Kirsten Tan finds herself drawn to misfits. It’s a theme the 36 year old writer-director has explored across her short film and commercial works, and now at grander scale in her debut feature film.
‘POP AYE’ follows the story of Thana, a once-celebrated architect who finds himself cast aside at work by his younger colleagues. The disenchanted man finds little solace at home in a marriage that has grown apart over the years.
When he reconnects with Popeye, a long-lost childhood friend, he decides to go on a road trip in search of the farm where they grew up together. Oh, and Popeye just happens to be a 21 year old Asian elephant.
Here are our takeaways on what is definitely not your typical road trip movie.
#1 – KIRSTEN’S SEARCH FOR HOME REFLECTED IN HER STORIES
Though she now counts New York as her homebase, Kirsten lived briefly in Jeonju, South Korea and Bangkok, Thailand, after her formative years in Singapore. As she’s always felt a bit of a wanderer, she feels a kinship with characters who are outsiders, and this came to life in her feature film.
“‘POP AYE’ is essentially about two misfits—a man past his prime and his displaced street elephant — searching for meaning and belonging in space and time.”
#2 – THE MEMORY THAT SPARKED THIS ADVENTURE
From her travels in Thailand, Kirsten witnessed a group of village boys showering their elephant in the sea. It was a transcendental moment that sparked the idea for ‘POP AYE’.
Three years of writing, research and a journey through funding from the Berlinale Talents Script Station, TorinoFilmLab Framework Program, and Cannes Atelier, it finally came to fruition. She fleshed out a story about a disillusioned man and an elephant that’s past its prime, on a journey to seek out their place in the world.
#3 – FANTASTIC BEASTS, AND HOW KIRSTEN FOUND HERS
In crafting the character of Popeye, Kirsten was adamant that it wouldn’t be “an exotic, Disney elephant placed in the film for colour”.
She found the perfect actor in Bong, coincidentally the first elephant she met during a writing research trip pre-shoot.
“I met close to a hundred elephants but none of them moved me as much as Bong did. In Bong, you could sense a really kind and open-hearted soul who was game to do anything.”
Cinematographer: Kong Pahurak, Editor: Tan Si En.
Bong turned out to be a natural in front of the camera, more often than not remembering his strides from the walkthrough rehearsal. He was handsomely rewarded with snacks after every take and constant showers to keep cool in the Thailand heat!
‘POP AYE’ is Kirsten Tan’s debut feature film and winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It also was awarded the VPRO Big Screen Award at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017.
The film stars Bong as “Popeye”, Thaneth Warakulnukroh as “Thana”, Penpak Sirikul as “Bo”, Chaiwat Khumdee as “Dee”, Yukontorn Sukkijaa as “Jenny”, and Narong Pongpab as “Peak”.
It opens in Singapore cinemas on 13 April 2017.