Catch Pop Aye this weekend while you can

If you're wondering what to do this weekend, here's a simple suggestion: Watch Pop Aye.

That's the title of a movie by Singapore writer-director Kirsten Tan that has won major film awards including the Special Jury Prize for screenwriting at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

I had supported it online and cheered news about it - from the time I saw it on my Facebook feed, to the time trailer videos appeared, and then as news of its awards broke.

There's a special thrill when a Singaporean's artistic efforts win recognition. I mean, Singapore is lucky to top in rankings of many things (math and science performance by students; as a talent magnet for start-ups and sadly, some cost of living rankings), but I only get that triumphant "Yay, well-done!" feeling when I read about Singaporeans winning things we shouldn't expect to win, like Olympic swimming competitions, or indoor skydiving, or making a movie about an elephant in Thailand.

Kirsten (we're Facebook friends) kindly sent me tickets for the gala premiere and I saw it last week with a friend.

I went partly to support a local film-maker, and partly because the premise of the film was intriguing: a road trip movie with an elephant.

I'm writing to tell everyone to go watch it because it's, quite simply, a terrific movie that spoke to me.

At one level, it's a movie about a man who wanted to atone for a childhood error by rescuing an elephant from a performing circus type of life, and escorting it back to a sanctuary.


At another level, it's a road trip movie, about a peripetatic journey from Bangkok through its rural outskirts, replete with a kind, eccentric and transgender prostitute. As my colleague John Lui, the film critic, said: "It is the storytelling that makes this work stand apart. Events that occur in the first part of the film are resolved in the second; Tan's arcs have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is not only satisfying, but also shows respect for the viewer."

I'm not a movie buff. But as a former literature student, I'm a sucker for a good story with realistic, interesting characters.

I especially like stories that appear to be simple fables, but that speak to our human condition in all its complexity.

Pop Aye is one of those stories.

The tale of a man who tries to walk his elephant home is also a story of a man in mid-life transition who is driven away from home by a niggling sense of unhappiness as his ordered world crashes around him.

His career is sliding and his wife appears repulsed by him. In Jung's term, his anima/animus is stirring; and he feels an urge to journey to find himself.

Like every epic hero, he journeys to discover himself - and grows as a result, coming up smack against his own illusions.

Every student of myth knows that the journey outwards to seek truth and meaning, always coils back inwards to the self.

And so it is with Pop Aye.

The story of mid-life transition, and the journey outwards that ends where it begins, spoke to me.

In the last decade, I too have felt the stirrings of discontent with a life that appears, externally at least, satisfying, interesting, even exciting.

At 48, with some bank savings, my parents having long passed on, and no children, I have no financial dependants. I have lately felt an urge to return to my creative roots. I have always been a writer, populating notebooks with names of characters and inventing tales and ties that weave them together.

In my late teens, I wrote poetry.

In my 20s, I wrote fiction. Then I became a journalist and got stuck writing prose and news articles for 25 years.

Some days, I dream of spending a year, or two, honing the craft and writing something that is not a news article, not concerned with geopolitical or social issues, but to do with matters of the heart and soul.

Some days, I dream of spending time in some far away orphanage, devoting my life to loving underloved children.

On other days, I think I'll give up this job - which I actually rather love even after 26 years, with its rich mix of intellectual stimulation and social interactions - and work in some other company for a change of scenery.

When I'm feeling spiritual - this is Easter after all - I think of doing a theology course and spending time reading, reflecting, writing on the spiritual life, and accompanying people on their spiritual journeys. Oh and being engaged in one myself too, of course.

And after all that time-pathing, like Thana and his elephant, I return to where I began: sitting in front of my office computer, writing, as a journalist.

One day, perhaps, I will do a Pop Aye and walk my metaphorical elephant round the country, if only to return to where I started. For now, I'll just remember his example.

As for you, I hope many of you will make time to catch Pop Aye.

This weekend, it's showing at The Projector and four Golden Village cinemas - Suntec City, Vivocity, Plaza and Yishun.

You know Singapore movie-distributors. If the theatres aren't filled up, Pop Aye will be passed over soon and you won't be able to watch it on the big screen.

Don't say I bojio.