Pop Aye

Director: Kirsten Tan
Year: 2017
Rating: 7.0
Country: Thailand

Until a few years ago one would often come across elephants walking the streets in the tourist section of Bangkok. Mind you Bangkok has a population of about 11 million people and probably more cars than that with some of the worst traffic jams in the world. So an elephant walking the streets might seem to be a really bad idea. And it was.

Elephants very sadly have no place in Thailand any more other than for the pleasure of idiot tourists. They once were the foundation of farming, logging and carrying supplies but with mechanization of those industries elephants were put out of work. They eat enormous amounts of food and simply can’t be maintained by people. So many of them were just set free to roam usually coming to bad ends or taken to Bangkok and forced to perform in shows for the tourists – led by their Mahouts. One of the ways they earned money was by walking their enormous elephants on the streets and getting tourists to buy the elephant's food and feeding them.

From time to time an elephant would be hit by a car and the results would be horrifying. On occasion an elephant would be spooked and run wild as I witnessed one time while sitting on a sidewalk bar having a libation on this rather narrow lane when an elephant came charging down the lane and people running for their lives. It was a scary moment and I have no idea what the outcome was as I was down low pressed against the wall. A few years ago the authorities banned this and I have not seen one since. There have also been a number of Elephant sanctuaries set up to process elephants and then release them into the jungles.

Which gets to this Singaporean/Thai production. Oddly, enough a friend here in the USA had asked me if I could find a copy of this film in Thailand but I was unable to. But there it was on Japan Airlines and so I watched it. It is a touching though very far from sentimental film – slow moving but lovely in its languid mystical quirky rhythm that feels very Thai. A middle aged man who is on the outs at work with a generation of young people and on the outs with his wife comes across an elephant on the streets of Bangkok doing the buy food trick that he recognizes from his village when he was a young man. He buys the elephant and simply decides to walk him home to the old village thus becoming a man/elephant road movie. Beautiful rural scenes and a cross section of Thai people are met on the way including of course a Ladyboy!. One expects redemption of some sort for the man in his life but the directors really don't play down to an easy and happy resolution.