Following up his Beijing Olympics opening-ceremony mega-production, Zhang Yimou remakes the Coen brothers' Blood Simple by dressing it up in flamboyant silk and translating it into Mandarin.
The honky-tonk of the Coens' Southwestern noir becomes a noodle-shop compound on the edge of a painted western China desert, sometime in the feudal era. Owner Wang (Ni Dahong) cruelly harasses his younger wife (Yan Ni), pushing her into the arms of an effete assistant (Xiao Shen-Yang). Wild cards include a snooping detective (Sun Honglei) specializing in adultery, and an unheard-of innovation imported by a whirling dervish merchant: a pistol.
Woman, gun and shop in play, Yimou engineers a set piece that lasts all through one very active night, with a shrinking cast double-crossing one another while crisscrossing the compound courtyard on tiptoe. There's little dialogue in this stealthy sequence, but a soundtrack of great precision. This sustained scene is well-made but not worth making, just like the film as a whole, despite stand-alone pleasures such as a choreographed noodle preparation where a small wad of dough is juggled and spun out into parachute width.
Those with a higher tolerance for bumptious jestering may, however, cry masterpiece. They are instructed to seek out the longer Chinese cut, which apparently packs in more such interminable shtick, broad as the Yangtze.