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POP AYE gets 6/10 Elephant in the room

Directed by Kirsten Tan
Starring Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bong the Elephant


If you’ve been craving a road movie where an elephant is basically the vehicle, then you’re in luck. Pop Aye follows the titular creature (Bong the Elephant), and his new owner Thanna (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), as they travel from the city back to their rural hometown where they both grew up.

The film makes tiny strokes to set Thanna’s exile into action. He feels he is underappreciated by his boss, co-workers, and wife, over what seems to be disputes that don’t seem entirely out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, these little grievances, along with Thanna discovering and soon buying the elephant he loved so much in his younger years, add up to him deciding to take Pop Aye and himself on the road for an unusual journey.

The story seems simple enough, but the erratic editing between flashbacks initially feels extremely messy. There also seems to be quite a lot of cutting between particular timelines during the film’s first third, which jumps all over the place without much rhyme or indication. Although the film eases up and focuses on the story at hand throughout the rest of its run-time, the flashbacks of young Thanna with young Pop Aye interspersed later in the film seem like they would’ve been more suited near the beginning of the film instead to better establish their bond.

Once the film settles in, it takes a more relaxed pace as Thanna and his loveable friend go on the road, and meet an eclectic cast of characters, as Thanna searches for some fun and youthfulness, even if in more misguided places.

The film ends on too ambiguous of a note to really satisfy, with the feeling that a more obvious ending actually might’ve brought this man and animal friendship to a sentimental conclusion – instead, it just stumbles towards some random climax. The final scene tries to cap off the feeling of impermanence Thanna is feeling as he gets deeper into old age, and although it’s one of the more memorable and well directed moments of the film, it doesn’t make up for the wonky ride we’ve been taken on.

Pop Aye has its heart in the right place and wants to be an endearing animal-centric road movie that finds the right balance between light and dark in this journey. Although it succeeds in that, it doesn’t succeed as well in its clarity, its focus, and in consistently establishing the woes and dreams of its main character. But Pop Aye might still have the power to enchant some audiences, even if done in a haphazard manner.


Pop Aye plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, April 2 to Sunday, April 8, 7:30pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, April 10 to Sunday April 15, 7:30pm.

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