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Tj_ (2009)
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop


Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 12/28/2012

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

The woman has no name--she is credited simply as "Wang's wife"--but the lack of agency this implies and her seeming equivalence with the nonhuman elements of the title is dealt with very quickly. The otherwise unnamed Mrs. Wang has a distinct and unpleasant selfhood, although her whining, demanding, sexually voracious personality make her one of the least unattractive characters in a drama peopled with appallingly evil or unbelievably stupid individuals. The gun is a pistol sold to the woman by an extravagantly garbed traveling Persian merchant, the first handheld firearm in the desolate valley where the action takes place. The noodle shop is prosperous enough have several employees although it doesn’t have customers. Owned by Wang, it sits across the street from his home/vault/office and may be the only employer in the area other than the police.

Wang is a disgusting person. He is a sadist who gets sexual pleasure from harming his wife, a skinflint who doesn’t pay his employees and a miser who enjoys nothing more than sitting his basement counting and recounting his money. He is enraged when he discovers his wife his having an affair with Li, the restaurant cook—they have it off whenever Li drives Wang’s wife to a town with a store, something that happens frequently. Zhang is an imperial policeman sworn to enforce the emperor’s laws but is looking to line his own pockets. Wang hires Zhang to spy on and then kill the adulterous couple, a commission he accepts after some ruthless bargaining over the price of the hit. Life in Zhang Yi-Mou’s desert was no less “nasty, brutish and short” as that described by Hobbes in 17th century England. The Persian with the handgun also has an artillery piece for sale—Wang’s wife decides to buy that as well and it ultimately leads to bringing nemesis into the area. The emperor’s police arrive to investigate an unexplained explosion—the detonation of a cannon shell. The Persian merchant is as well stocked as was the gun salesman who hooked up Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver”.

“A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” is a gorgeous movie. The endless dunes of the surrounding desert were perfectly striped in contrasting colors; Zhang Yimou’s palette goes from bright yellows and reds for wife, her lover and the two bumbling restaurant workers to deepest blue for the armor worn by Zhang, the murderous policeman, to dull browns and grays when Wang is on the screen. There are striking high angle shots in the desert, particularly when bodies are buried (and reburied). None of this helps the audience connect with the characters—they are symbols of human frailty, ignorance and greed rather than individuals who embody those dolorous traits but have personalities with which we can identify. With its slapstick humor, plot and characters derived from an American movie and general lack of seriousness it is a long way from what is usually thought of as a Zhang Yimou film.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 01/22/2011

Zhang's version of this story loses a bit of the black humor and noir touches that punctuated Blood Simple. It's stuff that seems old hat now with the rise of American independent cinema over the last twenty or so years, but really stood out against the films of the day-glo cocaine-hangover-induced mainstream US cinema of the 1980's. But Noodle Shop is still a well-made and compelling thriller, and one could even say it's a bit ballsy by Mainland cinema standards. In a country that has government-controlled censorship that mandates even the "proper" Mandarin accent actors must speak with, having a character like a morally ambiguous cop and an end that doesn't try and wrap everything in a pretty Communist-friendly bow is something that warrants notice.

Reviewer Score: 7