For 18 days, the world had held its breath; their fate was in the balance. When the boys finally emerged, thanks to an amazing internationally supported rescue mission, the collective sigh of relief mingled with a torrent of tears was felt across the globe. Not since the astonishing rescue of the Chilean miners back in 2010 has there been such tension and real-life drama.
The race is now on to launch the first movie about the rescue and its many heroes.
| || |
In pole position is Thai-Irish director Tom Waller, whose movie ‘The Cave’ is scheduled to debut in Thailand and then internationally later this year. A trailer is expected next month.
Tom, whose previous work includes the award-winning film The Last Executioner, Butterfly Man and The Elephant King, says he has based the movie’s script and action on true events – the thrilling story of the largest international rescue mission of modern times from the unique perspective of men and women facing life-and-death decisions and displaying selfless determination and sacrifice, culminating in a triumphant outcome against all the odds.
With permission from both the Ministry of Culture and the National Parks Authority, the movie was shot in just 30 days, mostly in locations in Thailand, including one day at Tham Luang Cave in Chiang Rai, where the boys and their coach of their Wild Boars team were trapped in darkness for two and a half weeks. Other scenes were shot in the UK and Ireland.
“It wasn’t easy getting access to Tham Luang,” says Tom. “It fills up with water in November and December so it’s not possible to enter for more than four months. “Also, since the rescue, the cave gets thousands of visitors.”
Tom recruited more than a dozen participants from the actual cave rescue, including several of the real divers such as Jim Warny, Tan Xiaolong, Erik Brown and Mikko Paasi, to play themselves in the movie. Experienced divers from Belgium, Finland, Canada and China were also used.
There was no contact with the boys or their parents because the Thai government is protective and chaperones them everywhere. “To talk to them you have to deal through a committee,” notes Tom. Like everybody else, Tom was transfixed by the actual rescue as it unfolded in April last year. “I realised that as a Thai film director and producer, I was in a unique position to tell this story. I had met one of the divers in Ireland who gave me a firsthand account of what had happened, so I felt that this just had to be my next project.
“I didn’t think about the finance. I’d got the idea to captivate the world and thought I should have a crack at it.
“Being both a Brit and Thai gives me a unique dual perspective.”
Nonetheless, making a movie about a real-life event requires special care and attention. “It’s as if you’re rewriting history when you’re making a film like this, so a lot of responsibility goes into it, and you have to be very careful. Some of the characters are analogous, some are fictitious. Overall, we paid a huge amount of attention to detail.”
The story was developed by the same team that wrote ‘The Last Executioner’– Don Linder, Katrina Grosse and Tom.
“Instead of worrying about what the audience already knew, we endeavoured to recreate authentic conditions in a way that would allow the audience to feel as if they were actually there – even to feel as if they were immersed in the tunnels with the rescuers,” says Tom.
“We wanted the audience to feel what the boys themselves must have experienced: the hunger slaked only by water dripping off stalactites, the disorientation of complete darkness and loss of sense of time, the threat of rising waters suddenly engulfing and carrying them away, and the real possibility of never seeing their parents again.
“My film focuses on the volunteer spirit of the rescuers, following the untold personal stories of those unsung heroes involved in the mission to bring out the trapped boys and their coach from the cave.” To ensure accuracy and credibility, Tom involved more than a dozen actual rescuers in the production, mostly playing themselves in the film.
“They helped to maintain the authenticity since, for them, there’s no acting required.
“Many of the people from the local Chiang Rai/Mae Sai community who were actually involved the events at Tham Luang cave have cameoappearances as extras in the film.”
Co-script writer Don Linder notes: “My take-away from standing right at the cave was that no matter what I had seen on TV or in photos captured how dangerous and seemingly crazy it was for the 13 to climb down a slippery escarpment and enter the tiny entrance to the cave.”
Despite requesting a permit to access the front of the cave again to film external scenes, that permit was never issued until after the main filming block had finished. So, on the day that scene was shot, the crew had to search on-the-fly for a nearby cave entrance that was so similar that it was easily transformed for the scene where the boys ride up on their bicycles and clamber up a hill to the entrance. Other authentic caves were used for some internal shots just a few meters in.
The scene when the boys are rushed in individual ambulances to a waiting helicopter to take them to the hospital in Chiang Rai also almost went down the tubes when the promised permit to use a helicopter was never issued. The crew were able to use the actual field where the helicopters landed and took off, but there was no helicopter. Instead, huge blowers were brought in to replicate the dust storm created by a chopper, and the scene was refocused on the dramatic rush from ambulance to helicopter.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was that the Ministry of Culture never issued the requested permission to use the boys themselves. Understandably, the Thai government has been very protective of the boys to avoid their exploitation. So, twelve actors were hired, and with make-up and wardrobe, they gave amazing performances barely indistinguishable from the actual boys. Languages presented another problem to be solved. To maintain authenticity, Tom decided that characters would speak whatever language they would have used during the rescue, including various dialects of Thai, English, pidgin English, and Chinese.
Ultimately, The Cave is a film which not only captures the incredible events and essence of the story, but also its Thai-ness. As Waller noted, “It was a Thai emergency, but the whole world tuned in and tried to help.”