The Legend of Tham Luang
In northernmost Thailand, in the mountains of Nang Non, rescue efforts are underway. In the relentless rain, a sea of journalists line up to ask questions to the Governor and the Navy Seal Admiral. The broadcast goes out to all parts of the world. The parents sit in front of the idol and pray for Her benevolence. It is actually the day of the rescue when the 12 boys and their coach were brought from the cave by the volunteer divers – on 10 July 2018.
8 hours before the boys go into the cave, we meet the boys at the start of Thai Cave Rescue episode 1. Titan, aged 11 gets up in the Tachileik Province in Myanmar. It is not his home but Coach Eak’s, who makes breakfast for him as he confirms the checklist for football practice. Shinguards, boots, the change of clothes, and the flashlight for the hike after the game. He’s the smallest boy in the group but his size doesn’t deter him. If it didn’t bother the greatest player of all time, Leo Messi, it wouldn’t bother him either. Titan imagines himself running through defenders and scoring like his idol as he crosses the border. Eak isn’t a Thai citizen. Their team is called Wild Boars.
Although the sun is shining bright in the clear blue skies, at the Thai Metrological Department, Noon Kitwanichsakul, an intern in the department, notices something strange. The Himawari-8 satellite is down. It’ll take 15 hrs for the Japanese workers to get it working again. A storm system is coming into Thailand from Myanmar but it is impossible to see. She reports the same to her supervisor. Odd.
Next, we meet Dom, aged 13. He asks his aunt and uncle to come to see him play as his father has just been released from the hospital and needs rest. But they have a shop to run. Phong, aged 13, is worried about the team. He is next in line after his cousin Tee to become one of the team captains alongside Biw. His grandmother says it is different for Biw as his family has considerably more money. She advises him he’ll be better off with his Uncle Chai. He doesn’t want to go but still does on her insistence.
Phong calls Biw (aged 14) to remind him to come to practice and before that, to the church, where Adul (aged 14) plays the piano and then joins his friends. Mark, aged 12, prepares to leave but not before his mother gives him lunch money. Mix and Boon-naam, both aged 13, warm up before practice. Boon asks Mix to come with him to Pla Cave instead of going to practice but Mix denies his pleas. He is afraid of going to caves as his father’s friend was once stuck there for three hours.
It completely changed him. Mix eventually gives in and mistakenly hits Tee, aged 16, in the head as he talked to Mali, his girlfriend. Note, aged 16, informs Eak that night (aged 17), the final member of the team, will join them after offering prayers at the temple. Also, it is his birthday that day. Tle and Nick, cousins of Night also join them for practice. Noon informs Odd, the department head, about the storm system. But Odd trivializes her analysis without even looking at the report as he says the monsoon isn’t due for another month. Rain in Myanmar is normal. She switches off the television where he watches a match of the World Cup and says the situation is serious.
20mm of rain per hour and pressure changes in the Indian Ocean don’t bode well. She requests Odd to issue a warning for three provinces where the rains will hit first. That includes Chiang Rai, where our football team is based. But Odd asserts his authority and dismisses her theory. The team practices without a worry in the world. One of them says to Titan that the Pla Cave is closed until the next year, which he doesn’t believe. Head Coach Nop reminds Eak that he must be more than just a little brother to the boys. He must make the hard calls when no one will and shape their lives by guiding them.
Governor Narongsak learns that he is being transferred to the Phayao district, something he isn’t happy about. Noon is still trying to figure out a way to track Myanmar’s weather in real-time. Night’s mother drops off his water bottle and tells him that she’s making the now famous SpongeBob cake for him. Titan is upset about the Pla Cave being closed. The blue and red teams play a game of football after which, the friends decide to go to the Tham Luang cave instead. And so they do, except Boon, who goes home to eat the cookies his mother made.
As the boys merrily make their way to the cave, we see a menacing visual of the rain pattering down hard in Tachileik, just 14 km off the cave. Noon gets off the phone with an acquaintance who lives in Pha Mee, a place between the Thai and Myanmar border. He reports that the area got 30mm of rain per hour and it is not stopping anytime soon. The boys and Eak reach the cave. Titan is upset with Eak for inviting his parents to the game when he asked him not to. Eak explains they’re worried about Titan and wanted to know where he was. The coach calls the boys to offer their prayers to Chao Mae Nang Non.
Note explains to one of his friends that it is the name of the princess whose spirit is said to still live in the cave. Eak provides clarity. He speaks of the myth of the princess falling for a stable boy. She got pregnant and when the King found out, he wanted the boy dead. They ran together but were cornered by the soldiers. The boy was killed but the princess ran inside the caves, hiding. She killed herself with a pin. The shape of the mountains shows a sleeping princess pregnant with a baby. It is an undying reminder of one’s duty to love their family, Eak explains. He asks the boys to stick around as a family and reveals how he was an orphan when he was their age but didn’t have anybody with him. He touchingly says he will always be there for the boys no matter what.
At the Khun Nam National Park, a forest ranger attends a phone call from Noon, who asks if there are any rain clouds. The ranger sees the cover just setting in, concerned. She says the TMD in Bangkok needs to issue a warning and the ranger needs to close the park. It could get very dangerous if the monsoon is hitting them early. We see the water has started to seep into the cave, drop by drop. Noon stops Odd from leaving and he agrees to inform the senior officials. Just an hour after the boys entered the cave, heavy rains make their way to Chiang Rai.
Tee’s watch hits four and Eak orders the boys out of the cave. But Tee says something is wrong and we cut to the worried parents calling each other as the hours on the clock tick by. The park ranger reaches the cave and notices the bikes outside. Boon reaches the birthday party where he informs Coach Nop that the boys went to the cave, at once making the coach tense. He knows the cave floods in the monsoon and worriedly calls Eak. He reaches the cave in his car and finds the ranger, who informs him that the cave is flooded and there’s no way in or out.
Calls are made to the governor and the parents find a picture of the bikes being parked outside the cave. They reach the entrance in the pattering rain, calling out for their kids.
The Episode Review
Despite having seen this story retold twice already in the space of the last three years, including once this year, it still has a spine-chilling after-effect. The story of the rescue of these boys is a remarkable one. The Netflix version takes a deeper look at how Coach Eak helped the boys cope in the cave to remain alive.
Episode 1 retells the beginning of the saga when the boys entered the cave. First impressions are decent. The narrative is paced well, not considering the odd wayward leaps off track. The creators make good use of the drone shots here, beautifully capturing the serene aesthetic of the mountain range and the bustling town.
Probably the only negative that would seem to affect the series is the sensibility of the dramatization. The extent of artistic liberties that they take will decide how authentic and compelling a portrayal will this prove to be. Thai Cave Rescue‘s episode 1 sets the tone admirably.