5th October 2017 8.45pm at BFI Southbank
6th October 2017 3.30pm at ICA Cinema
7th October 2017 9.15pm at Vue West End
When one hears about a man’s journey with an elephant, they can’t help but think of Disney, with songs and cartoons and some basic emotion the children can understand. But this isn’t the tone of the debut feature from Singaporean filmmaker Kirsten Tan. Pop Aye follows Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), a middle-aged architect who tries to keep the past intact. He spots an elephant he grew up with in the countryside. Thana leaves Bangkok with the elephant, named Pop Aye, to return to his rural hometown of Loei; but he faces many challenges along the way.
In Thana and Pop Aye’s sluggish travels, they meet others who are alone and bathed in nostalgia about how things used to be. The architect attempts to relive and reclaim his past, ignited by the planned demolition of a building he designed when he was young. Tan has written a kind and heartbreaking character who cannot accept change, with Pop Aye being his only connection to his past.
Unlike Disney, there is not of a whiff of CGI in the movie. Tan uses a real elephant, named Bong in real life, who deserves as much praise for his performance as Warakulnukroh. As actors, they have a deep and immediate connection, which is essential for the pair’s relationship. One can’t live without the other.
Despite the long journey, the ending feels too convenient. The story unfolds at a natural pace, taking us on a surreal and unpredictable journey led by the characters. But the finale, though poetically concluded, feels forced and beyond the characters’ control, like an ex machina. Tan is too quick to tie the strings. There are also a few sex scenes that feel gratuitous, but they do help to show a fierce, embarrassing display of Thana’s loneliness.
This is a road movie like no other: magic and existential. Tan takes the audience on a surreal journey into the inevitability of change and the human tendency to reject it. We all have our Pop Ayes, and we struggle to cling on to them.
Pop Aye does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Pop Aye here: