Upcoming film 'Tunnel' aims to rediscover value of life

Ashley Song, Aug. 4, 2016, 10:57 a.m.


The all-too-realistic nature of director Kim Seong Hun’s upcoming summer thriller “Tunnel” may leave a bitter taste in the audience’s mouth. Centered around one man’s fight for survival after a tunnel collapse, the film holds a mirror up to societal and political shortcomings that pervade all organizations.

In a short but telling portrayal of protagonist Lee Jung Soo (Ha Jung Woo) before the freak accident, he is an avuncular character who exudes a sense of familiarity. A father, a husband and a proud and dedicated car salesman, Lee finalizes a lucrative deal with a client on his way back home, leaving him in high spirits that come crumbling down along with the tunnel. 

Reported to be the only victim and survivor of the disaster, Lee manages a few rushed phone calls to the outside world, including his desperate, yet cautiously hopeful wife Sehyun, played by Bae Doona. 

Returning to a Korean film for the first time since starring in 2014’s “A Girl at My Door,” Bae is a refreshing reminder that body language and facial expressions often speak louder than words.

As days of recovery efforts turn into weeks and the public’s concern for the victim quickly withers away, Lee’s only champion is lead rescue worker Kim Dae Kyung, played by Oh Dal Su. However, Kim’s unwavering efforts are undermined by scoop-hungry and sensationalist media, as well as a number-crunching administration led by a president (Kim Hae Sook) who exerts authority void of leadership. 

Making futile attempts at self-rescue, Lee sustains himself on a dwindling cake-and-water diet, and, perhaps more importantly, humor. This juxtaposition is what the director refers to as “ironic humor.” 

“If a film is too serious, it makes the audience uncomfortable. If it’s too comic, then it compromises suspense and reality,” said Kim during an interview at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. “Laughter sustains the plot in a tragedy.”

Despite rarely appearing all together in the film, Ha, Oh and Bae exhibit an undeniable chemistry that is consistently palpable and carried well throughout the movie.

“Oh Dal Su and Bae Doona are people I can communicate and connect with even through a simple text message,” said Ha, recounting the cast’s first script reading at the press screening of the film in Seoul on Wednesday. “(Bae) in particular has been charismatic and dependable right from the beginning,”

However, in contrast to the filmmaker’s commitment to depicting the intricacies of the rescue process and true-to-life representation of the regulatory and bureaucratic failings of modern society, the movie’s rushed conclusion, which plays too much by the book, leaves a lot to be desired. 

While “Tunnel” clearly strives to question the government’s moral compass and priority, that is not the director’s ultimate mission. “In the end, the takeaway is very simple,” said Kim. “It’s about the unrelenting will to survive and recognizing the value of life”

Part thriller, part tear-jerker, “Tunnel” is set to open in local theaters on Aug. 10.

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