Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sundance ’17: Pop Aye
is definitely experiencing a mid-life crisis, but he buys an elephant instead
of a sports car. It’s a guilt thing rather than a Thai thing per se. Parking
him in Bangkok will be a challenge, so the architect and his pachyderm light
out on a road trip in Singaporean Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye (trailer
which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
are not happy days for Thana. His marriage to the haughty Bo is on the rocks
and his most famous commission is about to fall under the wrecking ball.
However, he comes alive when he spies a shabby huckster mistreating a former
circus elephant. In fact, Thana is convinced this is his provincial family’s
former elephant, Pop Aye (think “the sailor man,” but without any potential copyright
infringement). To do right by the beast he apparently once wronged, Thana
commences a road trip to his Uncle Peak’s country home. Along the way, they
encounter scheming exploiters, Zenned out tricksters, and transgendered
performers. This is indeed Thailand.
so basically Pop Aye is like The Protector films starring Tony Jaa,
but without the martial arts. It also left out most of the cutesy quirk you
might expect in an elephant road movie. Frankly, the tone of the film really is
closer to the Protector franchise than
the embarrassingly Bill Murray vehicle, Larger
than Life. Many of the backwater byways Thana and Pop Aye travel are
undeniably dark and gritty. Tan’s visuals, focusing on a man and his elephant
even get a little trippy at times, at least for non-Thais.
former musician Thaneth Warakulnukroh is scrupulously reserved but deeply
compelling as the architect in crisis. Penpak Sirikul also brings unusual
dimension to the henpecking Bo. However, Bong inevitably steals the show as Pop
Aye, just like W.C. Fields would have predicted.
Aye is a quiet film, but you would not describe it
as happy-go-lucky. To the contrary, Tan quite assuredly maintains a distinctive
note of sadness all the way through. She also briefly evokes 1980s nostalgia
with a video tribute to Thana’s soon to be demolished shopping center. Altogether,
it is a deceptive simple film of considerable maturity. Recommended for
discerning viewers, Pop Aye screens
again tonight (1/27) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Sundance '17, Thai Film