April 25, 2017


Starring Ha Jung-woo, Bae Doo-na, Oh Dal-su, Nam Ji-juyn, Kim Haw-sook, Park Hyuk-kwon. Directed by Kim Seong-hun. (2016, 127 min).

I take life for granted everyday during my morning commute. During this twenty minute drive, I listen to the radio, think about the day ahead, plan my weekend and drink enough coffee to keep from killing my co-workers. You know...mundane stuff. Never once have I worried about the bridge I cross every morning suddenly collapsing, effectively canceling those weekend plans...forever.

Driving to work isn't like bungee jumping, where you're constantly aware of your own mortality because there's always the small chance this activity could be a game ender. What if the bungee cord is faulty? Or someone misjudged the length of the drop?

Watching movies like Tunnel, I'm reminded that the things we casually use each day have the potential to kill us. Still, we entrust our very lives with objects we take on-faith are safe enough, and that those who built them didn't cut any corners.

But sometimes, bridges do collapse, furnaces do explode and, as this Korean film horrifically depicts, tunnels do cave in.

Lee (Ha Jung-woo) is an automobile broker on his way home to celebrate his daughter's birthday when a miles-long tunnel he's driving through suddenly collapses. He's trapped in his car under hundreds of tons of earth, rock and concrete, but manages to call 119 (Korea's 911) with his cell phone. However, since the entire tunnel has collapsed, rescue chief Dae-kyung (Oh Dal-su) cannot pinpoint exactly where Lee is, but assures him it'll only take a week to dig him out.

A powerhouse, award-worthy performance. Oh, and Ha Jung-woo is pretty good, too.
Only a week? Imagine that...a week trapped in the dark confines of a still-crumbling mountain with only an imploding car, two bottles of water and a birthday cake keeping you alive. Not only that, Lee must conserve his phone's battery, though he still chooses to phone his wife, Se-hyun (Bae-Doo-na), to assure her and his daughter he's okay for the moment. Lee does manage to find another injured survivor, but she soon dies, leaving him alone with her dog (who amusingly eats all the cake Lee's been conserving).

One week becomes two...then three...and Lee's forced to find other ways to avoid dying of thirst and starvation. Meanwhile, his plight has become a media sensation, not to mention photo ops for a Korean minister. However, after digging in the wrong place, hope for Lee's survival diminishes, especially after his phone finally dies and they can no longer verify if he's even alive.

Despite running a lengthy 127 minutes and considering the claustrophobic premise, Tunnel is a pretty engaging disaster film. Intense, suspenseful and often very funny, it tells a smart story that, not only has us invested in Lee's situation, but cleverly skewers opportunistic media and self-serving politicians in equal measures. It's only near the end that the story begins to run out of steam (and plausibility), not helped by a previous bit of foreshadowing that more-or-less gives away the outcome. Until then, though, this is a gripping tale of survival, bolstered by interesting characters and convincing performances.

One thing is certain...it'll have you wondering about the safety of the next tunnel you drive through.


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