In the years since he broke through with art-house landmarks like the great life-under-Mao epic To Live (1994), the Chinese director Zhang Yimou hasn't just made movies he's adopted aesthetic survival strategies, ways to reinvent himself under an artistically oppressive regime. With Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), he became a maker of slashingly balletic action pageants. Now, with A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, he has had the audacity to attempt a period Chinese remake of Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple (1985). I wish I could say that the film is half as intriguing as it sounds, but A Woman, a Gun... lacks the Coen brothers' precision, their diabolical game-board cleverness. It's a remake in shaggy outline only.
Zhang turns the Coens' noir-sap hero into a stumbling, semi-hysterical buffoon (Xiao Shenyang); his girlfriend into an annoying harpie (Yan Ni); and the wily detective played so memorably by M. Emmet Walsh in the original into a boringly poker-faced patrol officer (Sun Hunglei). The staging is as haphazard as the action half-baked scams, corpses being dragged around and buried. Blood Simple didn't ask us to care deeply about its characters, but the casually amoral Coens maintained a God's-eye view of the selfishness of human folly. In A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, we're looking down at fools without a map. D