Director, Cast Member Defend ‘The Cave’ Film Accuracy

A file photo of former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn

BANGKOK — A director of a film based on the 2018 cave rescue rejected allegations from a key official involved in the operation that his work misinformed the audience.

Former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn, who headed the rescue efforts that saved 13 young footballers and their coach from a cave in Chiang Rai, blasted parts of the film as inaccurate and demeaning to Thai officials prior to a screening on Monday. But director Tom Waller disputed the label, saying the governor should have watched the movie first.

“I don’t want him to judge my film as inaccurate just because he saw the trailers or the reviews that said we made the films to ridicule the civil servants,” Waller wrote online in Thai. “If he had finished watching the film and then criticized me, I’d have accepted that.”

Billed as “based on true events,” “The Cave” depicted the rescue effort at Luang Cave in June and July 2018, which captivated worldwide attention.

Cast member Todd Ruiz, who reprised his own real-life role in the film as a correspondent reporting from in front of the cave, also said his own experience confirmed parts of the movie to be factual.

“Even several character moments I assumed were invented turned out, upon interrogation, to have been based on factual accounts,” Ruiz, who worked for Khaosod English at the time of the operation, wrote in an opinion piece for Coconuts Bangkok website.

Narongsak criticized the film when he met Waller at a charity screening in Lampang province on Monday night. The governor said the movie lacked a portrayal of “unity” shown by Thais who banded together to locate and free the 13 footballers.

A mural depicting those who participated in the Luang Cave rescue operations.

He also took particular offense at a scene in which pump-maker Nopadol “Pooyai Tan” Niyomka is rudely turned away by a park ranger when he offered his service to help pump out water in Luang Cave.

“These might be stories that the director heard from other people without checking the facts, and they serve jokes that attack the works of Thai civil servants,” Narongsak said in a tense confrontation with Waller. “They might serve as a comic relief. But they also hurt and saddened civil servants like myself.”

Narongsak then reportedly stayed to watch the movie for 3 minutes before leaving the event, which organizers said was held to raise funds for the family of a former SEAL member who died while trying to rescue the 13.

Waller later took to his social media platform to defend the film’s depiction of the cave operation.

“He’s upset that we made fun of the Thai authorities – actually we didn’t make fun of them, that’s how it was!” he wrote in a reply to comments.

His cast member Ruiz also said the official who insulted Nopadol was none other than Narongsak.

“Multiple people with direct knowledge of the real events have told me it was Narongsak himself who turned away Nopadol, who had trucked his desperately needed water pumps halfway across the kingdom, using the same words used in the film’s scene,” he wrote in the article.

Even the scene of PM Prayuth Chan-ocha suggesting cave rescuers to marry Thai women – widely regarded by the audience as one of the most hilarious moments – was based on the actual things he said, the former Khaosod English editor wrote.

Narongsak could not be reached for comments Wednesday. His aide told the media the Lampang governor does not wish to draw any further attention to “The Cave” by making any response to Waller.

Rescue workers prepare to transport boys rescued from that Luang cave complex Sunday in Chiang Rai province in an image provided by the authorities.
Rescue workers prepare to transport boys rescued from the Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province in an image provided by the authorities.

Although Narongsak did not stay for the movie on Monday, the governor was briefed about the films “in detail” by his daughter, who had watched the film, according to the aide.

No weekly data is yet available on how much revenue “The Cave” is grossing in Thai cinemas, as the film only opened less than a week ago. The director conceded that he faced stiff competition from other movies that premiered at the same time, like “Frozen 2” and “Charlie Angels.”

But the film appears to have won newfound excitement from many netizens, who said they now wanted to see the movie because of the controversy.

“At first this movie wasn’t in my eyesight at all,” Facebook user Milk Milk Wantana wrote. “But now I have to go watch it and see what the film … is showing.”