Uwith news of war, inflation and energy shortages dominating the headlines in recent months, it’s no wonder the incredible real-life story of hope and survival of 12 young soccer players and their coach who were rescued after being trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for more than two weeks continues to receive airtime.
On September 22, Netflix will release a six-episode miniseries covering the story of a Thai youth soccer team and their 25-year-old coach who is trapped Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in mid-2018 due to heavy rainfall. This is at least the fourth major retelling of the dramatic rescue operation that captured the world’s attention. But those behind the series promise that it offers a different perspective and maximum authenticity. Thai Cave Rescue features exclusive insights from extensive interviews with the real-life wild boars and their keepers – and some of the scenes were filmed in the boys’ actual homes. “The boys are the heart and soul of our show,” Dana LeDue Miller, who created and wrote the series with Michael Russell Gunn, told TIME.
The new Netflix series is one of many adaptations of the savior story for the big and small screen. In 2019, the Thai production of director Tom Waller The cave uses a combination of re-enactments and news footage to tell the story. This image gives European diver Jim Warney, who played a key role in saving the team, a leading role in the story, playing himself.
National Geographic’s 2021 documentary The rescue followed, featuring footage captured by Thai Navy SEALs during the mission to rescue the boys. Ron Howard’s vivid real-life drama Thirteen liveswhich was released this summer, was filmed in Queensland, Australia. It stars Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen as the British cave divers carrying out the risky operation.
Focusing on the boys at the heart of the story
According to the creators behind Thai Cave Rescue, their decision to put the boys at the center of the miniseries is what sets this retelling apart. “Having that kind of access and being able to ask the questions on the ground with the people who were actually stuck in the cave, like the boys, was invaluable,” director Kevin Tancharoen tells TIME. “I just think that perspective is something that sometimes gets missed in other projects because it’s mainly focused on the mechanics and how difficult the task is on a technical level.”
Miller says she and Gunn are both nervous about working with the boys to tell their stories. “The last thing we wanted to do was re-traumatize kids who had been through something so incredible and stressful,” she says. “I think the surprise was that they came in and were so open and eager and shared so much with us.”
She adds that their sense of humor shone through. “They told stories about the pranks they played on each other and the ways they supported each other through it all.”
Casting actors for an authentic retelling
As for finding actors to play the boys, the miniseries features locals from Northern Thailand – most of them with no previous acting experience – who work with an acting coach to prepare them for the screen. The creators of the show say that having local people who speak the regional dialects and know the area is important for the authenticity of the project. But they got a little more authenticity than they bargained for. Gunn says the first time they went to meet the cast, one of the guys told him he was there the day the wild boars decided to enter the cave. “He and his brother were in the team and they were both in the show and they just happened not to go to the cave that day. It was mind-blowing for us.”
“A few of them are playing Wild Boars now and they know the real guys,” says Miller, “so they’re playing versions of their friends.”
Not only was the series shot entirely in Thailand, but several scenes were shot inside the complex cave system that stretches several miles into the mountain where the boys and their coach were trapped. All 12 boys and their coach Ekapol Chantawong, or “Coach Ek”, were eventually rescued, although retired Thai diver Saman Kunam lost his life during the operation.
Shooting the actual location was no easy task, and the weather didn’t help either. “It was raining while we were there. I mean, we shot right in the season that they were there,” Gunn says. “It just absorbs sound and light right out of space, and that’s why it’s extraordinarily terrifying.”
But those behind the show hope their efforts will help bring a new perspective to the story and appeal to audiences in Thailand. “Authenticity has been our main agenda since day one,” says Baz director Nathavut Punpiriya. “We hope that authenticity comes through to the audience.”
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