One captivating story has inspired two very different projects.
Last week, after a harrowing three-hour cave dive, the last members of the Wild Boars children’s soccer team emerged safely from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the Chiang Rai Province of Thailand. They were greeted by rescue teams, paramedics, and … Hollywood producers?
Unfortunately that last bit is true. As the world watched the dangerous rescue operation play out over the course of a couple weeks, another far less inspiring mission was already underway, one that didn’t include Navy trained divers but probably involved a team of underpaid assistants trying to frantically assemble pitch packets and board last minute flights.
This was the mission to land the film rights to the Tham Luang cave rescue. Hollywood was so eager to adapt the story that they couldn’t even wait to see how it ended before trying to snatch up the rights. The BBC reported that movie producers were on the ground speaking to rescue workers even as the recon mission was still underway.
The high-risk cave rescue that captured worldwide attention has now already inspired not one but two film adaptations currently in development, and the production companies that gave the greenlight seem to be working on two very different movies.
The first project comes from Pure Flix, the maker of faith-based films including God’s Not Dead. According to The Hollywood Reporter, they are developing a $30-60 million feature under their mainstream banner Pinnacle Peak. Four quadrant, inspirational fare is certainly in Pure Flix’s wheelhouse, but they have run into trouble with telling real-life stories in the recent past.
The last time Pure Flix attempted to adapt a news story into a faith-based film was met with intense controversy. The movie I’m Not Ashamed reimagined the story of Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott by depicting a scenario in which she was killed for her Christian faith. The film was met with critical outrage and its trailer was even briefly removed from YouTube.
If that track record makes you nervous about what a Pure Flix cave rescue movie might look like, then it might be comforting to know that the other movie in development will offer a very different alternative.
Ivanhoe Pictures (The Wailing, A Prairie Home Companion) has partnered with director Jon M. Chu for their own movie about the Tham Luang cave rescue. Chu’s highly anticipated upcoming film Crazy Rich Asians will be the first major American blockbuster with an all Asian feature cast. And the director has already indicated that he intends the casting in this latest project to be just as forward thinking.
I refuse to let Hollywood #whitewashout the Thai Cave rescue story! No way. Not on our watch. That won’t happen or we’ll give them hell. There’s a beautiful story abt human beings saving other human beings. So anyone thinking abt the story better approach it right & respectfully.
— Jon M. Chu (@jonmchu) July 11, 2018
The Tham Luang rescue effort was a complex effort that included the contributions of many international players in addition to the Thai government. In the past, when stories about relief efforts outside of the West have been brought to the screen, storytellers have chosen to highlight white, Western characters in order to frame their story in a way that appeals to a Western audience.
This was the case with the 2012 disaster movie The Impossible, which framed the story of the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia around the true-life inspirational rescue of a single Spanish family. In the film, the Spanish family was anglicised, with the leads played by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.
The Impossible chose to simplify an event into a simpler inspirational narrative, one reminiscent of the types of movies Pure Flix makes.
Ivanhoe Pictures and Jon M. Chu, on the other hand, seem intent on telling a more complex story, one that focuses on its many Thai characters rather than the few Western ones. That complex narrative was the story that the world watched play out in real time, and likely the one that moviegoers will most want to see.