The true story behind Netflix’s Thailand Cave Rescue

WWith war, inflation and energy shortages hitting the headlines in recent months, it’s no wonder that the incredible true story of hope and survival of 12 young footballers and their coach – rescued after being trapped in a cave. Northern Thailand for more than two weeks – more airtime.

On September 22, Netflix will release a six-part miniseries that follows the story of a Thai youth soccer team and their 25-year-old coach, who were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system during heavy rains in mid-2018. This is at least the fourth major retelling of the dramatic rescue operation that captured the world’s attention. But the people behind the series promise that it offers a different perspective and maximum authenticity. Saving the Thai caves features exclusive insights from extensive interviews with real-life boars and their guardians – and some scenes were filmed in the boys’ real homes. “The boys are the heart and soul of our show,” showrunner Dana Ledoux Miller, who created and wrote the show with Michael Russell Gunn, tells TIME.

The new Netflix series is one of many adaptations of the rescue story for the big and small screen. In 2019, a Thai production by director Tom Waller A cave used a mixture of reconstructions and news to tell the story. This portrayal gives European diver Jim Warny, who played a key role in rescuing the crew, a leading role in the story, playing himself.

2021 National Geographic Documentary Rescue followed by footage taken by Thai Navy SEALs on a mission to rescue the boys. Ron Howard’s vivid true-life drama Thirteen lives, which was released this summer, was filmed in Queensland, Australia. It stars Colin Farrell and Vigo Mortensen as British cave divers who carry out a risky operation.

Focusing on the boys at the center of the story

From the back according to the makers Saving the Thai caves, their decision to make the boys the focus of the miniseries is what sets this retelling apart. “Having that access and being able to ask questions on the spot to 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 is sometimes missing in other projects because it’s mostly focused on the mechanics and how difficult the task at hand was on a technical level.”

Miller says he and Gunn were afraid to work with the boys to tell their stories. “The last thing we wanted to do was re-traumatize the kids who had been through something so incredible and overwhelming,” she says. “I think the surprise was that they came in and were so open and eager and shared so much with us.”

He 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.”

Read more: Thai soccer team describe how they survived by drinking stalactite water while trapped in a cave

Casting actors for an authentic retelling

In finding actors to play the boys, the miniseries involved locals in northern Thailand – most of them with no previous acting experience – who worked with an acting coach to get them ready for the screen. According to the makers of the show, the presence of local people who speak regional dialects and know the area was important for the authenticity of the project. But they got a little more authenticity than they bargained for. Gunn says that when they first went to meet the cast, one of the boys told him he was there the day the boars decided to enter the cave. “He and his brother were both on the team and they’re both on the show, and they just didn’t go to the cave that day. It was mind-boggling to us.”

“A number of them are playing at Wild Boars now and they know the real guys,” says Miller, “so they’re playing versions of their friends.”

Not only was the series filmed entirely in Thailand, but several scenes were filmed in a complex cave system – stretching several miles up a mountainside – where the boys and their coach were trapped. Eventually, all 12 boys and their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, aka “Coach Ek”, were rescued, although retired Thai Navy diver Saman Kunam lost his life in the operation.

Filming on location was not an easy task and the weather did not help. “It was raining when we were there. I mean, we were filming the exact season they were there,” Gunn says. “It just absorbs the sound and the light right out of the room, and that’s why it’s extraordinarily scary.”

But those behind the show hope their efforts will help bring a new perspective to the story and attract Thai audiences. “Authenticity has been our main agenda since day one,” says director “Baz” Nattawut Poonpiriya. “We hope that authenticity comes through to the audience.”

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