Thai cave rescue film already in the works

The boys and their football coach were trapped inside the Tham Luang cave for 17 days and are now...
The boys and their football coach were trapped inside the Tham Luang cave for 17 days and are now recuperating in hospital. Photo: Thai Navy Seal via Reuters

The dramatic rescue of a Thai boys football team and their coach from a flooded cave complex this week transfixed news viewers around the world for more than two weeks, and the story is already headed for a retelling by Hollywood.

The last group of the 12-member "Wild Boars" team and their adult coach was brought out of the Tham Luang cave, near the border with Myanmar, on Tuesday night, safely ending a dangerous rescue and evoking international relief and joy. They were being treated at a hospital in Chiang Rai.

The saga is reminiscent of the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days, a tale that was turned into the 2015 movie The 33 starring Antonio Banderas.

Two production companies are now looking to put together movies about the Thai football team rescue.

Thailand’s Navy, whose SEAL unit led the rescue, and the Thai government have selected Ivanhoe Pictures to develop a film that would be directed by John M Chu, the president of Ivanhoe Pictures, John Penotti, said in a statement on Thursday.

Ivanhoe Pictures, which has offices in the United States and in Asia, focuses on Asia and North America. It is the co-producer of the upcoming film Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and directed by Chu.

"I refuse to let Hollywood #whitewashout the Thai Cave rescue story!" Chu, who was born in California and has Chinese heritage, tweeted.

"There’s a beautiful story abt human beings saving other human beings. So anyone thinking abt the story better approach it right & respectfully," he added.

Rescue personnel faced a complex mission to retrieve the 12 boys and their coach. Photo: Thai...
Rescue personnel faced a complex mission to retrieve the 12 boys and their coach. Photo: Thai Navy Seal via Reuters
The other company looking to develop a movie on the event is US-based Pure Flix, which specialises in Christian and family films.

Pure Flix co-founder Michael Scott, who lives in Thailand part of the year, said producers from his company were on the ground interviewing rescue workers for a potential film. He said his wife grew up with Samarn Poonan, the former Thai navy SEAL who died during the mission.

"It's Thai, Westerners, Europeans, Aussies - people from all over the world who helped bring these kids to safety," Scott told Reuters. "I think there is a worldwide appeal which I think will inspire millions across the globe."

Like the Chilean rescue, the Thai drama showcases real-life courage in the face of harrowing circumstances, said Mike Medavoy, the Oscar-nominated producer of The 33.

"It's about the triumphs of individuals and groups of human beings over tragedy," Medavoy said. "It's a terrific story."

Bringing the Thai drama to the screen faces hurdles, however.

First, filmmakers need to secure the rights from each of the boys' families, the coach, and any rescuers they want to portray in order to get their firsthand accounts of what happened. The boys range in age from 11 to 16.

And replicating the rescue on screen could be costly.

The 33 was filmed in Colombia and Chile and produced for about $US24 million ($NZ35 million). A movie about the Thai rescue could be made for less, Medavoy said, because filming in Thailand is cheaper.

But the rescue in murky water presents an added challenge.

"The water and scuba diving scenes would be expensive," said Judi Farkas, the literary agent who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book "Argo" for the Oscar-winning movie. "Any time you film in water it's expensive."

In addition, a big-screen production likely would take years to bring to theatres, and producers would have to decide if interest will remain once the story fades from the headlines, Medavoy said.

The 33 brought in $US24.9 million at theatres worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, just slightly more than its production budget.

The Thai rescue may also draw interest from TV networks, which could provide a quicker path to the screen.

In the meantime, news programming is feeding public appetite for the story.

On Tuesday, US television network ABC aired a special edition of 20/20 focused on the mission, and the Discovery Channel announced it would air a one-hour documentary on Friday. 

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