Netflix has set a Sept. 22 release date for “Thai Cave Rescue,” its six-part mini series about the dramatic events of July 2018 when 12 boys and their football coach were trapped in flooded limestone caves near Chiang Rai.
Their plight sparked an unprecedented international rescue effort that ended with the loss of just one life and a flurry of film and TV productions.
The Netflix series is at least the fourth on-screen retelling of the rescue tale and will follow two other efforts releasing over the next weeks. Netflix touts its series as “the most authentic and expansive retelling yet.”
First into the market, in 2019, was “The Cave,” by Thai-British director-producer Tom Waller, which mixed reconstructions and news footage. It gave prominent position to Europe-based rescue diver Jim Warny playing himself. And it broke ground by clearly depicting the controversial decision to fully sedate the boys during their extraction. Despite pushback from provincial officials, who sight unseen criticized the film’s depiction of their roles, “The Cave” enjoyed a local theatrical release in Thailand from Nov. 2019.
The National Geographic documentary, “The Rescue,” directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin played the festival circuit from Sept. 2021 and has been available on the Disney+ streaming platform since January this year. It made use of thousands of hours of body-cam footage from the actual divers and earned a BAFTA nomination.
Veteran Hollywood director, Ron Howard used an extensive Thai cast alongside international stars Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman, for his “13 Lives” produced by Amazon’s MGM. It filmed entirely in Australia, thus avoiding becoming a hostage to Thai government script approvals.
The film was initially expected to receive a wide theatrical release. Instead, it will now have a shorter cinema release from Friday (July 29, 2022), in some countries, before transitioning to Amazon’s Prime Video on Aug. 5.
The same day (Aug. 5, 2022), Lionsgate will give a limited theatrical and digital release to “Cave Rescue,” a re-edited version of Waller’s “The Cave.” A Blu-ray and DVD release of “Cave Rescue” will be in the market by Sept. 13, a week ahead of Netflix’s “Thai Cave Rescue.”
The Netflix series, while also a fictionalized retelling of real events, may present a different kind of authenticity. It was directed by Thailand’s Nattawut ‘Baz’ Poonpiriya (“One for the Road,” “Bad Genius”) and Thai American Kevin Tancharoen (“The Brothers Sun,” “The Book of Boba Fett,” “Warrior”). And it is the only filmic version that has been allowed access to the 12 boy members of the Wild Boars soccer team. Filming took place at the homes of the real boys and Tham Luang itself.
Thailand’s military-backed government set up a special purpose vehicle, 13 Tham Luang Company Limited, through which it controlled exclusive and lifetime rights to the boys. This ensured that each of the boys would be paid THB3 million (approximately $86,000 at current exchange rates) with additional sums paid to other organizations involved in the rescue. It then auditioned international companies that it would work with.
Pure Flix Entertainment and Universal had also announced cave projects. Universal’s pitch involved working with Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, who claimed earlier to have acquired the life rights of coach Ekkapol ‘Ekk’ Chantawong, Dr. Richard Harris, Dr. Craig Challen and the twelve boys. Neither of these ventures has come to fruition.
Company production credits on the Netflix series go to Electric Somewhere, SK Global Entertainment and Netflix. And Variety understands that the Thai government has no ownership stake in the series.
Both directors serve as executive producers alongside Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) and Lance Johnson (“Troop Zero,” “The Equalizer”) for their Electric Somewhere company; John Penotti (“Crazy Rich Asians”) for SK Global and John Logan Pierson (“Spenser Confidential,” “Patriots Day”) and Tim Coddington (“Mulan,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Marco Polo”).
Created by Michael Russell Gunn (“Billions,” “Designated Survivor”) and Dana Ledoux Miller (“Designated Survivor,” “Narcos”), Netflix’s “Thai Cave Rescue” is nevertheless a fictionalized re-telling that deploys actors in key adult roles — park rangers, local officials and rescue divers — as well as the 12 real-life members of the boys soccer team. Nicholas Bell plays diver Vern Unsworth, Nicholas Farnell is John Volanthen, Christopher Stollery is Rick Stanton, Rodger Corser represents Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris and Damon Herriman portrays Dr. Craig Challen.
The Thai cast is led by Papangkorn ‘Beam’ Lerkchaleampote as football coach Eak, Thaneth ‘Ek’ Warakulnukroh as Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn, and Urassaya ‘Yaya’ Sperbund and Manatsanun ‘Donut’ Phanlerdwongsakul as Kelly and Pim — fictional representatives of the real-world hydraulic engineers and park rangers. Supakorn ‘Tok’ Kitsuwan plays former Thai Navy diver Saman ‘Ja Sam’ Gunan, while Bloom Varin plays army doctor Colonel Bhak Loharjun.
“ ‘Thai Cave Rescue’ is the first opportunity for audiences worldwide to see the Tham Luang story in a new and more emotional light — centering the perspectives of the 12 Wild Boars, Coach Eak, and heroes like Saman ‘Ja Sam’ Gunan, whose lives beyond the operation remain largely outside the public spotlight,” said Poonpiriya in a prepared statement.
“I wanted to bring my experience of telling big superhero stories to the real world. One where real-life superheroes worked together for a common cause regardless of where they were from, and the only superpowers are the perseverance of the human spirit and what we can accomplish when we work together,” said Tancharoen.
“For us, ‘Thai Cave Rescue’ is ultimately a story about family and what we decide family should be,” said showrunner, writer and executive producer Gunn. “From the boys’ own parents and guardians to thousands of local and international rescuers joining the mission, this was the entire world coming together as one big family. We intended for the show to cover not just the rescue operation but also what the Wild Boars went through inside the cave, and we believe our focus on achieving authenticity — from characters and languages to locations and emotions — will shine through.”