Review: POP AYE dir. Kirsten Tan

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Set in industrial Thailand, Kirsten Tan’s debut feature film is a story about Bo (Penpak Sirikul), a disillusioned architect, and his elephant. An official selection for Sundance 2017, POP AYE has earned praise and marks the first time a Singaporean has won an award at the festival.

POP AYE effectively captures the essence of ritual, and took us to the base of the story of how it all began. Architects will certainly love the basis of show due to its premise and main character. As a former renowned architect, Bo has since been shoved aside by the younger generation and rendered redundant, the very empire he once built having forgotten its builder. Furthermore, Bo finds himself married to a woman who’s lost interest in him, and honestly, has very little going for his life.

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So it’s no wonder that when he thinks he sees the elephant he grew up with around the streets of Bangkok, it’s a divine sign. Whistling the Popeye cartoon theme tune and seeing the elephant respond is all the proof he needs that this is his long lost friend, and decides to buy it off its owners. When Bo realizes he can’t keep the elephant at his house,  he decides to bring the elephant to his uncle’s place out in the country instead, in an unusual road trip full of epiphanies and colourful characters along the way.

Some of the characters Bo meets along the way includes a transvestite he doesn’t see as trans, but a real woman. Accepting her for who she is, she quickly warms to him, and appreciates that there’s finally someone in the world who sees her good naturedness and just a human being who wants to be loved. Bo quickly becomes a force for good on his journey, repairing the relationship between a beggar and his “wife”, his uncle’s son, who he also forges a fast bond with.

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As much as the film is about Bo, one cannot forget his co-star is the elephant, who steals many scenes and reciprocates his love, taking care of him and he takes care of it. Kirsten Tan’s cinematography presents a rare setting in cinema: the Thai countryside, and there’s a fascinating draw to its beauty and its breadth. In one scene, she films watermelons falling off a truck, painting a surprisingly nice picture.

Ultimately, POP AYE is about the love ones we have and how we can cherish them. Despite conforming to the usual themes of a road trip film about self-discovery and forging new relationships, POP AYE stands out for its inclusion of themes such as urban fever and mid-life crises, and the fact that it has one of the more unusual premises in film history. Tender and moving, POP AYE heralds another great film in the up and coming generation of Singaporean indie filmmakers, and certainly shows that there’s plenty of film talent on this island with some of the most imaginative stories bursting to be told.

POP AYE is released in Singapore cinemas on 13 April. To stand a chance of winning tickets to the gala premiere on 4 April, check out our Instagram post for more details! 

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