Local filmmaker Kirsten Tan makes her debut feature with the Thai road trip drama “Pop Aye”. The film stars Thaneth Warakulnukroh as Thana, a middle-aged architect faced with a mid-life crisis and a marriage on the rocks, and Bong as Pop Aye, an elephant facing neither of those problems.
After a chance encounter in Bangkok with his long lost childhood pet Pop Aye the elephant, Thana decides that purchasing him back will remedy his inner turmoil. His wife, however, disapproves of this. Hence, Thana and Pop Aye set off on an unforgettable journey across Thailand, back to the farm where the two grew up together. They encounter all sorts of eccentric characters, from a beggar with a heart of gold to a heart-breaking transvestite.
The film deals with themes of existentialism and cynicism, be it in relationships, sexuality or career. This truly hits home especially in Singapore, a fast-paced metropolis where those who are unable to keep up are left in the dust. Tan projects such themes onto our protagonist Thana, with his most successful architectural project being demolished along with his marraige.
Pop Aye is not the slow-burning arthouse indie you might initially be led to believe. It is, however, a slice-of-life tale of a friendship that feels natural and unscripted. I would daresay that the relationship between Thana and Pop Aye is more authentic than those normally seen in most dramas. Their genuinely heartfelt performances can be attributed to Tan’s sharp direction- she actually did insist that the two should spend weeks together before production in order to foster an honest relationship.
On paper, if someone were to pitch me the seemingly unfocused screenplay and also tell me that an elephant could pull of a nuanced and even human-like performance, there is no chance I would be swayed. Yet, through Pop Aye’s excellent editing, the pacing/placement of scenes that are presented to us pushes us to believe not only in Bong’s performance but the film as a whole. Visually, Pop Aye is a sight for sore eyes, using a carefully select palette of colours to not only paint Chananun Chotrungroj’s cinematography with finesse but to accurately reflect the mood of the film.
In conclusion, Pop Aye brings a lot to the table for Asian cinema and truly raises the bar for local filmmakers. The film has struck a chord with me with its elegance and honesty, and I won’t be surprised to see the next generation of Singaporean filmmakers taking notes from it.