I knew that this Zhang Yimou film was not his usual style, this was “different”. Actually is not that different as his arresting visuals and his peculiar use of color are all over the movie. What I was not prepared for was what I read at the opening when it says that film is based on Blood Simple, yes the 1985 debut film by Joel and Ethan Coen. Film is Zhang Yimou’s homage to Coen brothers’ movie that is claimed he cites as one of his favorites.
Not being a Coen bros fan the moment I saw the opening I got not only surprised but concerned. So film opens with a scene that has beautiful colors (costumes) in a darkish setting but shows the unexpected from Zhang Yimou, comedy! Yes, oriental slapstick/screwball comedy, which also I’m not a fan. Oh! I should have stopped watching, but no I continued watching only to discover a story that does not distance itself much from the tragedies that Zhang Yimou likes to tell but the continuous comedy moments really annoyed me and if it wasn’t for the serious moments plus the truly arresting images this film would have become the very first Zhang Yimou movie that I can’t watch. But watched until the very end and my honest reaction when film was over was to ask myself: what did Zhang Yimou smoked to make this movie?
So from Texas story moves to China to become a period drama set in a desert town in Gansu province with a noodle shop in the middle of nowhere being the axis to all the drama that rotates around a rich man that abuses his wife and when he finds that she’s having an affair with one of the noodle shop employees, hires a police detective to kill them. Everything, absolutely everything goes wrong and in good “western” style everyone dies, except the only two women in the story. Crazy, crazy but the scenes with the killer (or serious moments) are quite good and thrilling.
Obviously had to watch film as not only is Zhang Yimou but also film was in competition at the 2009 Berlinale plus from trailer was fascinated by the colors and dramatic images. I believe I understand those that don’t like the movie but also understand those that like it as I didn’t liked the comedy (in this or any other oriental cinema) but I liked (a lot) everything else, especially several situations that puzzled me but wasn’t until I read about the movie that I started to understand that film is full of Chinese symbolisms that of course I’m not familiar with, so now that I know some of the symbols there is the possibility that will watch movie again to enjoy it more.
As I find it enlighten I’m reproducing an excerpt from the director’s statement at the movie official press kit:
"I gave the remake a rich Chinese flavor, casting Xiao Shenyang – a young comic actor who recently shot to fame in China – to add in a sense of farcical humor at the beginning. The fun soon turns into riveting suspense. I also adopted the aesthetic style of the old Chinese opera piece, San Cha Kou. The result is the confinement of all the characters within the same space, each of them shifting roles with one another and making similar mistakes. This lays bare the absurdity of life – something ironically repetitive, always beyond our control."
If you’re a Zhang Yimou fan like I am you need to read as much as you can or wish before watching the movie as understanding his motives, the symbols and yes, the use of comedy will surely help you to enjoy film beyond the outstanding use of color plus the breathtaking desert landscapes.
No, won’t be watching the original as this remake is more than enough for me and yes I do recommend movie but as mentioned in the previous paragraph I strongly suggest you learn as much as possible about the movie before watching. Then if you are not a Coen bros fan don’t need to be concerned as according to me, story does not feel or look (even when is said that’s a very close remake) like a Coen bros film at all.
Watch trailer @MOC