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A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop

After directing China's media in the 2008 Olympics, Zhang Yimou returns with his most audacious film yet: a Chinese remake of the Coen Brothers' debut, Blood Simple.


It’s become standard doctrine to see international hits remade quickly thereafter their release by Hollywood—The Ring, The Departed, and the forthcoming The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are just a handful that come to mind. Yet how often does the reverse occur—contemporary American films being remade by an international filmmaker? In the case of A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop, it’s not just any international filmmaker doing the remaking, but heralded Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, Hero), and the film being remade, while not extremely current, is nevertheless a contemporary classic: Blood Simple, the Coen brothers’ debut feature.
By mixing the Coen brothers’ classic noir narrative—filled with plot twists and misunderstandings that deepen at every step—with an Asian sensibility, Zhang Yimou has taken the classic American film into brand new territory. We were able to exchange some questions over e-mail to talk a bit more about the film.


A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop 
Zhang Yimou


Tribeca: One thing that struck me about the film was its economical use of spaces and locations. The entire film seemed to require no more than about 6 locations, yet I never felt as if I was watching a film adaptation of a play. What was it about the limiting of spaces that interested you?
Zhang Yimou: I intentionally set out to draw some lessons from the artistic form of traditional Chinese Peking Opera, which has a tradition of compressing the characters’ actions under the rubric of a limited space. On the traditional Chinese stage, there is a tradition where “you ascend the stage, as I step down from the stage; you come, I go.” In Chinese we call this zou ma deng, referring to “revolving horse lanterns,” which describes different groups of people running in circles. It represents a kind of cycle and the philosophy of samsara, or transmigration.
A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: What originally sparked the idea to remake Blood Simple as a Chinese story? Was there something in the original film that you felt a Chinese aesthetic could tease out effectively?
Zhang Yimou: I have always very much liked the work of the Coen Brothers. After the Olympics I didn’t have a suitable screenplay in hand to immediately jump into my next feature and then I thought back to the 1984 film that first put the Coen brothers on the map—Blood Simple. I thought about doing a remake, but at the same time, I didn’t want to simply follow the same pattern as the original; I instead hoped to add new elements, such as a comic style and elements of structure and color from traditional Chinese arts.
A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: The film maintains a very dark atmosphere throughout. However, you have a significant amount of comic relief provided by some of the actors, especially Xiao Shen-Yang. What was it about the combination of a dark thriller tone and a more comedic approach that interested you? Did you have any concerns about combining such disparate atmospheric elements?
Zhang Yimou: I like experimenting with different genres, such as adding elements of humor over the original’s foundation of a suspense thriller. Xiao Shen-Yang was the single most popular comedy star in China during 2009, and Sun Honglei is also one of the most popular serious dramatic actors in China—the combination of the two of them is quite unconventional. I thought this pairing could bring audiences on an emotional journey where they could go from comedy to suspense.
A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: Sun Honglei's performance emanates with a terrifying foreboding throughout the film. In a film where all the other characters have trouble making up their minds and settling on decisions, he seems to have a clear sense of purpose at all times. How did you conceive of his role amidst the other characters?
Zhang Yimou: In my adaptation of the story, I expanded upon the “misunderstanding” that lies at the heart of the original film’s structure. Instead, [in my film] each and every character makes errors in judgment. Playing the role of the killer, Sun Honglei is careful and meticulous every step of the way, yet he too cannot help but also make mistakes.


A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: Additionally, throughout the film, we return to similar scenarios many times, each time with a slightly different outcome, which creates a unique narrative progression. You write in your director's statement that this effect lays bare the absurdity of life—something ironically repetitive, always beyond our control. Can you elaborate on that?


Zhang Yimou: This unending repetition of mistakes allows the audience to remain in a position of clarity; seeing the ridiculousness of the characters, one is able to grasp the absurdity of it all.
A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: The sound design of the action sequences was extremely intense, almost unsettling—it was so sharp and loud at moments. It was very effective. Do you see sound design as an underutilized way to bring the audience further into the film's world?
Zhang Yimou: Because suspense is a key element of the film, we paid special attention to the sound design when it came to several subtle details. When these sounds break out in that wide open environment, it is really quite special and very interesting. You could even say that this film has quite a few “audio close-ups.”
A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop


Tribeca: What challenges (if any) present themselves when doing a remake that would not exist otherwise? Did you speak with the Coen brothers at all about the project, and if so, what were their thoughts?
Zhang Yimou: [One of the greatest challenges] was trying not to simply reduplicate the original; instead I wanted to incorporate new elements, and give the film a distinctly Chinese cultural style. I didn’t discuss the remake with the Coen Brothers, but once the film was complete I had one of my producers send them a copy of the film on DVD. After watching it, they were quite surprised to see their film adapted into a Chinese story like this. They thought it was quite playful and especially like the bucktooth character and noodle-making scenes.


A Gun, A Woman, and a Noodle Shop is now playing. Find tickets.

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