Tunnel is a wonderfully tense movie that centres on three characters involved in a landslide that collapses a tunnel. Whilst one man fights to survive for days on end, his wife and rescue captain tackle not just the rescue but the pressure of the local government and the media in a thoughtful and emotionally driven film.
The Disasters Faced
A landslide, a collapsing tunnel, dehydration, starvation, being buried alive, death by a greedy dog and inept workmen who seem to have no self-preservation skills.
Tunnel is a slow-burning disaster thriller. The initial landslide that traps Lee happens within the opening few minutes and leaves him cut off from the outside world except for some patchy mobile signal coverage and his car radio. Lee is resourceful but also quite human in the way how he deals with the event. He feels as if he can just sit tight, help will come to him and initially that looks to be the case. Outside the tunnel Kim, the rescue worker captain is busy finding out ways to get to him whilst his wife Se-Hyun watches on providing moral support. It’s not long before outside pressures begin to mount up though as the media turns their attention from trying to make Lee a hero to actually being not worth the hassle to save since he is costing too much money to the Government. You see, whilst the operation is considered a rescue mission, work cannot continue on a neighbouring tunnel to finish it and get trade routes to the town open again. Whilst Lee is alive, it is costing everyone else business. It’s a fascinating twist on the genre that means that Lee’s rescue becomes more and more political and the second half of the film moves towards the pressure against Se-Hyun to sign papers to stop the search. It’s an impossible situation to find herself in. This means that if potentially no help is coming – Lee needs to start planning his own rescue and survive long enough to turn it into reality or until help can finally get to him.
Why is it worth watching?
Tunnel does many things right and it starts with its lead cast members. Doona Bae’s quiet despair as Se-Hyun is palpable as it raises over the course of the movie, as is Dal-Su Oh’s anger and frustration as the Captain who is given poor information and no leeway for results. Inside the tunnel, Jung-woo Ha spends the film slowly draining away before our eyes as each decision he makes weighs on his mind. His scenes with water rations are absolutely perfectly pitched when he finds a heavily injured Mi-Na trapped in another car. She may want some water but that’s his survival ration and if she’s that badly wounded, should he give it to her anyway? His expressions and the way the film lets you wonder what you would do is superb.
The other point that makes this film unique is its take on modern-day media. They are portrayed as utterly entitled as they disturb the rescue efforts over and over to get their stories. With the whole rescue going on under the TV gaze, each nuance and drama is immediately being beamed across the country and that stress is not helpful. It’s not all one-sided though. Lee’s car radio still picks up a signal and so the only station he can hear starts to communicate information with him at midday every day. It’s a genius use of media and shows that good can come from the industry if they think about it. I haven’t seen media portrayed like this in a disaster movie so heavily before and it is a great touch.
The film doesn’t feel like it needs to have someone panicking or screaming their way through it. Korean disaster movie cinema often splits between two very distinct flavours – screaming sentimental, or quiet matter of fact. This is very much in the latter. The film is emotionally, but it’s not overwrought like say Haeundae, which went all in for scream-crying. Tunnel is all the better for going the quieter route.
The tunnel collapse itself is really well done from sound design to the actual CGI itself. The set post collapse is excellent too, with plenty of dust and rubble spilling about. The exterior set shows the mouth of the tunnel and occasionally the wide landslide which also looks impressive. Despite these shots though, this is a character driven movie and one that is about what decisions you would make in your situation.
Whilst the film centres around the three characters I’ve outlined already, the tunnel itself is a character with its many flaws and problems – as is the weather. Tunnel takes places over several weeks and the weather is out to make things problematic. The rain is heavy and the snowfall makes things stodgy and changes the backdrop for the drama. A fourth character Mi-Na is also fascinating because the way how she acts is a direct result of the information she is given and her greedy dog brings lightness to some the situations. What binds them all together is the trust that they place on each other and the fact they all pull together for each other in their times of need is quite uplifting – particularly when the establishment isn’t listening anymore.
“What’s more important – this broadcast or a human life?” Captain Kang
Three memorable moments
- The two collapses themselves for their use of sound and CGI
- Urine-gate for its levity at a point of crisis
- That radio message from Se-Hyun to Lee for making my heart sink
The obligatory weird moment…
Every film has one intentional or not and this one is genius. When Se-Hyun finds out her husband is trapped in the tunnel she’s pushing her shopping trolley down an escalator. She overhears the TV and has to keep walking backwards on the escalator to keep the TV in sight. It’s such a unique way to discover something, it will stick in my head for a long time.
The drinking game
Tunnel shows how several mistakes can add up to a costly consequence, so every time something goes wrong or goes against the rescue, you should take a shot. Corporate greed and mismanagement are at the heart of all the decisions here.
Tunnel is an absolutely fantastic film that cranks up the tension slowly but calmly. It’s beautifully character driven and full of twists and turns that will keep you rooting for the cast and hoping they can overcome adversity. Highly recommended.
Rating: 4/5 (Excellent)
If you liked Tunnel then you may like…
- Daylight (for its trapped in a tunnel premise)
- Buried (not a disaster movie but an equally tense thriller about being trapped)
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