Kirsten Tan’s “Pop Aye” is a kind, loving reunion story. A Bangkok architect, Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), dead center in a midlife crisis, adrift for now, shit at his job with his marriage a mess, comes across a street hustler with an elephant. The creature is Pop Aye, a now fully-grown elephant (Bong) Thana knew when he was a boy. And of course, Pop Aye remembers his friend. Ambling amiably, the duo are on a road trip back to the farm where they met when they were small.
What does the elephant stand for? The elephant is the elephant, and an elephant, among other things, is always an elephant. This big guy Bong is simply Bong in his elegant, elemental, trundling presence.
The way back is gently paced, but the charm of this man’s best friend shines: Bong is a delight. (There’s a majestically weary look he shoots the camera at one bright moment.) Tan’s simplicity saunters and sings. Yeah, well, Bong does have a meaning in the story to decipher, but “Pop Aye” is most compelling when dwelling on pachyderm presence. Their arrival in the village is bittersweet, and one particular collage of confrontation with long-held dreams is most melancholy. 104m. (Ray Pride)
“Pop Aye” opens Friday, August 4 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.