Should you watch this if it’s free? Yes.
Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? If you like independent films.
Secret ending? No.
Running time: 104 minutes (~1.75 hours)
“Pop Aye” is a Singaporean drama that’s in Thai.
The film follows the journey of a washed up architect and his childhood elephant as they journey back to their hometown in search of answers and a purpose.
“Pop Aye” was directed and written by Kirsten Tan. It stars Thaneth Warakulnukroh (Thana), Bong (Pop Aye the elephant), Penpak Sirikul (Bo), Chaiwat Khumdee (Dee), Yukontorn Sukkijja (Jenni), and Narong Pongpab (Peak). It is rated M18.
As you might have guessed, the cartoon “Popeye” is an important plot point in “Pop Aye”. This already hints at the sense of nostalgia and the themes of longing and loss in the film. It’s a touch more accessible than arthouse films in that the message and plot are easily understood, and the characters are relatable to an extent. Curiously, it suffers from a plot that leaves you feeling cheated, which is perhaps the most arthouse aspect of the film.
To drive home the mental and emotional element of Thana’s journey (which complements his physical journey back to the village of his childhood), the film features several key moments with him Pop Aye. It builds a certain sort of sentimentality for the pair, and also gives you time to ruminate on the deeper meaning of the messages in the film. It’s also done in a natural and organic fashion, in that it doesn’t look contemplative for the sake of looking artistic.
Evocative setting and shots
The cinematography brings out the humidity and heat of Thailand, such that you can almost feel the discomfort of the setting even if you’re in a cold, air-conditioned cinema. The constant contrast between the urban and rural landscapes of Thailand also highlights the plight of those who are left behind by modernisation. The shots bring forth the character of Thailand itself, reminding us that despite the disparity between locations, they’re all in the same country.
Of course, the most intriguing part of the film is the fact that an actual elephant is one of the main characters in the film. “Pop Aye” manages to address all the possible issues that might arise when you make an elephant walk a journey of a thousand miles, and those issues are resolved fairly satisfactorily. The novelty of the premise does wear off a little towards the end of the film, but it’s still fascinating to see this concept being executed.
Asinine plot twist
The biggest issue with the film is a plot twist that seems like it was inserted for unfathomable reasons. The problem is that the events of the film hint at a certain takeaway for the audience, yet the plot twist fails to follow up on this and even seems to contradict it at. It makes you feel like you were taken for a ride, especially after you’ve built up a relationship with the characters.
“Pop Aye” doesn’t have the energy of an action film (and it’s not one), but it could done with tighter cuts and more judicious trimming of the film. It’s slower than similar films and dramas, although this pace affords us more time to ponder the themes of the film.
“Pop Aye” has an intriguing premise that’s marred by an inane plot development.
“Pop Aye” opens in cinemas:
– 13 April, 2017 (Singapore)
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.
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