Kirsten Tan's debut feature is an absolute delight. Pop Aye is the story of a man and his elephant. Well, it's more of a road trip really but it definitely involves an elephant.
Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is facing obsolescence at work, impotence at home and disenchantment with himself. His first project as an architect thirty years ago is facing demolition as its shopping mall boondoggle style is now completely out of date and the firm he has worked for all his entire adult life is now gradually being taken over by the founders young son. Life at home isn't much better. An amusing (for the audience) discovery whilst looking for an address book leads him to a fight with his wife, showing just how far the couple have drifted apart in their wealthy Bangkok suburban mansion.
Whilst wandering out of the office after he discovers a meeting has been moved deliberately so he didn't take part in it, Than notices an elephant, trooping miserably around with its owner. Convinced the elephant is the one that he rescued from its dead mother when he was a child, he impulsively buys it and takes it home. Which obviously doesn't sit well with his wife and so very soon Than is out on the road with Popeye, intent on returning him to his family home in the countryside.
Tan clearly has a good eye, her cinematography background perhaps, and she treats the Thai countryside with the reverence it deserves. Than and Popeye, though spending the majority of their time on or near main roads, are constantly framed with beautiful lush backdrops and this plays well against the intimate story of the lost soul and his charge.
The journey of course does not go smoothly, indeed it's very difficult to see how Than ever thought it would do. In his malaise the two just set out in roughly the right direction and hope for the best. Along the way they meet a dubious truck driver, a trans barfly, some particularly useless policemen and an enigmatic tramp who hangs out at a defunct petrol station patiently waiting to be reunited with his brother in heaven. I won't spoil the ending but suffice to say, you can never go home again. Particularly with a five tonne pachyderm.
Pop Aye is a beautifully shot, wittily scripted, joy of a movie. It's warm without being sentimental and meaningful without ever really trying to hard. The characters are quirky without being forced and it finds a great deal of humour in the later life funk that Than finds himself in. Oh, and a special shout out to Bongo the elephant who is, without doubt, the silent star of the show.