By Owen Gleiberman
Updated September 01, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Bai Xiaoyan

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

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