Photo by Chananun Chotrungroj.

Perhaps it’s long been put to bed that despite itself, creativity does not vacate a personality raised in risk adverse Singapore but every now and then, it is worth reminding ourselves how far we have come from the cultural desert that was Singapore in the 1980s. The latest example – Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye.

The plot is deceptively simple – an architect (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) embarks on a road trip through Thailand to take his elephant back to his hometown.

That humble description fails to do any justice to the very real characters that populate the Pop Aye landscape and the fact that one of the stars of the film is Bong, who plays the titular pachyderm.

Yes, it’s a road trip movie but it’s not a narrative that is easily discerned and anticipated as the journey of Thana (the architect) and Pop Aye encounter the unexpected throughout with an uneasy resolution that raises more questions than it answers.

Apart from the clever writing, the deft direction and the natural performances, one will also marvel at the technical finesse that Pop Aye accomplishes, despite the obvious logistical challenges presented by working within the environment, not to mention getting a performance of a lead animal!

Tan’s identification with the middle-aged angst of Thana and portrayal of the charm and generosity of the strangers he meets along the way demonstrates a deep insight into the human condition that is a wonder to behold. It is this quality that gives Pop Aye its emotional power.

There have been numerous strong movies about Singapore and what it means to be Singaporean but Pop Aye takes Singapore film beyond the boundaries of its own naval gazing and goes truly global. Kudos.

… still there’s more …

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