Zhang Yimou’s Blood Simple Review

The Coen brother’s debut as re-imagined by Zhang Yimou. Yes, really….

The Film

The exchange of ideas and resources between East and West continues apace. In the old days it was John Ford who inspired Akira Kurosawa who in turn inspired Sergio Leone, a kind of cinematic hat doffing. In more modern times, Mr Tarantino has pilfered the words of Takashi Miike, who in turn borrowed QT and the legacies of Kurosawa and the western in 2007’s Sukiyaki Western Django. With its rapid economic growth and the dynamo of Hong Kong cinema, the Chinese find themselves imitating western blockbusters and production through the successes of Feng Xiaogang whilst their American cousins capitalise on the ageing icons Jet Li and Jackie Chan.In fact, the sheer reach of the Chinese now worries many an American politician and the Hollywood studios have decided to no longer beat the Chinese at their game, choosing to join them in co-productions. The great Yimou Zhang can even boast the presence of Batman himself in his latest film, and the work on review bears a similar western influence in it is a free adaptation of the Coen Brothers debut Blood Simple. Originally titled A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, now the source material is explicitly recognised as a way of achieving further economic penetration here in our western homes.

Translated to a traditional setting which owes more to the director’s Wu Xias, the adaptation of the neo-noir atmosphere of the original is surprisingly successful. Yimou follows the same doomed love triangle approach with the young trophy wife of a wealthy noodle shop owner engaged in “nuthin funny” with one of her husband’s employees. Purchasing a gun from a Persian trader, said wife starts a train of events of suspicions, adultery, greed and murder aided and abetted by her husband’s hired detective. Sprinkle in some traditional Chinese comedy, lavish photography and a number of visual homages and you have Zhang Yimou’s Blood Simple.It would be fair to say that this film has not had the same success on foreign shores as Yimou’s operatic wire-fu pieces of recent years and here it finds itself direct to video in the United Kingdom. Ironically, this seems to be because of the efforts to reach out to the original whilst retaining it’s parochial elements. The original has the darkest of comedy within it, a decidedly bleak view of humanity and a much more obvious erotic quality. Yimou’s film is more coy, more broadly comic and less of a moral piece. Yimou copies key details, see the screenshots above and below, but re-casts the tone and the pitch of the story to be more acceptable to 12 certificate eyes.

I would admit my bias for the director and find it hard to imagine any work of his seeming truly unremarkable. I have seen his efforts at comedy before and I am much less shocked by the cultural comic differences than many who catch this film will be. For those people, the comic double act will no doubt annoy you and create a jarring effect as the action gets more unpleasant at the climax, you will probably not appreciate the homages I refer to or get the opening gag where the film is set up according to expectations of the director only to be debunked straight away. In fact, I imagine that those unfamiliar with Yimou or Chinese cinema in general will simply not like what they see.I suppose it will be even worse for those who know only the original and will find this an inferior, it undoubtedly is, imitation. Yet for the rest of us, Yimou has simply made a more personal project for his own enjoyment which is rather interesting because of that experimentation. I would never have thought of a link between two sets of the greatest film-makers of our time and perhaps it explains the minor quality of this work that those links aren’t all that strong after all. Still, I was intrigued and surprised by the attempt and that’s a fine thing in itself.

Tech Specs

No blu-ray release in the UK so this region 2, single layer disc is the only option at your local HMV (assuming they’re still in business). The sumptuous photography is a joy and the detail within the colourful image is pretty solid. Edges have not been over-egged, contrast is excellent and the transfer is at the original aspect ratio.A sole 5.1 mix in Mandarin is immensely clear with tremendous definition around the whole of the channels. Effects do seem truly directional and voices are always placed properly within the soundstage. The optional English subtitles are grammatically good and easy to read whatever the background.

The only extra is a trailer.


This is really one for Yimou fans only, followers of the Coens may enjoy spotting the references but don’t expect Hero or House of Flying Daggers. A budget bareish release with a decent transfer.

John White

Updated: Apr 16, 2011

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