Pop Aye Review - Always Fascinating

Road trips have been the subject of some great American films, perhaps because of the significance of the automobile in American culture.  Think Easy RiderThelma & Louise and Little Miss Sunshine.  From south of the border, Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Motorcycle Diaries, and from Australia, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.   The essence of virtually all of these stories is usually the characters encountered on the trip and the transformation of the travelers.  And often accompanied by the sad realization that you can never go home again.   Now, a Singapore-raised director, Kirsten Tan, has imagined a very eccentric road trip, featuring an elephant and an aging architect in Thailand.  


Pop Aye Poster

The title, Pop Aye, is the Thai transliteration of the name of the familiar cartoon character.  Tan, known primarily for shorts, wrote and directed this, which won a screenwriting award at Sundance earlier this year.  Pop Aye is her first feature length film to screen in the US.  She lived in Thailand for several years where she watched a group of young boys giving an elephant a bath at the beach.   Fascinated, she lived for a month with a group of mahouts, an experience that gave her background for her film.


On the Road

Her story begins with Thana, a 60-ish Bangkok architect, who is being edged out of his firm just as his signature building is being slated for demolition, both having apparently outlived their usefulness.  Trapped in a loveless marriage, he is burned out and depressed, sleepwalking through life.   One day driving in the city, he spots an elephant being used for street performances.  He recognizes Pop Aye, an elephant he befriended during his boyhood in a small village 300 miles north of Bangkok.   There are flashbacks of him as a boy playing with the young Pop Aye in the river.  Now, many decades later, the elephant too seems to remember.  Thana buys Pop Aye from his mahout, leaves his wife and begins hitchhiking to his home village.


A kind Truck Driver


The film opens with man and beast plodding along on a bleak stretch of highway in front of factories.   Thana flags down an empty truck with a sympathetic driver, and the improbable pair of hitchhikers climb aboard.   Thus begins the odyssey which enables them to encounter many memorable characters, including a tough but kind transgender woman and a homeless man, more Buddhist than most monks. At one point, exhausted from the trek, Thana says to Pop Aye, “You’re just like me: old, fat and homeless.”   The journey and the story continue, always fascinating, in unexpected directions.




 Photos: Kino Lorber

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