Pop Aye

Pop Aye

Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals

Cast: Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bon
Director: Kirsten Tan
Rated: M
Running Time: 102 minutes

Synopsis: A successful Bangkok architect in the midst of a midlife crisis is reunited with an elephant he knew growing up. The two embark on a road trip to the man's childhood home in the idyllic Thai countryside. Along the way, they meet a colorful cast of characters that includes a pair of nonplussed local police officers, a forlorn transgender sex worker, and a mysteriously wise drifter. As the encounters mount and the bond between man and elephant deepens, filmmaker Kirsten Tan weaves a strikingly universal tale in this feature debut that won prizes (and hearts) at the Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals.

Pop Aye
Release Date: April 5th, 2018


Director's Artistic Statement

I've always felt like a bit of a wanderer. Having lived in Singapore, Jeonju, Bangkok and New York within the last decade, I'm not quite sure where I fit in sometimes. I'm never sure where home is, and I've always felt for outsiders who don't sit comfortably within one particular system. Pop Aye is essentially about two misfits"a man past his prime and his displaced street elephant"searching for meaning and belonging in space and time.

A road movie with an elephant set in Thailand, Pop Aye is the story of Thana, a disenchanted architect, who bumps into Popeye, his long-lost childhood elephant, on the streets of Bangkok. Dissatisfied with his current life, he takes his elephant on a road trip across Thailand, in search of the farm where they grew up together. Along the way, they meet a whole host of colorful characters, from a fortune-telling vagabond to a pair of bureaucratic policemen to a lonely karaoke singer, as a series of absurd mishaps befalls them on their journey.

Bangkok was the last place I lived in before moving to New York. I was in my early twenties then, when I was still figuring life out. Time seemed sprawling and infinite. I had a t-shirt shop at Chatuchak Market with my friends; we hardly made enough to cover rent, but we had fun. I travelled around Thailand a lot and whilst filming at a beach once, I witnessed a group of village boys pulling their elephant to sea to shower him.

That memory of the elephant by the sea came up when I was writing Pop Aye. It was not merely because it was beautiful, but because it was both mystical yet banal. This begs the question of whether the elephant in my film is a metaphor, but I don't have a didactic answer to that. What I can say is, when animals are used in films, their use is often symbolic, but with Pop Aye, I wanted the elephant to be something that was true to my character's life. It was definitely not going to be an exotic, Disney elephant placed in there for colour. The elephant is as much a misfit as Thana feels himself to be. There is no space for him wherever he goes.

Tonally, I believe that life is"and has always been"simultaneously tragic and comic. It only depends on the perspective and distance with which one is watching events unfold. In my films, this inadvertent mixing of tragedy and comedy is important, because that is the truth of life. There's something both intimate yet distanced, warm yet cold. In Pop Aye, one moment something is very serious and the next moment, it appears frivolous. Which is it really? It is neither and both because life is sad and beautiful at once, and time is the only constant, yet ever-changing.

Time and its passage thereof has always been a big theme for me. It is a dimension that never stops happening to us at every moment. Its effects add up, but we can't possibly be aware of how they will all add up, in life as we live it. The road-movie lends itself well to cinematic explorations of the journey, which of course is never just the journey on the road, but life's journey. We get to see how the beats add up. In Pop Aye, the way various moments add up in the plot"both in the road trip and in the arc of Thana's life"are testament to the quiet brutality of time. We live our lives moving forward even when we are doing nothing. Things are getting lost each second, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Time is the witness to it all and when time shows its hand, do we laugh or do we cry?

Pop Aye
Release Date: April 5th, 2018