoy the subtle desert day and night, where hardly a creature stirs, save the muted sound of the wind or the hooves of a horseman as he makes his appointed rounds.


     


Extras: 6

There is only one production related bonus feature: a in-depth 2-hour 19-part documentary - more a blog, really - in decent, if somewhat bright and unfinished 480i quality and 4:3 format.  IT’s fully subtitled in English and very thorough.


     


Recommendation: 8

Unlike Roger Ebert, who found the movie never congealed and was insulting to the original, I found A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop more folksy than nihilistic, more East than West, if you will.  The character of Zhang (only a coincidence of name, perhaps) provides the movie with a singular moral fulcrum, murderer and thief that he is, that all the inanity and insanity revolves around like a revolving firecracker.  Image and sound are reference quality.  Treat yourself to a knockout Blu-ray presentation.


     



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

February 2, 2011



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