‘Tunnel’: Film Review

A man desperately waits to be rescued from a collapsed tunnel in Kim Seong-hun’s satire-tinged disaster film.

You’ll likely find yourself avoiding tunnels after watching Kim Seong-hun’s Korean disaster film about one unfortunate commuter who finds himself hopelessly trapped when a tunnel collapses around him. Infusing its nightmarish scenario with bracing doses of satirical humor, Tunnel is smarter and more sophisticated than most Hollywood attempts at the genre.

The director/screenwriter doesn’t waste any time setting up the situation. Mere minutes into the film, devoted husband, father and automobile salesman Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo) is shown driving home and entering a long mountain tunnel built by the ironically named “Happy & Safe Construction.” The ensuing collapse leaves him trapped and alone, with only two bottles of water and his daughter’s birthday cake to sustain him. Miraculously, he still has cell phone service, although the first call he receives is not from rescuers but rather a reporter who wants an exclusive interview.

The Bottom Line

This witty Korean take on the disaster movie genre puts most Hollywood efforts to shame.

Eventually Jung-soo does hear from the man in charge of the rescue operation (Oh Dal-su) who ominously advises him to ration his water to make it last for at least seven days. Jung-soo’s plight naturally becomes a media sensation, attracting swarms of reporters as well as politicians eager to use the event as a photo op. Jung-soo’s loving wife (Doona Bae) shows up at the site to support her husband, only to find herself manipulated by the press and government alike.

One snafu after another occurs during the rescue effort, including an unfortunate attempt at using drones to locate the victim. Meanwhile, Jung-soo discovers that he’s not the only one trapped when he comes upon a desperate young woman who’s pinned in her crushed car, and her adorable Pug with whom he generously shares his food and water.

Reminiscent of Billy Wilder’s 1951 drama Ace in the Hole, Tunnel is less notable for its disaster movie tropes than its scathing examination of media rapaciousness and government inefficiency. The only sympathetic characters in the film are the protagonist, his wife and the chief rescuer who’s determined to fulfill his mission despite impossible odds and the public’s waning interest.

Featuring terrific special effects and superb cinematography by Tae Sung-kim that consistently succeeds in making the tunnel’s claustrophobic environs visually compelling, Tunnel is an engrossing and witty genre exercise that is slightly undermined by its excessive length.

Production: Another Sunday, BA Entertainment, History E&M

Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment

Cast: Ha Jung-Wook Doona Bae, Oh Dal-su

Director/screenwriter: Kim Seong-hun

Producers: Billy Acumen, Lee Taek-Dong

Executive producer: Jeong-hun You

Director of photography: Tae Sung-kim

Production designer: Hwo-Kyoung Lee

Editor: Kim Chang-ju

Composer: Young-Jin Mok

Not rated, 127 minutes