At The Movies

A gripping revisit of Thai cave rescue

THE RESCUE (PG)

107 minutes, opens today exclusively at The Projector

Rating: 4/5

After the struggle to rescue 12 boys and their football coach from a cave in northern Thailand came another fight - the one by entertainment lawyers to secure the rights to the story.

Major studio National Geographic, through Oscar-winning director-producers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, is among the first out of the gate with this pulse-quickening documentary, based primarily on the experiences of the team of British cave divers and the Thai Navy Seals.

Netflix, having secured a contract with the boys' families, will release a series taken from the kids' vantage point next year.

In June 2018, a youth football team on a hike was trapped in the Tham Luang cave following an unexpected downpour that flooded its passages. With the rainy season arriving, there was little hope of extraction, not for weeks, possibly months.

British cave divers Rick Stanton, John Volanthen and Jason Mallinson, with Australian physician Richard Harris, offer footage of their swims through the claustrophobia-triggering corridors.

Some images will be familiar to those glued to their screens in 2018, such as the one showing first contact between divers Stanton and Volanthen and members of the Wild Boars team, huddled and weakly asking for how long they had been trapped.

Watching it again should still raise goosebumps.

With the cave divers on board the project, the film would be a total loss if it did not answer the "how did they do it" question.

This is where the project shines - the nuts and bolts of the operation are laid out in layman's language, minus the emotional manipulation that plagues too many documentaries. Well-constructed sit-down interviews, maps and graphics supplement the archival footage and diving re-enactments.

By calmly describing everything that could go wrong while hauling 13 non-divers across 4km of twisty, submerged passages, the experts evoke a sense of dread that would make a horror film-maker proud.

But it is not all technical information. This is very much a human-interest story. The husband-and-wife team of Chin and Vasarhelyi scored a haul of 87 hours of video recorded by the Thai Navy Seals, whose role in the rescue was underplayed in the media because of its need for secrecy.

One former Seal, volunteer Saman Kunan, would perish, and the film provides a haunting look at the family man who stepped up when he could have stayed home.


ENCANTO (PG)

109 minutes, opens today

Rating: 3/5

With its recent run of films, Walt Disney Animation Studios has tried to see how far it can bend the princess-movie formula before it breaks, all in the name of smuggling nutrients into what has been until recently an empty-calorie treat.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell, for example, called The Little Mermaid (1989) a "cinematic dumpster fire" because its central character, the mermaid princess Ariel, was ready to toss aside everything - including her voice, magic, dignity and family - to win the love of a mortal man.

With the adventure-fantasy Raya And The Last Dragon (2021), audiences got a glimpse of how far Disney had come in making strong female role models for children.

Musical fantasy Encanto is the next step in princess evolution. Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) is the anti-Ariel, the Raya minus the martial arts prowess - her power comes from her ordinariness.

The mighty Madrigals, who have supernatural abilities, have kept their Colombian village protected for years. Mirabel has premonitions about the erosion of Madrigal abilities and must break family taboos to find a cure.

It takes an extraordinary effort to make plainness interesting and this movie almost succeeds. The songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and stunning visual design help, but there is no escaping the feeling that any one of Mirabel's relatives could be, or should be, the main character.


SPIRITWALKER (NC16)

108 minutes, opens today, not reviewed In this South Korean body-swop action fantasy, a man (Yoon Kye-sang) finds himself waking up in a new body every 12 hours, with his memories wiped clean. Pursued by a mysterious organisation, he must discover his original identity, helped by a woman (Lim Ji-yeon) who claims to know him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'A gripping revisit of Thai cave rescue'. Subscribe