He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-03-11
“He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” is a wonderful show biz romantic comedy. It is well written, perfectly paced and has three winning performances. The music is quite good and makes sense where it is placed, since the movie illustrates the daily lives of singers and songwriters. Carina Lau as Rose was a casting coup-the perfect actress for this role. Lau is extremely attractive—her deep-set yet large eyes seem made for giving come-hither looks. Rose make it clear that she wants and needs someone to take care of her—in her first speech, given at yet another awards ceremony she thanks Sam Koo, her producer and sometime lover, for creating her. In the beginning of the movie Rose exists only as a reflection of Sam and of her millions of fans—she doesn’t have a life beyond that. Lau stays balanced on the knife edge of Rose’s neediness on one hand and her undeniable, white-hot talent on the other, showing both the strong, talented woman on the outside and the desperate little girl on the inside.

Leslie Cheung as Sam Koo was excellent but I had a difficult time separating the actor from the role—listening to Sam tell Wing about the realities of celebrity life, how some things can’t be discussed and must be treated as if they didn’t exist, especially that Wing might be gay resonated with the dilemma that Leslie Cheung apparently never resolved and which must have been at least part of the reason for his suicide. Cheung was able to tap the ambivalence and anxiety caused by having a very public life with an aspect that had to be kept hidden and channel them into this character. Sam was charismatic and accomplished—he was a good musician and an adept producer and businessman. He was also tormented by his undeniable feelings for Wing.

Anita Yeun was perfect as the star-struck young woman watching Rose win yet another award on her snowy TV set and she was even better as the young man who became part of the very odd Sam/Rose household. The first time Wing saw Rose, Wing was literally speechless in awe. Later Wing became a confidant, drinking buddy and (almost) seduced lover for Rose and finally she was a self-assured and secure individual with her own personality and achievements. Yeun rendered this constant transformation smoothly—not that the journey upon which Wing embarked was smooth but Yeun inhabited the role so well that the working actress disappeared.

The two women were the characters that changed, Rose looking confidently forward to a future that she would create herself and Wing becoming a woman again. Sam didn’t change—in the beginning of the film he wanted to imitate Paul Simon and go to Africa to absorb music and culture there and at the end he had the tickets to Africa in his hand.

There are plenty of opportunities for labored jokes and crass humor in a story involving gender-switching and the Peter Chan avoided all of them. This might have been partially due to the brilliant character Auntie, flamboyantly played by Eric Tsang. Auntie was gay and not only didn’t hide it but made sure everyone in the vicinity knew it. He was the safety valve, one of the devices to keep things from getting too fraught with emotion, the one person who accepted and enjoyed his sexuality.

“He’s the Woman, She’s the Man” has eight writers credited, including Leslie Cheung and Peter Chan. That eight people were able to produce such well realized characters with credible but funny situations for them is astonishing. Some of the key scenes hinged on small but very telling actions. For example Rose brought Wing back to her apartment—and bedroom—and told Wing to help her with the zipper of her nightdress. Doing the opposite of what she (and the audience) expected, Wing pulled the zipper down, and when she told him that he was going a bit too fast, he pulled it back up again, much to her consternation. Later in the same scene Rose and Wing are seated on the foot of Rose’s bed. They cross the bed in very small increments as Rose snuggles against Wing and Wing moves just barely out of the way. This and the chase across the bed immediately following were funny and poignant because the actors sold this scene so well, that they had created such strong characters that the audience identified with and that the writers had given them a good scene to play.

There were other wonderful touches, such as the little girl, Wing’s friend and business partner in hawking celebrity memorabilia—she was a very sharp businesswoman who knew the value of every picture she had and that Leon Lai in a red jacket with a wet head was worth more than him in a blue jacket with a dry head. Another was Wing’s roommate who coached her on how to walk and scratch like a man and who came up with the delightful device of using taped glow sticks to complete the illusion of male plumbing.

This is a funny, touching and most affecting movie and one that I recommend.
Reviewer Score: 9