HomeBad Ass AsiansThai Cave Rescue explores lives behind the Tham Luang mission
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Thai Cave Rescue explores lives behind the Tham Luang mission

By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer

There has been a string of screen projects about the 2018 cave rescue which captivated the world. This terrain includes Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary The Rescue and Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, in just a five-year span since the rescue. Now adding to this collection is a new Netflix limited series called Thai Cave Rescue, which takes pride in how it differentiates from all other productions by examining the “untold” parts of this epic saga.

Thai Cave Rescue is a unique re-telling of the rescue which takes a deep dive into the lives of the young Thai boys who were trapped and the rescue team who made the mission a success, aiming to allow the viewers to understand who these people were before the rescue occurred.

The six-episode limited series is created by Michael Russell Gunn (Billions, Designated Survivor) and Dana Ledoux Miller (Designated Survivor, Narcos) and directed by Baz Poonpiriya (One for the Road, Bad Genius) and Kevin Tancharoen (The Brothers Sun, The Book of Boba Fett, Warrior). Both directors work alongside executive producer Jon M. Chu (In the Heights, Crazy Rich Asians, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and many others behind the scenes.

The Thai cast includes many big names in the Thai entertainment industry, including Papangkorn “Beam” Lerkchaleampote as 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 that made the incredible rescue possible. Suppakorn “Tok” Kitsuwan also joins the cast as former Navy SEAL diver Saman “Ja Sam” Gunan, while Bloom Varin plays army doctor Colonel Bhak Loharjun.

Although the cave rescue has been explored in multiple projects already, Thai director Poonpiriya said he always wanted to tell the story of the mission that aroused mixed feelings across the world as it unfolded over 18 days in 2018.

“I remember avidly following the news since the incident happened and I had so many mixed feelings during those harrowing moments – whether the young boys would be safely rescued, and whether this was going to have a happy ending or a sad one,” director Poonpiriya said.

“I would like to see this series as one which delves into the mission and the untold stories of the lives of the team at a deeper level,” he added, “and I hope people who watch it see the team as humans rather than just place populist labels on them.”

Urassaya “Yaya” Sperbund plays a fictional character called Kelly, who is a Thai American hydraulic engineer. Her character’s mission is to figure out how to get as much water as possible, in a representation of the real-world hydraulic engineers and park rangers who volunteered their time and expertise to ensure the safety of the rescue. Sperbund said the experience of playing Kelly allowed her to truly understand the magnitude of the life and death decisions hydraulic engineers had to make for the rescue and how they had to work under intense pressure under the eyes of the world watching on.

“Playing this character it made me realize the pure determination of the experts where without them the mission may not have succeeded,” she reflected. “Also experts like Kelly had to make hard decisions which had no point of return like asking locals for their permission to flood their patty fields as a way of getting rid of the water in the cave. This is essentially playing with the livelihoods of more than just the team, and this is something I hope I can represent well.”

What sets Thai Cave Rescue apart from all the other previous screen projects on the rescue is that it takes a deep dive into the lives of the soccer team and the experts who used their skills and bravery to make the mission a success. This gives a more substantive identity to the rescue and is not just one which glorifies the rescue but humanizes those who were rescued and those who were the rescuers. Director Poonpiriya said that this is the series’ defining factor because he wanted to flesh out these deeper aspects and move beyond surface-level storytelling.

“Even before we worked on this project, we had to consult and do a lot of research into the lives behind the engineers, the Navy SEALs, diving experts, the park rangers and of course of the twelve boys and coach which made up the soccer team who were rescued,” expressed director Poonpiriya.

“The rescue is basically a human-made miracle – a these strangers coming together for a single dive which would determine the lives of many,” he said. “In this series we are letting everybody see all the inside parts – like understanding where everyone involved came from and what their family lives are like. You also get more insight on how difficult every step no matter how small of this entire mission was.”

For Sperbund, this project complements existing screen projects by allowing people to learn more about the characteristics and personalities of the rescuers and those who were rescued. She added that she hopes Thai Cave Rescue will touch people’s hearts and help future generations remember the incident and the generosity shown by experts and other people all over the world.

“The series shows how the team survived living those eighteen days in complete darkness in a cave and how every aspect of their life including family and friends was the defining factor which made them strong and persevere,” she said. “This is a perspective which is unique to this series.”

Thai Cave Rescue is now available to be streamed on Netflix.

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