Review: He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994)

Directed by:
Cast: , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

He’s A Woman, She’s A Man is a classic. 8 years ago, I saw this in a packed session at the Mercury Cinema in Adelaide [back when they used to show the latest HK movies], and grandmas and rutgrats were jostling each other to get a seat. I tried jostling too but they were too tough for me those venerable grandmothers and tenacious kids.

Upon my second viewing last night without the need for jostling or extended family audience, I was reminded again of what made this gender-bender comedy such a huge success in 94 – nominated for 8 awards at the HK Film Awards and walking away with two [Best Actress for Anita Yuen and Best Song for Leslie Cheung]. The biggest indicator of its success however was the extent of its popularity amongst the general public – people went to see it, raved about it, bought the soundtrack and Anita Yuen was pin-up girl for a few seasons. Many it seems still remember it fondly [see below].

The film opens with a breezy mandarin version of Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’, and from a scurrying cockroach’s point of view.

From there it rises to loftier heights [the film, not the roach, as the Anita takes care of him *very* quickly] as we see ordinary, if slightly obsessed fan, Wing [Anita Yuen] dressing up as a man to enter a talent quest. Her sole motive is to get close to her idols, record producer Sam and his girlfriend, singer Rose.

She wins the talent quest by sheer luck, being at the right place at the right time [frankly, there was no way she would have won by looks, she may look sleek and dapper on the poster but she looked like a nerdy accountant most of the film]. Wing gets more than she bargains for when she falls in love with Sam and, Sam, too begins to have feelings for Wing [much to the poor boy’s confusion]. But that’s not Wing’s biggest problem – Rose is ALSO won over by Wing’s naivet&eacue; and adoration. And so the fun begins…

Considering the material presented, it’s a credit to Peter Chan that he’s managed to create a crowd pleaser that cleverly eschews the obvious slapsticky gags and hone the jokes into sharp pieces of witty repartee. It never loses its sense of fun or tongue in cheek humour, managing to dish out big laughs while at the same time making sly social commentaries and observations about the misconceptions of homosexuals in the chinese community. Although the execution is sometimes broad, the results are nevertheless affecting, poignant and very funny.

With He’s A Woman, She’s A Man, Peter Chan has managed to do the unexpected, creating a role-reversal comedy reminiscent of the classic Hollywood screwball comedies with a touch of HK class in it and one that is immediately endearing. It helped that he had a great crew, [who made the whole film look gorgeous, see the poster with its cool retro glamour] and of course the central cast who are just *perfect*. The three leads have great chemistry together and although Anita Yuen puts in a star turn as the innocent Wing, it was Carina Lau who upon initial viewing left a strong impression. Having always thought of her as more of a ‘flower vase’ actress she puts in a solid performance here. Leslie Cheung, not content with giving a surprisingly tender performance as Sam, lent his amazing voice to the soundtrack.

The supporting are also good, Eric Tsang as the queeny fashion stylist Auntie, threatens to steal the show [yet again], and Jordan Chan in only his second film role shines as Wing’s supportive flatmate.

Out of curiousity, I decided to call my mum up and ask her about the film. This is someone who forgets a film 2 hours after she’s watched it and 8 years will be a big test for her. Ring, ring… ‘Mum, do you remember ‘gum chi yuk yip’ [its chinese title]… Amazingly, I didn’t even have to do any prompting — she started laughing whilst recounting the film’s audition scenes. Good on ya, mum!

Finally, how fitting the Days Of Being Wild festival is, honouring Leslie Cheung. I wish I could attend but nevertheless a kind soul has enabled me to have a mini Leslie fest of my own [thanks Mark!]

PS: And girls, if you ever want to dress up as a boy, this is the ultimate guide. Very detailed instructions here — you can’t go wrong although you may not be able to look at a glow stick in the same way again.

8.5 heartwarming glowsticks out of 10.
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