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China’s Most Prolific Hitmaker Zhang Yimou Talks “Noodle Shop” with iW

China's Most Prolific Hitmaker Zhang Yimou Talks "Noodle Shop" with iW

The Coen Brothers are known for their ability to create thick and enveloping moods. Their first feature film, 1984’s “Blood Simple” was a dark, dusty, and definitely Southern. The Coens’ film tells a tale of infidelity and retribution, in which the characters trip up and fall over themselves while going through the vengeful motions seen in so many films. “Blood” started the Coens’ illustrious career with Frances McDormand and marked them as burgeoning auteurs. Their debut title resonated across the Pacific when it was revealed that Chinese director Zhang Yimou (the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, “Ju Dou,” “Hero,” amongst a long list of notable credits) would be producing his own spin on the Coens’ story.

The result is, “A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop,” a delightfully silly, brightly colored take on “Blood Simple” set in the Gansu province of imperial China. Zhang’s remake is set at local tycoon Wang’s (Sun Hunglei) noodle shop in a remote desert town. His wife (Yan Ni) is having an affair with Li (Xiao Shenyang), one of the noodle shop’s employees. Like the original film, “Noodle Shop” twists and turns when deceit and revenge run amok. The film opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, with a limited national roll-out to follow via Sony Pictures Classics. indieWIRE spoke with Mr. Zhang through a translator earlier this month about the film.

Can you talk a little about how you came to the story of “Blood Simple”?

The project began last year, I have multiple screenplays I’m developing simultaneously — none of the others were at the right place. I thought back to twenty years ago, when I saw “Blood Simple” at Cannes. And I thought maybe I could make a remake. I wasn’t that confident I could acquire the rights. And my production company asked them, and they said maybe. And at the end they agreed I could go ahead with this project.

Were you in contact with the Coen brothers?

I’ve always admired their work, but we weren’t close, so I had my production company get in touch with them. We sent a copy to their office and they sent an email saying it was a fun, quirky way to interpret this story.

What about the story stuck with you for more than twenty years?

It’s about interpersonal relationships — the central point of the action evolved out of a misunderstanding. You can make a mistake, where you think you’re doing the wrong thing; it can actually be the right thing. Justice is on their side, but actually the whole thing can be a mistake. There’s a lot of philosophical underpinnings. The original film had a coldness, and I wanted to take those relationships and inject black comedy and satire and into it. I wanted to take the idea of one person’s mistake and blow it to the limits.

All of the characters have this same moral burden that they’re exploring here. Taking one person’s mistake and looking at the absurd things that can happen. And all the while, using Chinese style and tradition. I set all of the action around the Chinese noodle shop to show off new aspects of interpersonal relationships. My contributions to the “Blood Simple” story are indebted to traditional Chinese arts.

With the Coens’ fervent fandom, did you feel a burden in adapting the original film?

I didn’t feel any burden. In the end, the whole point of this exercise is to offer a new reading or understanding of it. It ends up being a different story with a new director and cultural context. That’s where new meaning comes out. New meanings come out of the multi-faceted nature of the global cultural production. I thought it should be different; otherwise, what’s the point of making the film? The objective was to take someone else’s bottle and fill it with my own liquor.

How has your work on the Beijing Olympic ceremonies affected your work flow?

The Olympics is an intense form of cultural production. Something that, in [the] lifespan as a creative artist, rarely will you have the opportunity to take part in quite an event. It was also an international project. There was a whole bunch of artists from China and also a bunch of international professionals, which was a very helpful and interesting experience for me to have as I now return to the filmmaking world.

What are you working on now?

I’m in post on my next film which will released next month — a love story set during the Cultural Revolution. I’m also in pre-production on my next film, which will begin shooting at the end of the year. It’s about the Nanjing massacre [during] WWII and will feature some American actors in the cast.

And finally, why would you suggest American audiences go out and see “A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop” this weekend?

I’d say that I hope that American audiences can appreciate the film, because it is a uniquely Chinese interpretation. With the costume design, everyone looks like they’re dressed for the Chinese new year. There’s famous Chinese comic actors that deserve to be seen. I hope that American audiences can appreciate the traditional Chinese nature of this story. There’s a universal theme of misunderstandings [and] a powerful examination of the domino effect.

Bryce J. Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.

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