Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong and in Thailand, the action film “The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.
Culture Clash: Two undercover cops from Hong Kong have conflicts with each other when they gain the trust of drug dealer and escape with him to the Golden Triangle.
Culture Audience: “The White Storm 3: Heaven and Hell” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching loud and obnoxious action flicks that have jumbled storytelling.
“The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” is a sloppily edited mess that jumps around too much in the story’s non-chronological timeline. This substandard action movie also does nothing new or interesting with a plot about undercover cops and drug dealers. The films in Hong Kong’s “The White Storm” movie series have no connection to each other, except that they are all action movies about undercover cops trying to arrest big-time drug dealers. Unfortunately, “The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” has no connection to quality filmmaking.
Written and directed by Herman Yau, “The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” has three main characters (two cops and one drug dealer) who get caught up in a crime caper filled with deception, false identities and issues over trust and loyalty. In the beginning of the movie, two undercover police officers from Hong Kong’s Narcotics Bureau are part of a major drug bust that takes place at a harbor on the high seas south of Kong Kong. Young cop Cheung Kin-hang (played by Aaron Kwok) is more impulsive and more likely to take risks than his older colleague Au Chi-yuen (played by Louis Koo), who is much more methodical and “by the book.”
A ship at this harbor is carrying about $300 million worth of heroin that was hauled out of metal trash bins hidden in the sea. King-hang and Chi-yuen have both been tasked with arresting drug lord Hong So-chai (played by Sean Lau), nicknamed Suchat, as well as Suchat’s gang, who are responsible for this drug shipment. During this drug bust, several members of the gang get arrested, by Suchat gets away.
Heroin is the main drug that Suchat’s sells, but he’s also dealer of methamphetamine, nicknamed ice. Suchat meets King-hang and Chi-yuen while these two cops are undercover. King-han’s alias is Billy. Chi-yuen’s alias is Wing. King-hang is able to win over Suchat’s trust easier because King-hang gets shot during a police raid where Suchat flees. Suchat sees it as a sign of loyalty that King-hang “took a bullet” for Suchat.
Through a series of events that are muddled, because the movie’s three-year timeline goes back and forth in haphazard ways, all three men end up hiding out together in the Golden Triangle, near the border of Thailand and Myanmar. They also spend time in Laem Chabang, Thailand. King-hang and Chi-yuen pretend to be outlaws with Suchat.
The foundation of Suchat’s drug-dealing business comes from the opiate poppy-harvesting work done by local villagers, who rely on this money to survive. King-hang meets a young female harvester named Noon (played by Yang Caiyu), who lives with her ailing grandfather in one of these villages. King-hang and Noon are attracted to each other, but King-hang doesn’t want to blow his cover by telling her his true identity.
What happens to the potential romance between King-hang and Noon is very easy to predict in this violent story that’s just a bunch of scenes with characters lying to each other and fighting each other. Here’s an example of the mind-numbing and idiotic dialogue in the movie. Noon tells King-hang soon after they meet that she does not know why the region where she lives is called the Golden Triangle: “I’ve never seen any gold … We can barely make money to feed ourselves.”
The car chases, shootouts, explosions in “The White Storm3: Heaven or Hell” are all just distractions from the movie’s very flimsy plot. The acting and dialogue in the movie are very generic or just outright terrible. “The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” is just another soulless action flick with nothing uniquely distinctive about it. It’s most definitely a type of hell to watch for viewers who want an action movie with an enthralling story and compelling characters.
CMC Pictures released “The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell” in select U.S. cinemas on July 20, 2023. The movie was released in China on July 6, 2023, and in Hong Kong on July 27, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Thailand and Dubai, the romantic drama film “Yaara Vey” features a predominantly Pakistani and Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A successful executive at a property-development company is torn between getting romantically involved with her ambitious co-worker or the aspiring restaurateur who is competing for the same land that her company wants.
Culture Audience: “Yaara Vey” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching formulaic love stories in movies that are more than 150 minutes long.
“Yaara Vey” is a tepid, long-winded movie made like a silly soap opera, with a predictable plot involving a love triangle and family secrets. The characters and dialogue fail to be interesting enough to justify the movie’s tedious run time of 157 minutes. “Yaara Vey” has good-looking main characters in scenic locations but they can’t distract from a flimsily constructed story.
Directed by Manish Pawar, “Yaara Vey” (which translates to “whose way” in Urdu) uses so many over-used clichés from romance-based dramas, it’s easy to predict within 15 minutes after the movie begins how everything is going to end. Too bad it takes such a painfully long time to get to that point. Mahwash Ajaz and Althea Kaushal wrote the bloated screenplay for “Yaara Vey,” which is made even worse by the movie’s clunky film editing.
“Yaara Vey,” which goes back and forth between Thailand and Dubai, begins in Thailand. It’s where an aspiring restaurateur in his 30s named Sameer Baig (played by Sami Khan) is awakened from a deep sleep by his assistant Sikander “Sikki” Raina (played by Ali Sikander), a stereotypical goofy sidekick to the leading man. It’s 10:30 a.m., and Sikki is waking up Sameer and scolding his boss for being late for an important business meeting that morning. Sameer was out partying the night before at a nightclub, so he’s feeling a little groggy and hungover.
The movie then abruptly introduces viewers to Sania Siddiqui (played by Aleeze Nasser), a hard-driving business executive at a property-development company in Dubai. An unidentified narrator describes Sania, who is in her 30s, as “impatient” and a “perfectionist.” She has a persistent suitor named Arman Syed (played by Faizan Khawaja), who is a fast-rising business star at the same company. Arman, who is close to the same age as Sania, is also a “perfectionist,” says the narrator. And even though Arman is an attractive, eligible bachelor who could have his pick of women, he has his sights set only on Sania.
Sania was raised in a single-parent household by her strong-willed mother Sonia “Soni” Siddiqui (played by played by Marina Khan), who told Sania that Sania’s father died before Sania was born. Soni is now a successful architect who is still very involved in her daughter’s life and wants a say in Sani’s choice of a future husband. Sania isn’t forceful about it, but she’s very opinionated and outspoken about who might be a good love match for Sania. Meanwhile, Sania does not want to be in her mother’s shadow and is focused on her own career.
Sania, Arman and some other co-workers have to travel from Dubai to Thailand for a business trip to look at the property where their company will be building a luxury resort called Dreamland Resort. Upon landing in Thailand and arriving at the airport, Sania is annoyed that her luggage hasn’t arrived yet. And then, Sameer accidentally runs into her at the airport and spills his coffee on her clothes. It’s a very unoriginal “meet cute” moment for these two strangers.
Sania is already in a bad mood, and she rudely calls Sameer a “moron” for this accident, even though he makes a profuse apology. When Sania gets to her hotel, she finds out that her room isn’t ready yet, so she has another minor hissy fit. And what a coincidence: Sameer is staying at the same hotel too. Sameer and Sania see each other in the lobby, where Sameer (who was recently dumped by his girlfriend of four years) is flirting with a hotel receptionist.
Sania is flustered and impatient over all these delays for her trip, so she doesn’t notice that she has dropped a book on the floor of the hotel lobby. An elderly man named Kabir (played by Jawed Sheikh), who’s also in the lobby, notices that she dropped the book and returns the book to Sania, who graciously thanks him. Kabir introduces himself and says that he’s a bookstore owner, and he invites her to visit his bookstore at any time. And what a coincidence: Kabir happens to know Sameer too, as Sania later finds out.
“Yaara Vey” has many contrived reasons from why Sameer and Sania keep seeing each other on this business trip. The biggest contrivance is revealed when Sania and Arman go to the property where Dreamland Resort will be built, and they find Sameer and Sikki there too, because Sameer says that he’s building his restaurant on the same property. The people on either side of this dispute end up arguing over contracts and who has the legal right to own the property.
It’s already revealed in the “Yaara Vey” trailer that there’s going to be a love triangle between Sameer, Sania and Arman. Unfortunately, the movie takes an awfully long time showing Sania not being able to make up her mind between these two suitors. Sania likes Arman’s compatible business ambitions and financial success, but Sameer is the one who makes her more comfortable and can make her laugh. It doesn’t take a genius to predict what will happen by the end of the movie.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving Kabir that the movie handles in a very sloppily filmed way. “Yaara Vey” is filled with too many mismatched, unevenly edited scenes. Some scenes that needed more explanation and context are abruptly cut in awkward transitions to the next scenes. Other scenes drag on for too long and are very repetitive.
All of the performances and dialogue in “Yaara Vey” range from mediocre to bad. There isn’t one single idea in this movie that is original. And yes, there’s a scene where someone rushes to the airport to catch up to someone getting on a plane, in order to reveal true feelings to that person before it’s too late. “Yaara Vey” isn’t the worst movie you could ever see, but it’s such a lazy and lengthy rehash of so many old clichés, everything ends up being a complete waste of time.
Hum Films released “Yaara Vey” in select U.S. cinemas and in Pakistan on December 2, 2022.
Culture Representation: The dramatic film “Thirteen Lives” features a cast of white and Asian characters depicting working-class and middle-class people involved in the real-life mission to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach, who were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand, from June 23 to July 10, 2018.
Culture Clash: The rescuers had to overcome language barriers, cultural differences and conflicts over the best rescue methods in order to complete the mission.
Culture Audience: “Thirteen Lives” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a very Hollywood and formulaic rescue mission story that sidelines or erases many of the perspectives of the real-life Asian people involved.
“Thirteen Lives” is a bland, scripted counterpart to the superior documentary “The Rescue,” presented mainly from the perspectives of the rescuers who saved 13 people trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in 2018. This bloated drama fails to properly acknowledge the 13 Thai survivors who were trapped in the cave, in an ordeal that lasted 18 days. This misleadingly titled movie called “Thirteen Lives” isn’t about those 13 lives. It’s mostly about the lives of the two British men who are touted as the movie’s biggest heroes, with a third man from Australia as a pivotal hero sidekick.
The award-winning 2021 documentary “The Rescue” couldn’t have the perspectives of the trapped people (in 2018, they were 12 boys ranging in ages from 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old soccer coach) because Netflix bought the exclusive rights to their stories. However, as a dramatic and scripted film, “Thirteen Lives” (directed by Ron Howard and written by William Nicholson) had the freedom to at least give viewers a sense of what it must have been like for the 13 survivors to go through this ordeal, based on news reports and what the survivors and their families told the media. As it stands, “Thirteen Lives” gives the bare minimum of screen time to the Thai people who suffered the most during this crisis.
Instead, the movie is all about giving the most screen time and praise to the British and Australian cave divers who volunteered their services, with Thai cave divers and Thai officials treated as supporting characters. Two middle-aged Brits in particular are spotlighted as the chief heroes: Rick Stanton (played by Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (played by Colin Farrell), two cave-diving friends who volunteered their services and sometimes have to battle against stubborn Thai officials who are skeptical of Rick’s and John’s ideas. “Thirteen Lives” shows more information about John’s family than any of the families of the trapped victims combined.
The crisis began on June 23, 2018, when the boys (who were all on the same soccer team) and the team’s assistant coach decided to spend some time exploring the cave in the afternoon. Located in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, the cave stretches for 10,000 meters or 6.2 miles. Monsoon rain storms that were expected later that summer arrived earlier than expected and flooded the cave, thereby trapping the boys and their coach. “Thirteen Lives” gives only one child in the group anything resembling acknowledgement that he is an individual human being. His name in the movie is Chai (played by Pasakorn Hoyhon), but there is very little revealed about him or his personality.
Chai’s mother Buahom (played by Pattrakorn Tungsupakul) is the only parent of the 12 boys who has screen time that shows something that looks like individuality. She’s the only parent in “Thirteen Lives” who’s given specific scenes where she’s shown talking to rescue officials (often in angry frustration) to get the latest information on the search and rescue efforts. Before she finds out that Chai is trapped in a cave, Buahom mentions early on in the movie that she wishes that she could go to more of his soccer games, but she can’t because she has to work. That’s all the information that viewers will get about her.
“Thirteen Lives” makes Bauahom such a marginal role, viewers will have a hard time remembering if her first name was even said in the movie. It’s almost offensive how “Thirteen Lives” makes Bauahom the “token family member” and brushes aside all the other survivors’ family members who were in agony too. Any other family members shown in the movie are essentially background characters, with few of them having any lines of dialogue.
Meanwhile, “Thirteen Lives” gives plenty of time for viewers to get to know John (an information technology consultant) and Rick (a retired firefighter), both natives of England who share a passion for cave diving in their spare time. John is a happily married father who is shown at home with his family before and after he goes to Thailand for this rescue mission. Rick’s personal life is not shown, but he mentions at one point that he doesn’t like kids very much.
John tends to be optimistic. Rick tends to be pessimistic. The movie shows that it was John’s idea to contact Rick to be a part of this rescue mission after it made international news. The two men, who have been on-again/off-again close friends in their social circle of cave diving fanatics, consider themselves to be experts with years of experience diving in the types of caves where most people would not dare to go.
John’s and Rick’s names end up on a list of potential rescuers given to the Thai government when the Thai Navy SEALs find out almost all of the Thai Navy SEALs don’t have the training to dive in the type of cave where the boys and their coach are trapped. Thai officials and rescuers are put in the story as either helpful or not-very-helpful to what John and Rick want to do. Expect to see trite and predictable scenes of language barriers and egos having an effect on any tension-filled communication between the non-Thai people and the Thai people.
Vern Unsworth (played by Lewis Fitz-Gerald) is another Brit cave diver who’s on the scene because he’s very familiar with the cave. He’s in his 60s and is more experienced than John and Rick when it comes to knowing about Thai government politics. He tells his fellow Brits that Governor Narongsak (played by Sahajak Boonthanakit) is on his way out of office, but the governor was asked to stay on the job during this cave crisis, “in case they need a fall guy” if anyone dies.
Other rescue cave divers who make appearances include Thai Navy SEALs named Commander Kiet (played by Thira Chutikul), Suman (played Sukollawat Kanarot) and Pichai (played by Bernard Sam), who are all written as very generic characters. If you know what happened in real life, then you know that one of these Thai Navy SEALs heroically died during this rescue. (His death and funeral are depicted in “Thirteen Lives.”) One of the rescue cave divers is a Thai medical professional named Dr. Karn (played by Popetorn Soonthornyanakij), who can speak Thai and English.
Other military officials depicted in “Thirteen Lives” include Thailand’s minister of interior General Anupong (played by Vithaya Pansringarm) and the U.S. Air Force’s Major Hodges (played by Josh Helman) and Captain Olivia Taft (played by Zahra Newman), who is the token female military character to have a speaking role in the movie. All of these supporting roles are written as ultimately following what John and Rick want to do. Because most people watching this movie already know the real-life outcome of this rescue mission, there’s no real suspense in any of these decision-making conflicts.
There are two other Westerners who end up featuring prominently in “Thirteen Lives” as rescuers: British Cave Rescue Council member Chris Jewell (played by Tom Bateman) has the role of the strapping young cave diver who is supposed to be less experienced than John and Rick. And then there’s anesthesiologist Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (played by Joel Edgerton), an Australian who’s called on by Rick and John later in the movie to implement a radical and risky idea.
While all this political maneuvering and ego posturing is going on outside the cave, “Thirteen Lives” viewers get only the briefest of glimpses on what the trapped victims were experiencing inside the cave. There’s so much about their survival that was in the news in real life that was left out of “Thirteen Lives,” because apparently the filmmakers thought it was more important to have scenes of Rick and John moping around when they were both temporarily barred from being part of the search and rescue.
When Rick is part of the team that finds the boys and the coach, he has this to say in a private conversation with John: “I knew we’d find them. I didn’t expect to find them alive.” The movie is filled with maudlin dialogue. John and Rick show very little interest in knowing who the boys and the coach are, perhaps as a way not to get too personally involved with people who might die in the cave. In the movie, John and Rick are depicted as more concerned about their own reputations as cave divers and rescuers.
“Thirteen Lives” gives viewers only superficial snippets of what it took for these boys and their coach to survive under these extremely traumatic conditions. In one scene, the boys tell their rescuers that Coach Ek (played by Teeradon Supapunpinyo) instructed them to meditate and not let fear overtake them. The boys are depicted as stoic, with almost no filmmaker effort to put names to faces, except for Chai, who still has a non-descript personality.
Getting the trapped people out of the cave was complicated by the tricky and dangerous route to get to their location in the cave. Numerous people inside and outside the cave also had to keep diverting rain water to prevent more flooding. Therefore, it took several days after the survivors were found until they could be removed from the cave. All of this is depicted in “Thirteen Lives” in a very perfunctory, “by the numbers” manner, with little regard to what the people trapped inside the cave must have been feeling.
The stops and starts of this rescue also drag down “Thirteen Lives,” to the point where even the rescuers look bored at times. No one does a terrible acting performance in the movie, but “Thirteen Lives” is by no means going to win any major awards for its acting performances. And at an overly long total run time of nearly two-and-half-hours, “Thirteen Lives” would have greatly benefited from better editing. There are only so many times when viewers need to see clinical-looking timelines focusing on scowling Rick and worried John before it gets tedious very quickly.
While these two rescuers are brooding in their hotel or at the rescue camp, there’s a more urgent and compelling story inside the cave that’s shut out of this movie. If people expect “Thirteen Lives” to give fascinating or informative insight into what it’s like to survive while trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days with very little food and fresh water, then there will be viewer disappointment, because “Thirteen Lives” is not that movie. There’s a lot of information in the public domain about this survival story that the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers chose not to put in the movie. The messages that the trapped people sent to their loved ones get barely one or two minutes of screen time in “Thirteen Lives.”
Toward the end of the movie, there’s a brief flash of a message board displaying the photos of the 13 trapped victims, but no one ever says all of their individual names out loud in “Thirteen Lives,” even though these survivors are the movie’s namesakes. Only a few of their names are mentioned, but the movie gives no depictions of their individual personalities. Even if the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers couldn’t use the real-life names, they could have given viewers an empathetic sense of who these survivors are as people, but the “Thirteen Lives” filmmakers chose not to do that. This omission is a travesty and a major failing of “Thirteen Lives.”
The survivors’ family members are sidelined for most of the movie as mostly nameless, weeping and praying people whose anguish is given the Hollywood treatment. Their traumatic experiences are treated as a lot less important than pushing the narrative that the Thai people were ineffective in this crisis until non-Thai people came to the rescue with the best ideas and the best skill sets. Any teamwork shown in the movie is with a tone that the Westerners/non-Thai people are the superior ones on the team.
This real-life cave rescue has been the basis of several on-screen retellings of the story. In addition to “Thirteen Lives” and “The Rescue,” there’s the dramatic movie “The Cave,” which was originally released in Thailand in 2019, and is set for a theatrical and home video release in the U.S. (under the title “Cave Rescue”) via Lionsgate on August 5, 2022—the same date that “Thirteen Lives” premieres on Prime Video. Written and directed by Tom Waller, “The Cave”/”Cave Rescue” (which got mostly negative reviews) features a cast of little-known actors and some of the real-live cave divers portraying themselves. In addition, Netflix’s limited drama series “Thai Cave Rescue” is set to premiere on September 22, 2022.
While all these film and TV people are trying to cash in on this story, here are the names of the survivors of this crisis: Mongkhon “Mark” Bunpiam, Somphong “Pong” Chaiwong, Ekkaphon “Eak” Kanthawong (the coach), Phonchai “Tee” Khamluang, Duangphet “Dom” Phromthep, Phiphat “Nick” Phothi, Phanumat “Mig” Saengdi, Adun “Dul” Sam-on, Phiraphat “Night” Somphiangchai, Prachak “Note” Sutham, Natthawut “Tern” Thakhamsong, Chanin “Titan” Wibunrungrueang and Ekkarat “Bew” Wongsukchan.
“Thirteen Lives” might not want viewers to know their individual names, but anyone who really cares about this true story should at least acknowledge that these survivors are people with their own individual lives, hopes and dreams. Their survival story is inspirational, but “Thirteen Lives” uses it as a cynical plot device. These survivors shouldn’t be mostly nameless and generic background characters to put in a Hollywood movie, in order to make other people look more important.
United Artists Releasing/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Thirteen Lives” in select U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022. Prime Video will premiere the movie on August 5, 2022.
Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Some language in Thai with subtitles
Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Rescue” features a group of Asian and white people (mostly rescue divers and military/government officials) discussing their involvement in the mission to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach, who were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand, from June 23 to July 10, 2018.
Culture Clash: The rescuers had to overcome language barriers, cultural differences and conflicts over the best rescue methods in order to complete the mission.
Culture Audience: “The Rescue” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching true “life or death” stories that are informative and emotionally stirring.
The documentary “The Rescue” is riveting and inspirational in its retelling of the rescue mission that saved 13 people trapped in a Thailand cave in 2018. Netflix bought the exclusive rights to get the stories of the people who were trapped in the cave and their families. Therefore, “The Rescue” mainly has the perspectives of the rescuers and some of the government officials who made crucial decisions that helped save the lives of all 13 people.
“The Rescue” was directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the husband-and-wife duo who won an Oscar for directing the 2018 documentary “Free Solo” about famed rock climber Alex Honnold’s quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in June 2017. “The Rescue” isn’t as suspenseful as “Free Solo,” mainly because most people watching “The Rescue” already know the outcome of the rescue mission. “The Rescue” cinematography, although impressive, isn’t as visually stunning as the cinematography in “Free Solo.”
“The Rescue” has a mixture of exclusive interviews, news archival footage and recreations of the rescue mission by some of the people who were there. This recreated footage might not sit too well with documentary purists. However, without some visuals to accompany the stories told in the interviews, “The Rescue” would be a very dry documentary of mostly talking head interviews. It would somehow seem too trite to use animation to recreate the fascinating and monumental stories told in “The Rescue.” If “The Rescue” filmmakers wanted to have recreations in this documentary, live-action footage (rather than animation) was the better and more challenging choice.
The documentary’s quality is compromised, due to the lack of perspectives from the trapped victims and an over-reliance on recreated footage. “The Rescue” triumphs mostly as a fascinating true story of human resilience and compassion. This story is also a great example of people overcoming cultural differences for a shared cause.
The ordeal of the 13 people trapped in the cave began on June 23, 2018, when 12 boys (ranging in ages from 11 to 16) from a junior soccer team, along with the team’s assistant coach, entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand. They wanted to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys and spend some time in the cave before expected monsoons started that summer. They didn’t know it at the time, but the monsoon rains would arrive earlier than expected, and the flooding would trap them in the cave, which stretches for 10,000 meters or 6.2 miles.
The 12 boys were Mongkhon “Mark” Bunpiam, Somphong “Pong” Chaiwong, Phonchai “Tee” Khamluang, Duangphet “Dom” Phromthep, Phiphat “Nick” Phothi, Phanumat “Mig” Saengdi, Adun “Dul” Sam-on, Phiraphat “Night” Somphiangchai, Prachak “Note” Sutham, Natthawut “Tern” Thakhamsong, Chanin “Titan” Wibunrungrueang and Ekkarat “Bew” Wongsukchan. The soccer coach was Ekkaphon “Eak” Kanthawong, a former monk. Kanthawong’s skills as a monk would come in handy in teaching the boys to stay calm in this crisis.
Members of the Thai Navy SEALs were among the first government-sanctioned rescuers. Thai Navy captain Anan Surawan comments, “I felt immense pressure. Everybody has high expectations when it comes to the Navy SEALs.” Royal Thai Navy rear admiral Apakorn Youkongkaew, who was the commander of the cave operations, says in the documentary that the first rescue unit had only 17 people.
Unfortunately, nearly all the Thai Navy SEALs were not trained to do the type of cave diving required for this rescue. Once this cave rescue made international headlines and it became obvious that more people were needed for this enormous mission, thousands of people from around the world offered their services. (The documentary mention that about 5,000 people in Thailand were involved in the rescue in some way.) The Thai government ended up getting a list of cave divers who were considered among the best in the world.
Although “The Rescue” certainly gives credit to the Thai officials who ended up making crucial decisions that resulted in all 13 people being saved, the documentary makes the biggest heroes and “experts” of this rescue mission to be the non-Thai civilians who came from other countries—specifically England and Australia—to offer their help. The teamwork between the Thai people and the non-Thai people was crucial to this successful mission, but the movie still has the tone that the non-Thai people deserved most of the praise and the glory. It’s a tone that will be a little off-putting to some viewers.
In “The Rescue,” viewers will get extensive personal histories and backgrounds of three Anglo rescuers in particular, all of whom all did cave diving as hobbies: retired fireman Rick Stanton (from England), information technology consultant John Volanthen (from England) and anesthesiologist Dr. Richard Harris (from Australia). They all describes themselves as daredevil cave divers, who feel like they are in some ways society misfits because most people think their passion for cave diving is obsessive.
“The Rescue” goes so deep into the personal histories of Stanton and Harris, their respective wives (Amp Bangnoen for Stanton, Dr. Fiona Harris for Richard Harris) are interviewed, even though the wives were not directly involved in the rescue mission. “The Rescue” also details Stanton’s and Bangnoen’s courtship, which is extraneous information that veers a little too off-topic. The only other wife interviewed in the documentary is Waleeporn Gunan, the widow of Thai Navy petty officer Saman Gunan, who tragically died in the cave during this rescue mission.
Most of the cave divers interviewed in the documentary talk about the sense of independence, adventure and freedom they have when cave diving. Volanthen comments, “Cave diving, for me, is relaxing. Nobody tells you what to do. Your time is your own. It’s very liberating. Having said that, most of the time it’s jumping into a muddy hole.” Stanto adds, “It’s like being in space. The purest adventure you can have.”
Vern Unsworth, another British cave diver enthusiast who was part of the rescue team, had the advantage of diving in the cave long before the rescue mission took place. Unsworth, who’s a financial consultant by profession, says in the documentary: “I’d been involved heavily with the exploration of the cave. That’s why I became known locally as the crazy foreign caver.” Unsworth adds that with all due respect to the Thai Navy SEALs, “They’re a strong, disciplined outfit, but cave diving needs specific skills and specific types of equipment.”
In “The Rescue,” Unsworth is credited with giving General Anupong Paochinda (Thailand’s minister of the interior) a list of people whom Unsworth considered to be the best cave divers in the world. Stanton and Volanthen were two of the names on the list. At first, these non-Thai outsiders who volunteered their services got resistance from the Thai government, but as the situation got more desperate, the government became more open to listening to the suggestions of the expert cave divers who came from outside of Thailand.
It was soon determined that the rain water would have to be diverted, in order to prevent more flooding. For several days, the boys and their coach could not be found in the cave. And when they were found, the biggest challenge was how to get them out safely, since all of the trapped people were not expert divers. Figuring out the best way to get them out alive took several more days until it actually happened.
A radical and risky idea was to give the rescued survivors a powerful anesthesia so that they would be rendered unconscious and therefore not panic while they were being carried out of the cave. Richard Harris had the enormous responsibility to oversee this anesthesia implementation. He admits in the documentary that he was very skeptical and frightened about this idea because of the high probability that it would result in fatalities.
Richard Harris doesn’t mince words when he remembers what he thought about this high-risk sedation: “It felt like euthanasia to me.” He adds that he struggled with the medical ethics of this dilemma until he was convinced that it was better to try this method than to do nothing. Doing nothing would mean certain death for the people trapped in the cave. Sadly, on the last day of the rescue, Richard Harris got the devastating news that his father had died.
Other rescue cave divers interviewed in the documentary include Chris Jewell, an information technology consultant from England; Jason Mallinson, a contractor from England; Ruengrit Changkwanyuen, a General Motors employee from Thailand; Thanet Natisri, a Thailand expatriate living in the United States; Josh Morris, a consultant from the United States; Ben Reymenants from Belgium; Jim Warny, an electrician from Belgium; Connor Roe from England; Josh Bratchley from England; and Mikko Paasi from Norway.
Thai officials interviewed include Thailand minister of the interior Paochinda; Royal Thai Army lieutenant general Bancha Duriyapunt; Weerasak Kowsurat (who was Thailand’s minister of tourism and sports in 2018); Suratin Chaichoomphu of the Thai Groundwater Association; Suratin honorary British consul Ben Svatsi; Mae Sai district mayor Somsak Kanakam; Royal Thai army colonel/chief of staff Singhanat Losuya; and Colonel Bhak Loharjun, the Royal Thai Army’s chief medical officer. Other documentary interviewees who were part of the rescue include Unsworth’s live-in girlfriend Tik Woranan; U.S. Air Force pararescuer sergeant Derek Anderson; and U.S. Air Force captain Mitch Torrel, a special tactics officer.
“The Rescue” (which has effective editing and a stirring musical score) tells this story in such vivid details, it’s almost as if viewers are watching it unfold all over again, from the perspectives of the people who were involved in the rescue mission. Still, these rescuers had the luxury of being able to leave the cave and get food, fresh water and proper shelter when they needed it. The people who were trapped in the cave did not have those privileges during their ordeal. And what it felt like for the survivors who were trapped in the cave is a story that will have to be told in another documentary that is not “The Rescue.”
National Geographic Documentary Films and Greenwich Entertainment released “The Rescue” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021. Disney+ premiered the movie on December 3, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada and Thailand, the dramatic film “Most Wanted” features a cast of white people and Asians representing the middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police target a young male heroin addict to set up a major drug sting in Thailand, but the botched sting lands the addict in a Thai prison, while a Canadian investigative journalist works to uncover police corruption and to help exonerate the prisoner.
Culture Audience: “Most Wanted” will appeal primarily to people who like heavy-handed dramas about international investigative journalism and the war on drugs.
“Most Wanted” (formerly titled “Target Number One”) is one of those “crusading journalist” movies “inspired by a true story” that gives the impression that it inflates the importance of the journalist, who just happens to be a paid consultant for the film in real life. Written and directed in a choppy and disjointed manner by Daniel Roby, “Most Wanted” is elevated by an emotionally impactful performance by Antoine Olivier Pilon. But the film is too long (a little more than two hours) and a paint-by-numbers drama about a journalist determined to uncover police corruption while trying to free a wrongly imprisoned inmate.
The movie’s several flashbacks are not shown in chronological order. People unfamiliar with the “true story” before seeing this film might be confused by all of these flashbacks. It’s mentioned in the film’s epilogue that there were several scenes that did not happen in real life but were in the film for dramatic purposes.
Essentially, the purpose of the movie is to make real-life Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (played by Josh Hartnett) look like a hero, while almost everyone he’s investigating is involved in enough sleazy and corrupt activities that the movie makes it look like they all deserved to be exposed by Victor. The movie has Victor jumping back and forth between the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, and later Thailand, for his investigations.
Victor is portrayed as a cocky workaholic who’s obsessed with being the first journalist to scoop everyone else on major investigative stories. The beginning of the movie takes place in 1989, when Victor worked as a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and as a part-time TV journalist at a local Toronto station. Victor’s TV interviewing style is the epitome of “gotcha journalism,” since he loves to make his interview subjects squirm when he catches them off-guard with tough questions.
It’s also shown in the movie that Victor isn’t just doing these investigations for the greater good of humanity. He also wants fame and glory for his investigations. He loves being on camera. And he doesn’t just want to get news scoops. He expects his stories for the newspaper to be on the front page.
In the Globe and Mail newsroom, Victor argues with his long-suffering editor Arthur (played by JC MacKenzie), who tells this narcissistic journalist that Victor is on the verge of being fired because Victor hasn’t turned in an assignment in two months. Victor says that his investigations often take months to complete. Arthur tells Victor that he will be demoted to being a stringer/freelancer unless he delivers one article a week, and it doesn’t matter if the articles cover easy topics. Victor shouts back, “It’s not about money! It’s about my process!”
Being an abrasive and aggressive journalist has made Victor some enemies, so he’s used to getting death threats or other threats to his safety. However, something has changed in Victor’s life that has made him think twice about how his work might affect his personal life. His wife Anna (played by Amanda Crew) has recently given birth to their first child, a daughter. Like a lot of cliché wife roles in this kind of movie, Anna’s only purpose is to sit around looking worried and scold her husband when he lets his work obsessions negatively affect their life at home.
Meanwhile, a French Canadian recovering heroin addict in his mid-20s named Daniel Léger (played by Pilon) has just completed a work program in a British Columbia forest. He’s been paid by check, but he doesn’t have a bank account to cash it, and there are no banks or check-cashing places nearby. When he goes to a convenience store near the forest, Daniel buys some things, but he has no cash with him.
Daniel calls his mother to ask him to read his credit card number over the phone so that he can pay for the items. His mother refuses, and Daniel promises her that he’s not buying drugs. Daniel tells the store clerk that he’ll be right back to get some cash. Instead, Daniel steals the items and takes off on his motorcycle, with the clerk chasing after him to no avail.
Needless to say, Daniel falls right back into drug addiction after he was clean and sober for six months. One of his junkie friends named Michael (played by Frédéric Millaire Zouvi) introduces Daniel to another drug addict named Glen Picker (played by Jim Gaffigan), who has a houseboat that Glen uses for commercial fishing and tourist excursions. But how Glen really makes most of his money is through drug dealing and by being a confidential informant for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Seeing that Daniel is broke, homeless and desperate, Glen offers a grateful Daniel a job as his apprentice.
“Most Wanted” takes a long, convoluted time to get to the heart of the story, including an unnecessary detour that shows Daniel dating a pawn-shop clerk named Mary (played by Rose-Marie Perreault), in a drug-fueled relationship that ends up going nowhere. When Glen finds out that Daniel was arrested in Thailand for a drug deal, Glen foolishly believes Michael’s exaggeration that Daniel has major drug connections in Thailand. Michael even has a nickname for Daniel: Thailand Party Guy. Daniel doesn’t really correct this exaggerated perception of his clout in the drug-dealing world.
Glen passes along this information to an overzealous RCMP federal agent named Barry Cooper (played by Stephen McHattie), who’s close to retirement and eager to make one last major drug bust before he retires. Under Barry’s direction, Canada’s federal police pressure Daniel to set up a major drug deal in Thailand. Glen also has high expectations for Daniel to deliver a big drug deal to the feds.
In reality, Daniel only knows one small-time drug dealer in Thailand. Even though Daniel’s passport was confiscated due to his previous drug bust in Thailand, he’s able to get his passport returned to him, now that he’s secretly working with the Canadian government. Barry and other Canadian federal agents—including Barry’s ambitious son Al Cooper (played by Cory Lipman), who’s still a trainee—arrange to take a trip to Thailand with Daniel to set up what the feds think will be a major drug bust.
But things go horribly wrong. Daniel and some local Thai drug dealers are arrested by Thai police. During Daniel’s court hearings in Thailand, the Canadian government misleads the judge into thinking that Daniel is someone else with the same last name who has an arrest record in Canada. In reality, Daniel does not have an arrest record in Canada, but he’s been advised to plead guilty or else he will get the death penalty.
Daniel is sentenced to 100 years in prison. And somewhere in the jumbled way that this story is told in the movie, investigative journalist Victor takes it upon himself to try to get justice for Daniel. “Most Wanted” takes too long (about two-thirds of the film) showing how Daniel ended up wrongly imprisoned in Thailand. By the time the prison scenes are shown, they look rushed and shoved in as an after-thought.
And it’s too bad, because the best scenes in the movie are of Daniel’s plight in the Thai prison and what he does to survive. As Daniel, Pilon does a particularly credible performance in portraying the terror yet self-preservation that Daniel experiences while in the custody of Thai law enforcement.
Gaffigan, who usually has comedic roles, is also quite impressive in his performance as greedy confidential informant Glen, but this character is written in such a one-dimensional, sleazy way that Gaffigan doesn’t have much to do to go beyond this shallowness. Hartnett, who isn’t very remarkable in his role as Victor, has played this type of swaggering egomaniac before in other movies, so it’s not much of an acting stretch for him. And the Canadian federal agents are written as bumbling fools, so the actors in those roles are confined to playing these stereotypes.
“Most Wanted” would have been improved by cutting out a lot of the filler scenes leading up to Daniel’s imprisonment and giving audiences more insightful views of how he suffered and persevered while he spent years in a Thai prison. For example, there could have been more shown of the relationships that Daniel had inside the Thai prison system that helped him with his daunting task of appealing his case.
There’s only a hint of the type of allies that Daniel must have had in the prison, as exemplified by a Thai prisoner named Sin (played by Konglar Kanchanahoti), who helps Daniel with some important favors. “Most Wanted” didn’t have to be a “Midnight Express” type of movie, but the prison scenes are so late in the film, that it defeats the purpose of making this wrongful imprisonment the center of the story.
“Most Wanted” also erases anyone besides Victor who helped Daniel outside of the Thai prison system. For example, the movie doesn’t show any attorneys who would have been necessary for Daniel’s quest to get released from prison. The movie is so hell-bent on making Victor look like the only hero who can save Daniel, that it cheapens the story by giving an unrealistic portrayal of the legal process in Daniel’s case.
And what does the movie show Victor doing during Daniel’s prison ordeal? Visiting/interviewing Daniel once in the Thai prison and writing an article published in Canada about Daniel’s wrongful imprisonment. Victor also puts his wife and daughter into hiding in the home of a fellow journalist friend named Norm (played by Don McKellar), while Victor experiences more threats from government types who tell him to stop snooping around.
In one scene that will make people roll their eyes, Victor tells Emma that she has to be patient while “I save the world.” It’s too bad that it’s too late to save this movie from its hokey melodrama that clutters the story with unnecessary gibberish and leaves out a lot of important details.
Saban Films released “Most Wanted” on VOD on July 24, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “Most Wanted” on digital and Blu-ray on September 22, 2020.
Miss Philippines Catriona Gray was crowned Miss Universe 2018, in a ceremony that took place December 16 at IMPACT Arena, Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. Fox had the U.S. telecast of the show, which was hosted by Steve Harvey with Ashley Graham. Carson Kressley and Lu Sierra provided commentary, while Ne-Yo was the show’s musical performer. The annual Miss Universe ceremony is produced by the Miss Universe Organization. The show’s theme this year was “Empowered.”
Contestants from 94 countries and territories were at the pageant, including Spain’s Angela Ponce, who made history for being the first transgender contestant in the Miss Universe pageant. Ultimately, Ponce did not place in the Top 20.
According to a Miss Universe Organization press release: “Catriona Gray is passionate about the arts and previously received her Master Certificate in Music Theory from Berklee College of Music. She works closely with Young Focus Philippines, an education based NGO that provides free education and school sponsorships for children in Tondo Manila, one of the poorest neighborhoods within the country’s capital city. Additionally, [she] is an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention after losing a close friend to the virus. She supports Love Yourself Philippines, an organization that offers free testing, education and treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS, and now as Miss Universe, plans to bring more awareness to the epidemic.”
The press release added, “For the first time in the competition’s history, the finalists had the opportunity to share a personal statement summarizing what they wanted the world to know about them. Topics ranged from female health care, the environment, ethnic minorities, body positivity, and cultural diversities. The first-ever all-women selection committee panel was made up of entrepreneurs, business leaders, industry experts, and former Miss Universe titleholders … Miss Universe Laos On-anong Homsombath was honored as the winner of the National Costume Show and shared about her costume, the Stream of Generosity, a half-human, half-bird spiritual creature in traditional Laos’ folklore.”
Here are the Top 20 contestants of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant:
Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines — Winner
Tamaryn Green, Miss South Africa — First runner-up
Sthefany Gutiérrez, Miss Venezuela — Second runner-up
Kiara Ortega, Miss Puerto Rico — Top 5
H’Hen Niê, Miss Vietnam — Top 5
Marta Stepien, Miss Canada — Top 10
Natalia Carvajal, Miss Costa Rica — Top 10
Akisha Albert, Miss Curaçao — Top 10
Manita Devkota, Miss Nepal — Top 10
Sophida Kanchanarin, Miss Thailand — Top 10
Francesca Hung, Miss Australia — Top 20
Zoe Brunet, Miss Belgium — Top 20
Mayra Dias, Miss Brazil — Top 20
Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, Miss Great Britain — Top 20
Enikő Kecskès, Miss Hungary — Top 20
Sonia Fergina Citra, Miss Indonesia — Top 20
Grainne Gallanagh, Miss Ireland — Top 20
Emily Maddison, Miss Jamaica — Top 20
Magdalena Swat, Miss Poland — Top 20
Sarah Rose Summers, Miss United States — Top 20
Cachet Hospitality Group (CHG) has announced that its lifestyle brand Savant Vela Hotel will debut in Bangkok, Thailand, in November 2017. Owned by Vela Hotels Co. the hotel marks CHG’s second property in Bangkok and first Savant hotel in Southeast Asia.
The hotel is near Siam Square, the epicenter of the city’s shopping, dining and entertainment activities and offers easy access to other prime tourist destinations such as MBK Shopping Mall, Siam Center, Siam Paragon and Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World. The property has 72 rooms, averaging (215 square feet), with wide-screen TVs and fast Wi-Fi. Interactive Mobility will offer guests seamless check in and check out, streamlined booking and payment processes through WeChat, and much more.
According to a CHG press release, visitors to the hotel can also enjoy a unique food and beverage tasting experience in The Scholar Bar, an intimate wood-paneled hideaway lined with literary classics from East and West. The bar features an interactive table allowing guests to explore Savant’s 25-plus affordable wines and automated dispensers that sell tasting samples. For those seeking a more dynamic evening, The Habitat is a first-floor lobby experience with space for guests to lounge and mingle. And active travelers can take advantage of The Cardio Zone, a high-intensity workout studio featuring TRX equipment and spinning bicycles.