Review: ‘Tunnel’ is Simultaneously Smart & Populist Viewing

Inept officials, crumbling second-rate infrastructure, bad cellphone reception, shonky builders, and useless media – add a housing crisis, and the Korea seen in Tunnel will be eerily familiar to Kiwis. Seong-Hoon Kim’s ultra-watchable thriller sees a car salesman trapped in a tunnel through the hilly countryside, a familiar premise, but one that extracts maximum value from it. As Jung-Soo (Jung-Woo Ha) gets to grips with his predicament, there’s scant time to ponder the impact of shoddy concrete or counterfeit steel on New Zealand roads. That tunnel (and those extraction fans), though, will be very familiar to many local drivers…

What begins as an accident, an inconvenience, to Jung-Soo soon becomes a rescue effort of national proportions, a media sensation with a political dimension. Neither elements help feed the trapped man, nor speed the rescue effort. Instead, Jung-Soo faces a number of challenges and threats – ultra-refreshingly, not each of them dangled in front of him needs to be resolved, adding to the tension of his threat-filled environment.

As the days trapped inside mount, Jung-Soo’s relationship with the chief of the rescue effort (Oldboy’s Dal-su Oh) becomes his crucial contact with the outside world, and helps fuel the film’s human and comic dimensions. If an English-language remake is inevitable (and one should be), Bruce Willis would relish reversing the inside/outside man dynamic of Die Hard by taking Dal-Su’s part – especially if a few perfectly pissy lines of dialogue are preserved.

Reminiscent of Stallone’s Daylight, Poseidon and its ilk, and plenty more, Tunnel doesn’t forge new ground. Who cares? It’s simultaneously smart and populist viewing, and a great example of the genre – as well as looking like a million bucks with its subtle action sequences and establishing shots. See it.

‘Tunnel’ Movie Times (in limited release)