Man at His Best

An Interview With Kirsten Tan, Director of POP AYE

We had Amanda Lee Koe sit with writer-director Kirsten Tan to delve into some mad libs.

BY Amanda Lee Koe | Apr 11, 2017 | Film & TV

Rhythm in a film means that I could watch three minutes of it, walk out of the cinema, come back for the final three minutes, and know that I’m still on the same film, even if the characters are all different. It is the backbone of its structure, like the beat of a song. 

A road trip route I would love to take would be a journey through the Trans-Siberian Railway. Well, that was something I wanted to do in my early 20s and even charted my route, taking note of the stops I wanted to make from Moscow en route to Vladivostok. I haven’t read up about it since and maybe it’s no longer worth doing, the places would have changed or I would have changed or the idea of travel has changed.

If I had to pick a favourite scene or moment in POP AYE, it would be the scene where Thana struggles to climb up the elephant. It says everything about his character—that he doesn’t stop trying till he gets what he wants, but alas, when he gets it, it ends up very different from what he expects, but such is life.

The difference between an animal character and a human character is that an animal is in a constant of being. There is no “character” they put on. They have no concept of pretension and are therefore the purest performers. Human characters are necessarily embodied by someone they are not, therefore, it takes a longer while to get there. Purity is delayed in humans. 

The trait in me that I think is most important to directing is my overactive imagination. Though I sometimes wish I could muzzle my brain, it helps to conjure situations, establish worlds, and inhabit the subjective realities of characters I write. 

An aspect of Singapore that I appreciate in New York (other than the food) is that if the apocalypse were to hit, whether in the form of a catastrophic hurricane or a city-razing terrorist attack, New York would be its main target, be it natural or manmade, not Singapore. I like knowing that my family and close friends will be safe residing within the confines of Singapore. 

When I am mansplained to, I wish there was a button I could press so a manhole would open up beneath their feet. But many lives would be lost in this way, and I don’t want too much blood on my hands.

The relationship between sound and image in my films is something I find irresistible. Cinematic language and form to me is the marriage of sound and visual. The truth is that I am more intrinsically drawn to form over story, but these days, I’m trying to focus more on the narrative and POP AYE is actually one of the first of my narrative-driven works. 

My current earworm is Marek Hemmann, a minimalist electronic musician and producer.

I never want to work with egotistical and incompetent people. I feel like I could tolerate incompetence or egotistical on its own, but when it comes together, that’s a little much for me. 

If I could date a movie character, it would be the donkey in Al Hasard Balthasar. Okay, maybe that’s a half-truth, but I would certainly want to be his friend. Also No-Face in Spirited Away. I want to hide these lovely outcasts somewhere warm and keep them safe.

If I didn't have filmmaking I would be a completely lost soul. I would attempt to join Doctors Without Borders because I’d naively hope to do good and see the world at the same time – but I would probably flunk out of med school in my second year and backpack across west Asia and eastern Europe in search of my personal truth. Like a cliché, I would fail to find it. At some point, I would walk into a cinema in a foreign land on a mid-day afternoon. Watching the film, all of a sudden I would see my life in a nutshell, I’d experience my failures and my momentous glory played out in a character, and I would cry. I would walk out of the theatre feeling like I love cinema but I won't know what to do about it.

Good art should be truthful in some essential way, in however roundabout a route it chooses to take to get there. 

POP AYE opens on 13 April. Tickets are now available at Golden Village and The Projector.