Fly Me to Polaris (1999) Movie Review

Fly Me to Polaris is a Hong Kong remake of the 1978 Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait, which was itself a remake of the 1941 movie Here Comes Mister Jordan. Chris Rock would later redo the formula in Down to Earth in 2001 with mixed results. All 4 movies have essentially the same basic premise and plot points: A nice guy dies accidentally, is given the chance to return to Earth in a new body, and pursues a woman who despises him in his new form.

Fly Me to Polaris stars Richie Ren in the dead-guy-come-back-to-Earth role. He plays Onion, a blind and mute in-patient at a hospital where he’s cared for by the kind and adoring Autumn (Cecilia Cheung). When he gets run over by a car, Onion goes to a waiting room and is destined for a place called Polaris, but also while there Onion learns that he’s won some kind of celestial lottery that entitles him to make one wish guaranteed to come true. Onion asks to return to Earth in order to pursue Autumn, of course. His wish is granted, but with stipulations: no one will recognize him in his new body and he can’t tell anyone who he used to be. Once he returns to Earth, Onion (now going by Cheuk) discovers that winning over the woman of his dreams is harder than he first thought, especially when a Doctor is also wooing her…

Fly Me to Polaris has one big, glaring fault: it has no other subplot save the romance angle. Even Chris Rock’s Down to Earth gave us a subplot involving Rock as a black man who dreams of being a stand up comedian and who returns into the body of an old rich white man. Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait had Beatty as an athlete obsessed with going to the Superbowl who returns into the body of a despicable millionaire married to a woman plotting to kill him with her lover. The love angle for both movies were subplots that eventually won out, but there was always that other thing on the side to occupy our time if ever we should get bored of the romance.

The problem with Fly Me to Polaris is that there is no other subplot — the film is essentially a one-trick pony, and the trick isn’t all that interesting for an hour and a half. The result is that if you happen to find the romance to be not all that interesting, then you’re out of luck. After Cheuk’s 3rd or 4th or even 5th attempt to convince Autumn (to no avail) that he’s Onion and that he’s in love with her, I started to zone out. Perhaps this type of bubblegum romance could hold the attention of a 12-year old girl for 90 minutes, but unfortunately I’m in the wrong age group as well as being the wrong gender.

Richie Ren does a good job in his leading man role, but he’s so much more interesting as the blind and mute Onion in the beginning. It doesn’t help that Cheuk doesn’t have anything very interesting to say, which is probably why Cecelia Cheung’s Autumn didn’t care for him at all, and continues not to until the very end when his true identity is finally revealed and the movie thankfully wraps itself up before the credits roll. Cecelia Cheung once again stars in a non-harmful mainstream romance film, something she has been playing quite a bit of late. She’s got the role down pat, mostly because she plays the same role so many times (with the exception of the South Korean film Failan, which continues to be her best role to date).

One of the film’s biggest drawback is that the writer(s) fail to capitalize on what could have been an interesting interlude — that is, Onion’s visit to Heaven’s waiting room. Instead of giving us the Chinese interpretation of Heaven, Onion goes up there for about a minute, sits on a chair, stands, and returns back down to Earth a minute later. So much could have been done with that sequence that it’s a big disappointment the movie just glossed over it. What? That’s it?

Fly Me to Polaris will be remembered for completely ignoring everything in favor of its very lacking romance. Director Jingle Ma tries to make up for the movie’s uninvolving plot with an overbearing soundtrack that tries to drown us with fluffy pop tunes and romance tracks, probably hoping to distract us. As a plus, Ma and cinematographer Kwong-hung Chan’s camerawork was very good, and the film had a nice polished and dreamy quality to it, in particular during the night scenes.

As a movie, Fly Me to Polaris will fail to entertain anyone over 12 and who isn’t a girl prone to bouts of “He’s so dreamy” gushing. The rest of us will have to rely on Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait or even (gulp) Chris Rock’s Down to Earth, which by comparison is far superior to this piece of mindless fluff.

Jingle Ma (director) / Kwong-hung Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Richie Ren …. Onion/Cheuk Chi Mun
Cecilia Cheung

Buy Fly Me to Polaris on DVD