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Tunnel - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Teo-neol

South Korea 2016

Genre:
Thriller

Director:
Kim Seong-hoon

Cast:
Ha Jeong-woo
Bae Doo-na
Oh Dal-soo
Jeong Seok-yong
Nam Ji-hyeon
Park Hyeok-kwon
Sin Jeong-geun
Yoo Seung-mok


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Tunnel

Tunnel - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Jeong-soo (Ha Jeong-woo) is on his way to his daughter's birthday. When he drives through a tunnel he hears a strange sound and before he knows it the tunnel collapses around him. Jeong-soo is trapped and can't get out of his car. Yet, he manages to make an emergency call with his cell phone. When firefighter squad leader Dae-kyeong (Oh Dal-soo) arrives at the tunnel, he can't believe what is before his eyes. The whole mountain has given in and the tunnel has almost completely collapsed. Jeong-soo is informed by a call that the rescue operations may take some time. The trapped man has only two bottles of water and a cake which he probably has to stretch over a week. That's how long it takes for him to be saved. From that day on the media are reporting on nothing else but the trapped man. The wife, Se-hyeon (Bae Doo-na), also participates in the rescue operations the best she can. However, talking to her husband is nearly impossible since he has to save the battery of his cell for the next days. Then, Jeong-soo suddenly hears a voice and it turns out that he isn't the only one trapped in the tunnel. To make matters worse the rescue operations prove to be more time-consuming than initially assumed...

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Review: "Tunnel" does everything right what so many other disaster movies run into the ground. Here, it's actually the characters that stand in the foreground and it's not about a woozy special effects marathon that is supposed to bring as much action and computergenerated mayhem to the big screen as possible. Accordingly, the 126 minutes pass by in an instant, delivering good entertainment, nice drama, and likeable characters. The fact that the boundries of credibility are often stretched is bearable since other than that "Tunnel" puts its focus where it should be: on its story. Since the story itself is rather thin, though - after all an ordinary guy attempts the impossible by facing up to all sorts of adversities - its the different individuals that stand in the spotlight, making the the movie especially captivating on an emotional level.

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While in the beginning everything points at the rescue of Jeong-soo not presenting a big problem, even making us wonder what the movie intends to fill the two hours running time with, there are more and more problems arising until we reach the point where we can just pity our hero. Still, at first there is no feelings of despair, even the more since Jeong-soo is characterized by the kind of pleasant humor which doesn't let us believe that a guy like him could actually die in the end. When it comes to the shooting of certain scenes the filmmaker held back, too, so that a lot of scenes don't nearly feel as claustrophobic as they should. Towards the end Jeong-soo's fight for survival becomes more desperate, of course, and so the scenes involving him finally feel as if we were trapped several meters under the ground with him, being completely alone.

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At first, it's most importantly Jeong-soo's cell that connects him to the outside world, but naturally this isn't for long. His isolation becomes more tangible and his situation more and more desperate. This shouldn't be a serious surprise with such a movie, but the boundaries of what's believeable are often relinquished making the ending in particular feel quite contrived with the sole aim of creating some more suspense. But up until that point we have already started to like the plot's hero and on the other hand we already expected something like this from the very get-go since it's impossible for things to go that smooth if the movie doesn't want to run the risk of being simply tedious. There is also some nice change in storytelling since there is pleasant switching between the narration above and beyond ground. Unfortunately, the characters above ground turn out to be a bit shallower than what we might have hoped for.

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Unfortunately, this also concerns Jeong-soo's wife, who is drawn paper-thin and only gets the kind of three-dimensionality for us to care about her thanks to Bae Doo-na ("A Girl at my Door", "As One"). Bae thankfully is responsible for the wife's fearing for her husband's life not just degenerating into lots of tearjerking. Oh Dal-soo ("The Attorney") on the other hand plays a reliable firefighter who often has to stand his ground against the media and politicians. After all, "Tunnel" also has sort of a socio-critical undertone to it, too. The media ensures the public's interest in the trapped man, but with their interest fading the people also lose theirs. Politicians, however, are just intent on making a good impression on the people, even if this means that they are standing in the way of the actual rescue operations. What's nice is that the socio-critical undertone is woven into the rest of the story in a subtle fashion.

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Star of the movie is of course Ha Jeong-woo ("The Handmaiden", "The Terror Live") who gives his scenes the needed intensity so that we are sitting at the edge of our seat when watching him as he struggles to survive. Words of praise are also in order for director Kim Seong-hoon, who already proved with "A Hard Day" that he is one of Korea's modern filmmakers you need to keep an eye out for in the future. He has a keen sense for the right pacing, the sets are very detailed and his (quite impressive) special effects serve the story and not the other way around. There is a clear focus present throughout the whole movie which is something you sadly don't get that often these days, anymore. Sure, towards the end there is some more drama, despair and implausible coincidences, but "Tunnel" remains a character-driven disaster movie which provides the kind of sensitiveness which keeps tension high.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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