Hot off the movie's LA premiere, a bevy of actors and creators sat down at the press conference for Thirteen Lives ahead of the film's limited cinematic release on the 29th of July and its release on Amazon Prime on the 5th of August. The new Ron Howard movie puts the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue into the spotlight: the same rescue saved thirteen boys and their soccer coach who found themselves trapped in a cave in Chiang Rai for eighteen days.
Director Ron Howard touched on the cultural intricacies surrounding the creation of the film, such as the first fifteen or so minutes of movie being completely in Thai. He pinpointed how audiences today were 'more discerning, smarter' and the focus from himself and the creative team was on how there was an endeavour to make the film 'authentic and true'. In order to do this, producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon was a vital part of the process, helping to translate the English script and bring a lot of detail to the production. He offered the example of how the monks featured in the film had to be Burmese as they did not shave their eyebrows whilst Thai monks do.
Actress Pattrakorn 'Ploy' Tungsupakul (Choi's Mother) agreed with this level of detail, and noted the use of the red bracelet in the movie due to the strong spiritual and auspicious meanings connected to the red bracelet in Chiang Rai in particular. The same precise level of care was paid to how she created her own character as well: whilst not a parent herself, she mentioned how she watched documentary and video records to analyse the reactions and movements of the parents involved.
Thai actors such as Teeradon 'James' Supapunpinyo (Coach) agreed on this spirit of collaboration that Howard helmed throughout the production, and Phathanavirangoon touched on the importance of the movie for not just the Thai community, but beyond. "Yes, it's a Thai story, and it happened in Thailand, but I really want to consider it as a human story that everybody can actually relate to, regardless of any kinds of divisions that we have. Honestly, we need this kind of film now, to remind us of that."
One of the divers involved in the 2018 rescue, Richard Stanton, spoke about his involvement in the film as a technical advisor, noting the depth of accuracy in how the atmosphere around the diving scenes was fairly accurate, from the sounds experienced, to the replication of certain sensory deprivations which heightened the divers' dependency on their hearing.
Viggo Mortensen, who plays Stanton in the film, said: "...the way he [Ron] did this movie, it's like a giant independent film. You talked about the subtitling... there are actually Thai actors are speaking Thai. This is a movie, if it was made 20 or 30 years ago or by another kind of director, all the Thai characters would be speaking English and it would be mainly about the Westerners and some heroic thing. This is not that. And it wasn't a special effects movie, we were really underwater."
Thai water engineer Thanet Natisiri further delved into the level of technicality involved in the initial rescue that needed to be recreated in the film. Having been involved with the original rescue at the request of the Thai Army, he mentioned how the hydrology of the mountain was very complex, given the massive network of underground caves involved. As such, a lot of water had to be diverted that involved the sacrifices of many of the locals and the farmers, which meant that by the end thousands of Thai people were involved in making the rescue effort a success.
Actor Sahajak Boonthanakit (Governor Naronsak) summed up the heart and value of the movie, detailing how the movie takes you step by step through the rescue in a way that the public was not able to experience at the time. "Ron puts it [all] in sequence. So you understand how, when, and where, why the kids got in there... how they came out, how they spent their time in there, and who did what. So really... this is really the superhero movie of the year. It is, it's a super[hero] movie with many, many heroes. So I advise people to see this movie, because I think it will give you an idea of what it is like if you get together to help one another... you'll make life much easier. There's a lot of love in it."
"None of the Thai people were doing this because they were gonna get rich, because they were going to gain new territory, [or] because they were going to get political power," summed up Mortensen at the end, when reflecting on how all involved in the rescue did so for selfless reasons. "People did it because it was the right thing to do. And it does show, like Raymond was saying, the best of us. That humans are capable of doing amazing things together."