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TUNNEL

Jan 04, 2021
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
  • View480

2016 | 126 MIN | Drama
DIRECTOR KIM Seong-hun
CAST HA Jung-woo, BAE Doo-na, OH Dal-su
RELEASE DATE August 10, 2016
CONTACT Showbox
Tel +82 2 3218 5500 
Fax +82 2 3444 6688 

Before turning his attention to Joseon Era zombies in Netflix’s Kingdom, director KIM Seong-hun scored a late summer hit in 2016 with the disaster film Tunnel (2016). Starring HA Jung-woo, BAE Doo-na and OH Dal-su and released just two years after the sinking of the Sewol Ferry, the film adds concerns of shoddy, rushed construction work and botched emergency responses to a claustrophobic tale of survival.

Car dealer Jung-soo (HA Jung-woo) is on his way home with a birthday cake for his young daughter. He calls his wife Sae-hyun (BAE Doo-na) and then a client as he passes through a tunnel. He clinches a deal on the phone and hangs up triumphant, but then the tunnel he’s driving through starts to crack. Within moments the structure begins to crumble and collapses over Jung-soo, trapping him in his car under a mountain of rubble. So begins Jung-soo’s desperate struggle for survival.

An emergency rescue team led by Dae-kyung (OH Dal-su) arrives at the scene and makes contact with Jung-soo, telling him to remain calm and that they’ll be able to reach him within a few days. Forced to conserve the little food and water he has, as well as his phone’s battery life, Jung-soo endures long and dark days on his own while the rescue team struggles with sloppy blueprints and meddlesome politicians.

Tunnel (2016) wastes no time in throwing its lead character into a perilous situation. This puts it in stark contrast with typical Korean disaster films like Haeundae (2009) and The Tower (2012) which can spend almost half their running times setting up a melodramatic framework dotted with myriad characters. The story is based on a novel by SO Jae-won, who also wrote the books that were later adapted as Beastie Boys (2008) and Hope (2013).

Most disaster films concern a large group of people being put at risk, but the rarer ‘man in a hole’ drama offers the opportunity for a more focused story. There’s room for both a deeper study of a single character and parallel social themes. The representative American work in this subgenre is surely Billy WILDER’s Ace in the Hole, but whereas that film focused on individual failings, namely one journalist’s avarice as he plots to keep a man down in a cave for his own gain, Tunnel (2016) uses the disaster to highlight system-wide issues of iniquity.

Much like the same summer’s TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016), Tunnel (2016) uses its disaster premise as a springboard for social commentary about Korea’s sketchy history with construction-based catastrophes, like the Seongsu Bridge Collapse of 1993 and the Sampoong Department Store Collapse of 1995, and especially the way that emergency responses can be scuttled by poor and opaque leadership, as was the case in 2014 with the sinking of Sewol. In Tunnel (2016), financial and political interests attempt to obstruct the rescue, as it grows longer and longer, since the operation is holding up other development projects sure to line certain people’s pockets. 

Much like he did in The Terror, LIVE three years earlier, HA Jung-woo once again spends much of his screen time alone in Tunnel (2016), covered in dust in the film’s cramped sets. Director KIM and HA will soon partner again for the big-budget action drama Kidnapping, which was expected to begin shooting earlier this year in Morocco but was temporarily delayed owing to the global pandemic.
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