Criticism of 'Noodle Story' is undeserved

0 CommentsPrint E-mail CRI, December 17, 2009
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There is nothing wrong with "A Simple Noodle Story," the flamboyant slapstick comedy that has surprisingly received excessive criticism. The unfavorable comments do not concern the film itself, but rather its director, who is now subject to the analysis of cynical critics.

It is safe to say that if the film had not been a project of famous director Zhang Yimou, there might not have been so much buzz.

Adapted from Joel and Ethan Coen's 1985 crime thriller "Blood Simple," Zhang's latest project deals with human frailty in telling a murder story involving a group of men against the backdrop of a simple noodle restaurant in isolated western China.

Zhang's latest offering is not supposed to be a large-scale blockbuster. After his triumphs in directing the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics and the country's 60th anniversary gala show, Zhang has now seemed to do a complete turnaround by getting involved in a mid-budget, lighthearted comedy for both relief and entertainment.

While some have hailed the director's breakaway from his typical highly artistic productions to dabble in comedy, others have criticized "A Simple Noodle Story" as vulgar, farraginous and superficial. They have pronounced that what they see as Zhang's lack of sincerity and loss of taste is evidence that he has sold out for commercial gain.

Moviegoers do not expect a copycat story of the Coen Brothers' original tale, which was definitely not Zhang's intention. The director has changed the original story's gloomy tone, retouching it with bright green and red and adding explicitly comedic elements to the thriller. As Zhang said in a recent interview, he was just breaking the existing rules.

The film assembles stage actors Xiao Shenyang, Mao Mao and Cheng Ye-all excellent "er'renzhuan"(a genre of local folk dance and song from Northeast China) folk art performers and outstanding disciples of eminent comedian Zhao Benshan. It also features veteran actors Sun Honglei, Yan Ni and Ni Dahong.

Despite the film being the stage actors' screen debuts, they have done quite well with their performances and deserve no harsh criticism. The performance of Xiao Shenyang, who became a showbiz sensation after the 2009 China Central Television gala show, was much anticipated before "A Simple Noodle Story" hit cinemas. Some, however, who have enjoyed Xiao's onstage performances, say his onscreen debut is disappointing.

Aside from the story, Zhang once again treats his audience to skillful, eye-catching cinematography that features excellent framing, colors, settings and stunning wide-angle views.

Zhang became famous after directing a slew of austere, somber and introspective films about Chinese society, such as "Red Sorghum" and "To Live." It is understandable that some of his fans are upset now that he has abruptly switched gears. But it is too harsh for them to belittle his new comedy thriller simply because it is completely different from what he has done in the past.

Such indulgent peripheral criticism matters little to the experienced director who has always been quite sure of what he does. Zhang has said that he is not a thinker and has requested that people do not to ask too much of him. Meanwhile, he takes great comfort in the hearty laughter of his audience, which is his own barometer for gauging the success of his films.

The undue criticism of Zhang's latest effort seems to be a case of people merely trashing the film after reading manipulative media reports that do the same, before they actually see the movie in cinemas.

As a comedy, "A Simple Noodle Story" is not perfect, but it is not difficult to sit through even though Zhang abruptly ends the story when moviegoers expect more.

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