Director: Kirsten Tan
Cast: Bong as Popeye, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Dee Chaiwat Khumdee, Jenny Yukontorn Sukkijja, Peak Narong Pongpab
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 13 April 2017
Synopsis: A delightful mix of drama, heartache and humour, POP AYE tells the story of a washed-out architect Thana (played by Thaneth Warkulnukroh) who on a chance encounter bumps into his long-lost elephant Pop Aye (played by Bong the elephant) on the streets of Bangkok. Excited and a bit sick of the big city life, he takes his elephant on an outrageous road-trip across rural Thailand, running into some truly wacky characters - in search of the farm where they grew up together.
One scene in this movie struck a chord with this writer. The protagonist, a middle aged man tells an elephant: “You’re just like me – old, fat and homeless.”
For someone who is feeling somewhat lethargic at a supposed crossroads of his life, this columnist can relate to how the leading man is feeling. Once renowned as the architect of a 90s landmark high rise building in Bangkok, things take a turn for Thana (the wonderful Thaneth Warakulnukroh) when his boss’s son takes over the company to construct a swanky suite dripping with hipster-ism. Evidently someone from the last generation, he looks out of place in the office and at home. In short, our hero is displaced from life.
Then comes an encounter with an old elephant whom he recognises as the titular Pop Aye, a childhood friend from the yesteryears. Thus begins a journey from the cosmopolitan Bangkok back to his hometown in the village, where he hopes his uncle can care for the animal.
It is really one of things you do on impulse: if you think about it, bringing the elephant back home does nothing much, except to go on a road trip which may or may not improve Thana’s spiritual well being. Is it like one of those things in life we do because ‘the heart tells us so’? You bet.
This is Singaporean writer director Kirsten Tan’s debut feature. Based in New York, Tan has reportedly lived in Bangkok in her early 20s, giving her the ability to communicate with her cast and crew during the production of this film. Tan has masterfully narrated a tale of how a man, who is out of sorts, is attempting to find his place in life (fun fact: this reviewer studied in the same secondary school as Tan, making her film about an urbanite embarking on an offbeat journey especially poignant).
The 102 minute film follows Thana and Pop Aye as they come across a number of characters who may or may not mean anything in their lives. Whether it is the long haired hippie looking after an abandoned gas station, the transgender who is past her prime or the two police officers who want to take Thana into custody for violating urban tidiness, you will feel some sort of solace and comfort ‘knowing’ these supporting characters.
With Anthony Chen taking on the role of executive producer, the film took home the Special Jury award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition for its screenplay at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. It was the first time a Singaporean had won this award at Sundance. The highly recommended film also also won the VPRO Big Screen Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a first for a Singaporean film at Rotterdam.
This is a universal film with a touch of surrealism (the cinematography featuring the soothing rural landscape is almost therapeutic), with a story that will speak the world weary crowd. Without giving too much away, the last scene of the film will leave anyone who has felt disheartened in life (this flabby and frequently unkempt writer included) with a vulnerable yet calming sense of comfort.
(Feeling disheartened about life? A road trip with a world weary middle-aged architect and his elephant may be what you need)
Review by John Li