The setup of Kirsten Tan's contemplative journeys-with-an-elephant comedy is commonplace. In middle age, an architect feels out of step with his industry and lost in his marriage, so he seizes an unlikely memory from his past, from a time when his life (and his country) seemed to hold promise. That memory: the elephant Popeye, spotted on the streets of Bangkok, all grown up after boy and beast had spent a childhood together outside a remote village. Being a movie protagonist in want of a premise, that architect (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) buys the aged pachyderm and elects to stop going to work so that he can guide Popeye back to their old stamping grounds. (Making this decision easier for him is the fact that his wife hides a vibrator in the closet, a revelation the architect takes as a betrayal.)
Their adventure, of course, ranges not just across Thailand's roads but into its recent history. The hero and his lumbering companion, once wild in the country, simply don't fit into the world our architect literally built — and that now is being built over again. What's singular here is the duo's disquieting encounters with sex workers and the homeless. Tan's Thailand is in cruel transition: The wealthy are building towers, the poor are bereft of opportunity, and people who once lived close to the land now bide their time in characterless apartments. At least Popeye, played by a beast named Bong, is a source of joy, especially when the architect, in a superb long take, takes about a full minute to clamber atop him.