Pop Aye

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Thaneth Warakulnukroh in Pop Aye - In a chance encounter, a disenchanted architect bumps into his long-lost elephant on the streets of Bangkok. Excited, he takes his elephant on a journey across Thailand in search of the farm where they grew up together.
"Like all good road trips, the destination may be a the top of the protagonist's mind but the film says a lot more about his past and present than his future."

There have been unusual modes of transport in road-trip movies before but this is the first one I can recall in which the travelling companion - and occasional 'vehicle' - is an elephant. Popeye (played by Bong) is a street elephant, used by his owner to beg for cash in Bangkok, which is where he catches the eye of architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh). Once a designer of one of the grand focal points in the city, Thana's Gardenia Square building is now scheduled for demolition and redevelopment - "It's sad but inevitable that the old has to make way for the young". The architect is certainly feeling his age, overtaken in the workplace and with his marriage on the rocks.

His encounter with Popeye proves a catalyst for change as he recognises the elephant as a childhood friend and decides, on what initially seems to be little more than a whim, to buy him in order to take him across the country to his childhood home town. Like all good road trips, the destination may be a the top of the protagonist's mind but the film says a lot more about his past and present than his future as the elephant not only becomes an inscrutable albatross, of sorts, but a possible means for redemption.

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Debut director Kirsten Tan takes a humanistic approach and uses gentle humour as this odd couple make progress and encounter some equally unusual road companions along the way, including a romantic down-and-out (Chaiwat Khumdee) who is eking out an existence in an abandoned petrol station and a lonely trans woman (Yukontorn Sukkijja) in a karoake bar. Matthew James Kelly's judiciously used, mournful guitar-based score gives the film a mid-west American vibe that perfectly fits this collection of misfit characters.

"You don't look like the type to be travelling with an elephant," Thana is told and it's true that Warakulnukroh has been perfectly cast by Tan. He reaches only to the top of the elephant's thigh making him seem tiny by comparison and offering plenty of comedic potential when he comes to try to clamber on the animal's back. The director weaves one or two impressively surreal moments into the story but the playfulness doesn't always pay off in terms of the flow of the narrative, with the timeline sometimes feeling scattered. She does, however, have a good eye for the ironies of modern life and nails the sense that development does not always mean progress.

This may ultimately be little more than a shaggy elephant story but it has a big heart, a belief in the generosity of strangers and a winningly upbeat philosophy about human interconnectedness.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2017
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Pop Aye packshot
A disenchanted architect goes on a road trip with an elephant.

Director: Kirsten Tan

Writer: Kirsten Tan

Starring: Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Yukontorn Sukkijja, Chaiwat Khumdee

Year: 2017

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Thailand, Singapore


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