Fly Me to Polaris

One bit of advice before you watch this film – keep the tissues close at hand. It doesn’t matter if you are man or beast, male or female, child or adult or have a heart of stone or are even the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion or the Scarecrow – keep the kleenex within easy reaching distance. Chances are that you will need them.

The producers of this film set out with one goal in mind and that was to fill the theater with the sound of sniffles and the sight of bleary red-eyed patrons. The weepie is back! The film is emotionally manipulative in every way imaginable. The recipe they use here is 100% corn, add tears and mix. I can almost picture the film production conversations. OK – lets have this blind, mute but life-embracing fellow – and have him fall in love with his beautiful but shy nurse. Then she falls in love with him – but neither have the courage to tell the other. Then just when they are about to let the cat out of the bag, he falls into the way of an oncoming car and gets killed. But wait, lets have him come back to earth because he has to see what she looks like – but he only has five days – and in a different form so no one can recognize him – and he can’t tell anyone who he is – and then let the love problems really begin!

It may sound silly – in fact it is silly - but damn if it doesn’t work to a large degree. Most of the credit for making this somewhat trite story so effective rests with Cecilia Cheung. Her radiant and moving performance will rip your heart out. In this - her second film (King of Comedy being her first) - she is simply a total pleasure to watch.  She is so natural – there is not a false note in her performance – not in her gestures, not in her expressions, not in her tone - you believe every second of it. She has a couple heart-breaking scenes where you just have to wonder where all the emotion comes from as her character's grief and pain explode across the screen.
From the evidence of her first two films, I don’t think there is a doubt that she is the best new actress to come along in a long while. So far she has shown herself to be extremely capable of both comedy and tragedy - though we have yet to see her wield a gun of course!  She is really the first in the crop of new actresses who has thus far displayed the depth and talent and beauty to begin filling the high heel shoes of the group of legendary actresses of the 80’s and 90’s who have slowly started leaving the stage. At this point her huge popularity in HK will allow her to pick the very best projects and it will be very intriguing to see how her career progresses.
So getting back to the story - Onion (Richie Ren) is hit by the car and killed. He finds himself on Polaris, which is sort of a way station between earth and the afterlife. An angel, Eric Kot, tells him the good/bad news scenario – yes you are dead but you are also the lucky winner. For every five million or so souls that pass by – one lucky person will have the choice if he so wishes to go back to earth for five days – but Kot warns him that all the previous winners were very sorry they did. Things never work out quite as planned. But Onion has to see what Autumn (Cecilia) looks like and decides to return.
Once there though everything starts going wrong. He takes on the identity of an insurance salesman to get close to Autumn but he gets off on the wrong foot with her. More in love than ever, he is still unable to tell her how he feels about her and of course he cannot tell her who he really is. And should he? - he is dead after all and she still has a long life to live. Autumn meanwhile is heartbroken over Onion’s death and curses herself for never taking the opportunity to tell him how much she loved him. She asks God only for the chance to tell Onion how she felt. But the clock is ticking down.

Eric Tsang gives his usual impressive performance as a friend of Onions who is the first to finally begin to realize who this insurance fellow really is. In a touchingly underplayed scene he tells Onion to come to terms with his death and to leave – and to take care of Tsang’s dead daughter when he gets there.

There are a few other scenes filled with pathos and no matter how much you realize they are purposely aiming right for your tear ducts they are arrows that can’t be avoided. A saxophone wailing in the night of unspoken love, a diary that talks of love without any words written within, a meteor shower across the HK skies, Autumn -who can’t swim - jumping into the pool to test her faith, the words “I will wait for you” being written out on a palm.
I should mention that Richie Ren creates a warm, sweet and distinct portrayal of Onion as he goes through the phases of life and death. Still though, without Cecilia this could have been nothing but a lot of hokey mush  – fodder for young teenage girls - but she gives it life and raises it to something very poignant and emotional that will soften the hardest heart out there for at least a little while.

My rating for this film: 8.0