The Light at the End of Summer – A Review of Tunnel
The life of car salesman Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo ) is thrown into peril when the newly constructed tunnel he’s driving through collapses. The government and media scramble to the site of the collapse as rescue workers grapple with a disaster for which they’re not completely prepared. On the outside, Dae-kyung (Oh Dal-su), leader of the rescue team, navigates through setback after setback in his efforts while Jung-soo’s wife Se-hyun (Bae Doona) refuses to give up hope of seeing her husband again. But with a dying cell phone and only two bottles of water and his daughter’s birthday cake to sustain him, odds of Jung-soo’s survival grow increasingly unlikely in this new drama from writer/director Kim Seong-hun.
Working within the framework of a disaster film, Tunnel surprises with its focus on its characters’ humanity. The moments of tension when Jung-soo is facing physical harm are perfectly realized, but the film truly comes alive in the quieter moments in between, when the emotional harm outweighs the physical. Tunnel reminded me of The Martian in its asking of an incredibly difficult question: How much is a single human life worth? How much resources should a nation–or world–dedicate to preserving just one life? Is his life worth more than another’s? Both films quantified what would ordinarily be unquantifiable. Where The Martian aims high in aspirations and optimism, Tunnel is, in more ways than one, down to earth. The value of Jung-soo’s life is clearly laid out, weighed against costs both financial and philosophical. Watching the government, the media, and the tunnel developers measure Jung-soo’s life in such terms is nearly as uncomfortable as the claustrophobic scenes within the collapsed tunnel. Jung-soo also has to face these questions himself when he discovers he isn’t alone. Upon meeting another trapped person–one is who gravely injured–Jung-soo must wrestle with the decision to help sustain her life at the cost of using more of his already dwindling resources. Though convention dictates an ending where Jung-soo will survive against all odds, the success of the movie is not just in in asking the viewers where they side with this question, but taking part in the discussion to begin with.
All three leads impress with their performances. Bae Doona may be the most familiar to U.S. audiences thanks to her work with the Wachowskis, though international cinema buffs should also recall Oh Dal-su from his work with Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook. This film was my introduction to Ha Jung-woo, though I’m not excited to see his other films. Though these three actors anchor the film, I must also give director Kim much credit for bringing out authentic performances for even the most minor of characters. You can’t help but smile watching a nameless rescue worker as he makes the best of breakfast being ruined when rain spills through the tent in which workers break between shifts. It’s moments of reprieve like this one, well-written and well-performed, that make this film’s drama work so well.
Tunnel is an engaging film with both thrills and heart… as well as an adorable dog with whom you’ll fall in love. If you need a palate cleanser after this summer’s glut of disappointments, you won’t go wrong seeking it out.
Tunnel opens August 26, 2016 in the following cities:
New York • Los Angeles • Atlanta, GA • Baltimore, MD • Boston, MA • Calgary, AB • Chicago, IL • Cupertino, CA • Dallas, TX • Denver, CO • Edgewater, NJ • Edmonton, AB • Fairfax, VA • Fullerton, CA • Honolulu, HI • Houston, TX • Irvine, CA • Las Vegas, NV • Philadelphia, PA • Phoenix, AZ • Portland, OR • San Francisco, CA • San Diego, CA • Seattle, WA • Toronto, ON • Vancouver, BC