The road is best shared with an old friend. Be it a drinking buddy, a childhood companion, or an old lover—any trip down the dusty trail of memory is one that must be shared. For successful Bangkok architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), that companion is a full-grown Asian elephant named Pop Aye.
As we see in a later flashback, Pop Aye and Thana grew up together but were separated when Pop Aye was shipped off to the circus, performing under the name “Chang,” after the popular Thai beer. In a manner of speaking, Thana was also shipped off: went to school, got a job, got married, and now, midway through his life, his path crosses once again with Pop Aye. Thana takes the elephant under his care, and the two begin their trek home on foot.
Pop Aye is writer/director Kristen Tan’s debut feature, and it is a strong one with a distinct sense of place. Thana’s midlife crisis and his desire to recapture his youth via Pop Aye are universal, but the specifics are what make the movie. From the neon lights flickering on when the sun sets on a dive bar to the image of Thana and Pop Aye wading through hundreds of spilled watermelons on the highway, each moment in Pop Aye feels lived-in and authentic.
Most of that credit goes to Tan, but a part of the credit belongs to Pop Aye—played by the incredibly gentle and emotive elephant, Bong. When W.C. Fields proclaimed that actors should never work with animals or children, he did so because they always steal the scene. It’s a good thing Fields never met Bong; he would have been blown right off the screen.
Pop Aye is in limited release.