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Thai Cave Rescue review: An authentic portrayal of a global rescue mission

The Netflix series tells the story of the 13 members of the Wild Boars football team who were trapped inside a Thai cave for 18 days

3.5/5rating
Thai Cave Rescue review: An authentic portrayal of a global rescue mission
  • Arya Harikumar

Last Updated: 07.53 AM, Sep 23, 2022

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Story: After a football practice session on June 23, 2018, twelve Wild Boars football team members decided to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non cave with their assistant coach. However, what they didn’t anticipate was a heavy rainfall that flooded the cave system, trapping them deep inside the cave. What ensues is a massive rescue operation that is joined by cave divers, military personnel, and volunteers from across the globe.

Review: The remarkable story of the 12 young boys and their assistant coach who got trapped inside one of the most complex and dangerous cave systems in the world has been told before in the form of a documentary and two feature films. The award-winning 2021 documentary The Rescue and Ron Howard’s critically acclaimed film Thirteen Lives perfectly captured what went behind the dramatic rescue mission that caught the attention of the entire world. Now, Netflix has released a limited series that retells the same story of hope and endurance but takes a different approach. While Howard’s film primarily focused on the perspectives of the rescue workers, especially that of British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, the series created by Michael Russell Gunn and Dana Ledoux Miller presents the perspectives of those who were trapped inside the cave for 18 days.

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The series begins slow, giving us an insight into the lives of the twelve boys and their coach. We are introduced to Titan, Adul, Phong, Note, Tee, Biw, Mix, Dom, Tle, Nick, Night, and Mark, all members of the Wild Boars football team. Each of them has a story. Titan usually spends the night at his assistant coach Ek’s house to escape the daily fights between his parents. Dom yearns for some affection from his family while Mark, the smallest in the group, is poor and stateless. Their 25-year-old coach Ek also has a backstory. He became an orphan at a young age and ended up spending most of his childhood at a monastery. Like Mark, he is also stateless. The first episode also delves into the history of cave Tham Luang Nang Non (the cave of the reclining lady) which is named after a princess.

One of the most important characters is Governor Narongsak, played brilliantly by Thai singer-turned-actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh. He handles the tough job of calling the shorts, talking to the parents of the children and media, and making sure that all 13 lives are saved. The desperation and frustration of the character have been very well captured by Warakulnukroh. Another stand-out performance is by Papangkorn Lerkchaleampote who plays Ek, the coach who blames himself for the tragedy that befell his team. Unfortunately, Lerkchaleampote passed away in his sleep this year at the mere age of 25.

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Unlike Howard’s film, the American and British divers do not take centre stage in the series but they appear in some of the most crucial moments of the rescue operation. One of them is Richard Harris, an Australian cave diver and anaesthetic who finds himself in a dilemma whether or not to administer sedatives to the boys and their coach in order to ensure that they do not panic and drown during the dive.

One of the best episodes is the fourth episode which is dedicated to Saman Kunan, the retired Royal Thai Navy SEAL who died while returning to safety after delivering oxygen cylinders to the group. Howard’s film didn’t spend much time on the character or the incident but the series takes a very empathetic stand and gives audiences a glimpse of his personal life. In a heartbreaking scene, his wife Meow watches the last video he sent to her, apologising for staying back at the cave site for one more day as he has an important mission to complete.

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The series has attempted to keep things as authentic as possible, albeit with minor alterations. The highlight of it is certainly the relationship between the members of the team who even at a time when there was no rescue in sight, kept their hopes alive. However, the series is not flawless. After a point, six episodes seemed a bit too much to tell the story. The makers could have omitted a few scenes and limited it to three or four episodes if they wanted to keep the audience hooked to the story.

Verdict: Thai Cave Rescue is the only production that was granted access to the 13-member team. So even if you have watched The Rescue or Thirteen Lives, this series is still worth your time and effort as it presents an authentic portrayal of the whole incident.

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