Trapped in “Tunnel”
They drive in – they don’t drive out.
In Seoul, Korea, the Seoul Capital Area comprises the eighteenth largest city in the world. As such, tunnels are a part of the landscape, blown through mountains and allowing drivers to save valuable big-city time. It’s in one such tunnel that our story takes place.
A man driving home for his daughter’s birthday finds himself in the middle of a miles-long tunnel when it collapses. Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo) finds himself trapped inside his car amidst rubble. Jung-soo grabs his cell phone, which is eighty-percent charged, and calls 911 and his wife (Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas).
The emergency response leader Oh Dal-su (Kim Dae-kyung) advises to save cell phone power and only call once a day. The national media has turned the disaster into an event. Jung-soo has two bottles of water, a couple of flashlights that are in the trunk, and his daughter’s birthday cake.
At this point Tunnel, directed by Kim Seong-hun, becomes a powerful disaster movie. The effects of the cave-in and production values and snowy exteriors are top notch. But there’s a couple of sub-textual elements going on that make Tunnel more than a disaster movie du jour.
First of all, the government has greedy hands in cookie jars of various projects where they are blasting tunnels through mountains with second thought on the engineering. On another level, and one that may not reverberate domestically, this is South Korea and for years there have been diplomatic issues involving tunnels between North Korea and Seoul. Also, instead of the drama playing out with a large cast, this is basically a three-hander with occasional support from one-dimensional supporting characters including a Madam Minister with bad taste in clothing who wants to use the proceedings for her own end. What we really have with Tunnel is an intense psychological thriller about people being trapped in existential circumstances.
A couple of recent films that come to mind that have genre similarities are the Ryan Reynolds starrer Buried (2010), and the 2024 Norwegian catastrophe flick The Wave.
Forced to ration his meager supplies and even asked to start saving his pee for liquid, Jung-soo settles in to a routine as the rescue time will take over seven days. A brief jaunt through a labyrinth path of debris has him finding another car with a woman, still alive but barely, and her frisky dog. Above ground the incident has given way to media extravaganza and political intrigue. The drama, however, always goes back to the principal three characters and their phone interaction.
When all is said and done, Tunnel delivers an excellent example of world cinema that translates across any language.
Tunnel, a release through Well Go USA Entertainment, unwinds exclusively at the AMC Studio 30.