A White-Knuckled, Urine-Drinking Thriller
The South Korean action thriller Tunnel written and directed by Kim Seong-hun (A Hard Day) and starring Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser), Bae Doona (Cloud Atlas), and Oh Dal-su (Oldboy) is essentially a disaster film riding on the performances of the three leads and it certainly delivers.
Kia Motors car salesman Lee Jung-soo (Jung-woo) is on his way home for his daughter’s birthday. He drives into the Hado Tunnel thinking he’ll be home soon, but the tunnel collapses and Jung-soo finds himself trapped. Kim Dae-kyung (Dal-su) is in charge of Jung-soo’s rescue and reassures that the rescue will take no more than a week’s time. With nothing but a birthday cake and two water bottles to tide him over and the remains of half a mountain blocking his escape, Jung-soo’s future looks bleak.
The collapse of the tunnel is terrifying. You witness this man-made hole buckle and disintegrate complete with this haunting rumbling that makes it sound as if the tunnel is howling in pain, lights flickering and going out daze your senses, and the eventual catastrophe that is everything that was once this tunnel crumbling to pieces leaves you gasping for breath. It’s as if Jung-soo is being buried alive and his vehicle has become his tomb.
Jung-woo is incredible as Lee Jung-soo. All things considering, Jung-soo handles the matter rather well and mostly stays positive the entire experience. Jung-woo’s distressful portrayal of a man who has little hope for survival is riveting and exceptional. Oh Dal-su is also quite entertaining as Kim Dae-kyung. Dae-kyung seems to be the only person constantly fighting to keep digging for Jung-soo and doesn't lose hope even when the city and Jung-soo’s wife Se-hyun (Doona) does. Not only is Dal-su’s performance driven by devotion to his job, but he has this frustration with his coworkers and his city that leaves him absolutely dumbfounded which usually results in a rather humorous response on Dal-su’s part. Bae Doona spends the majority of the film fighting back tears above ground with the workers attempting to rescue her husband. Se-hyun helps out any way that she can and stays the entire time while their daughter stays with her mother.
The film touches on the art of drinking urine once the water supply is depleted. Tunnel claims that it’s sterile when it comes out and can be used to stay hydrated if you’re trapped in a shattered tunnel with nothing but a bratty pug. Two characters in the film basically become closer because one drinks human discharge to survive and the other drinks it because he didn't want to recommend something he had never tried himself. What’s interesting is that Tunnel throws a curve ball whenever things begin to look up. Every positive outlook has a disappointing outcome. It gets to the point where nearly everyone loses hope, but Tunnel is ironed out in a way that allows the film to come full circle. Everything feels resolved once the film ends even if the fate of the main character is questionable.
Another factor that is completely unlike most disaster films like this is that the main character is able to use his phone right after the incident occurs. Similar stories would have any survivors traveling to find a spot with enough bars to contact the authorities. The conflict Tunnel introduces is how they’re going to get this trapped man out while obstacles such as rain, snow, and flawed equipment keep the rescue team from getting to Jung-soo sooner.
You absolutely devour Jung-soo’s journey in Tunnel. The most important aspect of the film is that empathy can go a long way in a situation like this and it’s refreshing to see a film touch on fictional characters being generous towards one another rather than focusing on the greed and selfishness that is usually associated in any sort of survival film. Tunnel is one of the most compassionate films of the year with a horrifically executed disaster and an emotional powerhouse odyssey overall. Both South Korea and Well Go USA have been releasing top quality films for the better part of 2016. Make sure you check out anything from their release schedule if you have the opportunity.