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It was ‘Love at First Sight’ When Director Kirsten Tan Met Bong the Elephant.

By Flora  /  05 Apr 2017 (Wednesday)

Filmmaker Kirsten Tan met about 100 elephants before settling on the first elephant she made eye contact with - Bong.

Bong plays the titular role of Popeye in the 111-minute feature film 'Pop Aye', directed and written by Singaporean Kirsten Tan who recently won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, making her the first Singaporean and the first Singapore film to achieve at the festival.

“Maybe I’m crazy, but in that moment (of meeting Bong), I felt like this genuine connection between him and I, and I could never forget him,” said Tan at the press conference yesterday. 

Calling the 5000kg animal ‘handsome’, she admitted that Bong wasn’t her first choice. “If you look at him, you can see that Bong is a handsome elephant and I didn’t want him because I wanted an elephant that was more rugged and raw. Eventually, we went round casting for elephants and saw close to about 100 elephants but somehow none of them moved me in the same way that Bong did… and so I still went with the first one.”

She recalled: “I will always remember the first moment I met Bong. It was the first morning when I arrived (in Thailand) and when I saw him standing on the field, I immediately rushed towards him and was just standing right below his truck. In that moment when I saw his eyes, there is something so kind and so generous about him and I feel like everyone in the crew felt like he was just a very good soul.”

Even for lead actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh, a former rock star-turned-actor and music producer revealed that Bong was a joy to work with. Speaking at the press conference in English, he shared: “I was scared of elephants when I was younger. It was very challenging for me, but once I met Bong and I touched him, that feeling of fear was gone.” 

Warakulnukroh had to put on 10kg for the role of Thana, the disenchanted architect who goes on a journey across Thailand with his long-lost elephant. "I ate McDonald's every day," he quipped.

No filmmaker in their right mind would have thought of putting a huge animal such as an elephant on the big screen, much less having it as a crucial character in the film; but not for Tan, in her debut feature film, no less. 

“The idea of having an elephant (in the film) part of the original idea… like the idea started off with an elephant first then a human, so that was an animal I didn’t question,” explained the filmmaker.

She added: “On a theoretical level we knew it was going to be challenging, but at the same time to actually have an elephant on set was something else altogether.”

“I think that if we were old and experienced directors and producers, we wouldn’t have done it, but because we are all a little young, a little foolish, a little idealistic, I would say we all went it with an attitude of ‘let’s do it’.”

And her risk definitely paid off. The film has travelled to United States, Germany, Rotterdam, Lithuania, and will finally open in Singapore this 13th of April.


“I feel very, very excited for the film to open in Singapore because it is the audience to me that matters. I don't want people to like the film because it’s by a local filmmaker, I want people to like it for its own merits,” said Tan.

Anthony Chen who executive produced the film quipped that “It’s probably the first elephant film we are going to do and probably the last elephant film.” 

Pop Aye opens InCinemas 13 April 2017!
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