Elephants have always played an important part in Thai culture. Intricately woven into the fabric of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, they have long been considered as sacred animals. At one time, they were widely used for logging, and more recently, as entertainment for tourists. Even to this day, these gentle giants remain a revered symbol of Thailand, as animal rights catch up with the country. The question now remains: what is the future for these massive creatures as Thailand continues to advance?
Thana's (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) life seems to be disintegrating around him. His work as an esteemed architect is being disregarded by his new bosses, and his marriage is on the rocks. By chance, he stumbles across a street elephant, and realises it is the same animal he rescued as a child. He buys the elephant and decides to make the long trek from Bangkok back to his home town.
What appears to be an uneventful story really has so much more going on below the surface. The film's theme of no longer having a place in the world as it changes around you is true of both Thana and his elephant, as well as many of the characters they meet on their travels. The journey may not necessarily provide the answer to this conundrum, but it does allow them to fit a little better into the lives they have been given.
While not the most breathtaking film to watch, the cinematography does an adequate job of showing off Thailand's countryside, as well as details of everyday local life. Writer/director Kirsten Tan has delivered a drama scattered with a unique sense of humour largely derived from life's misfortunes. Making her feature film debut, what the story lacks in even pacing is truly made up for with the characters she has crafted, and her work with Warakulnukroh to make Thana a believable custodian of this elephant. Their relationship is remarkably truthful and endearing, as Warakulnukroh interacts intimately with the giant creature that could easily crush him without an afterthought.
The film's theme of no longer having a place in the world is true of both Thana and his elephant.
While Tan has put together a charming feature, the story could easily have been improved by trimming 10 to 15 minutes off its running time. Nonetheless, it offers a glimpse inside the true Thailand and looks at a cultural reverence which dates back thousands of years. Inevitably, 'Pop Aye' is an endearing story about a man and his elephant trying to find their place in the world.