Fly Me to Polaris (星願)

fly me to polaris

A friend who prefers wrestling and superheroes recommended this film after he was caught unawares and emptied a box of tissue while watching. I can’t say I was equally moved, but I did find the hackneyed plot made better by Cecilia Cheung’s star-making performance. Not one for manipulative weepies, I had to brush aside my prejudices to get through it since the movie tries all the tricks in the book.

Fly Me to Polaris features a blind and mute character, Onion (Richie Ren), who shares a close relationship with Autumn (Cheung), a nurse with a heart of gold. When he dies in an accident, he gets a temporary reprieve from the permanent hereafter and has one last shot on earth, but only for five days and in the form of another person; he also can’t reveal his true identity. Needless to say, Autumn doesn’t rush into his arms, leaving an opening for Dr. Woo (William So), who is eager to comfort the fair nurse in her time of grief.

There are comedic moments, such as when Onion struggles to tell Autumn his secret without really telling her, but the main goal of this teary production is to turn your heart into putty. Jingle Ma’s direction and cinematography enhance the desired effect. He relies on a lot of backlighting and soft focus, which work doubly well on location at Béthanie, a beautiful 19th century campus resting on the hills of Pokfulam. The old French buildings have plenty of private spaces for the characters to retreat, but the expansive set also helps frame the immensity of their despair and loneliness. The music, however, proves to be a little overkill. The swelling piano and strings are thick enough to sop up your tears, and a soprano saxophone is used not only to set the mood but as an actual plot device.

What really saves this movie is the acting. A dubbed Richie Ren doesn’t particularly stand out, but he hits the right emotions. Even Eric Tsang, who plays Onion’s friend and is prone to overacting, is pleasantly subdued. But it’s Cheung who makes this cloying movie not just bearable but truly affecting. She somehow takes a character and story that have been done many times before and still surprise with a grief that is raw and immediate. Cheung was in her teens when she made this, and her youth gives Autumn’s sorrow a nakedness that cannot be covered with experience. What should be cliché is, in her hands, fresh and innocent.

“燭光” (“Candlelight”) theme song by Richie Ren:

“星語心願” (“Star Wish”) by Cecilia Cheung:

Released: 1999
Prod: David Chan 陳錫康
Dir: Jingle Ma 馬楚成
Writer: Law Chi-Leung 羅志良; Yeung Sin-Ling 楊倩玲
Cast: Richie Ren 任賢齊; Cecilia Cheung 張栢芝; William So 蘇永康; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Sheren Tang 鄧萃雯; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Sandy Lamb 林珊珊; Isabel Chan 陳逸寧
Time: 96 min
Lang: Cantonese
Reviewed: 2014