This warm, funny road movie won the 2017 Best Screenplay gong at Sundance. Screening as part of the Singapore Now stream of the OzAsia Festival, Pop Aye hails from Thailand and, under the gentle hand of Writer/Director Kirsten Tan, it’s an ode to letting go of the past and appreciating the present.
When disenchanted architect, Thana, encounters a circus elephant on the streets of Bangkok, he recognises it as Popeye, a rescued pet from his childhood. Buying the beast, Thana escapes his miserable life to return the elephant to their childhood farm in the Loei Province of northeast Thailand.
Travelling on foot, Thana and Popeye encounter a range of quirky and sometimes tragic people on the road, with the elephant’s unpredictability causing several adventures on the way.
Pop Aye is not a farce. It’s a very gentle drama with comedy and Thaneth Warakulnukroh carries the show almost entirely. He’s pitiful, funny and caring, with a great depth of character from start to finish.
As his wife Bo, Penpak Sirikul is less three dimensional but her scenes are impactful and provide the motivation needed to send Thana on his quest.
Surprisingly, the elephant Bong doesn’t upstage as Popeye but is magnificent in every sense and is sure to make western audiences swoon. This is not a Disney film however, so there’s no magic moments of man/beast bonding or super-intelligent genius by the creature. Popeye is simply an elephant, with all its laid-back majesty, unexpected diversions and grand scale of being.
There is a lot of pathos in this movie. Thana is a tragic character attempting to rediscover a past that has moved on without him. The pace is decent but not fast, yet the warmth of the writing draws you into Thana’s world. I’m normally not a fan of slow moving dramas but Pop Aye remains engaging until the closing credits and is a highly enjoyable romp through the landscape of beautiful Thailand.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 8
There will be four screenings of Pop Aye between 20 September – 1 October 2017 at the Mercury Cinema. Pop Aye is screening as part of the 2017 OzAsia Festival, which runs 21 September – 8 October 2017.