It’s always nice when a director finds a way to breathe new life into a stagnant genre. In the case of Kim Seong-hun’s Tunnel, he takes a disaster movie and manages to make it a more intimate affair. American disaster films are typically packed with A-list stars, so the approach of pitting one man’s life against unspeakable odds makes for a far more nail-biting affair. Throw in a supporting cast and hilarious jabs at the media — sensationalized journalism taking the hardest hit — to go along with the drama and Tunnel is one of the better disaster flicks in years.
Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo) is on his way home to his daughter’s birthday armed with a whipped cream cake and two bottles of water he picked up at the gas station. Faster than most short films can end, Jung-soo is trapped in a tunnel after it caves in. He’s left stranded with just his phone and a car battery that seems never seems to wanna quit. On the surface, Task Force Chief Kim Dae-kyung (Oh Dal-su) puts himself through the ringer as he tries to wrangle the local media — the first to make contact with Jung-soo after the cave in no less — and find a way to live up to his promise to get Jung-soo out alive.
Tunnel reminded me a lot of Manchester by the Sea in the way writer/director Kim weaves his way through conflicting tones. It jumps from comedy to drama with great ease, something that keeps the viewer on edge as it could mean anything for Jung-soo’s fate. It avoids a very ironic ending, for better and worse, right before the end credits.
The cast are all fantastic, with Jung-soo keeping us riveted as a man on his own trying to decide whether to wait for help or try to find his own way out. Doona Bae is also great as his poor wife dealing with the dramatics up above. The DVD skimps on special features — the trailer and some previews for additional Well Go USA titles (The Prison, Train to Busan, and The Wailing) are all that comes with it — but the film is a pleasure in itself and there’s no need to burden the disc down with unnecessary extras. If you’re looking for something a little off center that holds true to its roots, Tunnel is a fantastic example of the disaster film done right.