Tunnel (2016) – A Review


A review of the 2016 Korean disaster/survival film Tunnel starring Jung-woo Ha, Doona Bae and Dai-su Oh, about a man trapped in a collapsed tunnel

Tunnel 2016 disaster survival Korean movie

Lee Jung-soo is driving home for his daughter’s birthday. While driving through a tunnel that runs through a mountain the structure suddenly collapses, trapping Lee in his car under tons of concrete, debris and dirt. 

With his phone in his hand he manages to contact lead rescue worker Dae-kyung (Oh Dai-su) who assures Lee they will rescue him, but soon realizes the momentous task it will be to dig through the mountain and the tunnel rubble to get to him. It will take a great deal of time and that is something Lee does not have.

Lee’s wife Se-hyun (Bae Doona) remains a constant presence at the worksite hoping her husband will survive this ordeal. But when government officials calculate the cost of rescuing one man from this disaster, saving Lee’s life becomes less a priority. 

This might sound similar to the setup to Daylight, but this is not an action oriented story, but a straight up survival tale – and a really good one!

Oh Dal-su Tunnel 2016 disaster survivial Korean movieThere’s a lot of similar things happening in Tunnel we’ve seen in other cinematic survival tales – a character alone, trapped in the dark, their only lifeline is a dying cellphone, a struggle to find water and food, their hope rests on others finding them, the wait lingers, rescue efforts get hampered, things look helpless and it soon reaches a hopeless breaking point for the trapped character that they will never be saved.

There have been a lot of disaster/survival films that follow this similar tract, so it’s not like there’s anything truly groundbreaking happening in Tunnel. However, it’s the excellent execution of this familiar tale in Tunnel and the performances that holds your interest, gets you to grip your armrest, sit on the edge of your seat awaiting to see how this story will all end and leave you saying “That was really good!” when it fades out. 

The story kicks off almost immediately. Things are setup, we watch Lee driving home for his daughter’s birthday, the tunnel collapse happens and Lee is thrust into his dire situation. Managing contact with authorities he talks with Dae-Kyung who reassures him to stay calm and it might take some time, but they will rescue him.

Tunnel 2016 Korean disaster survival dramaWe watch as Lee remains stuck in his car surrounded by huge concrete slabs that could fall and crush him at any moment. He can do nothing but wait and try to figure out how to survive the timeline Dae-kyung gives him. 

How can Lee manage to stay alive buried for the weeks that will take for the rescue team to get to him? Of course it’s only what he can find in his car that will sustain him. Items that were once dismissed now become all important survival tools and he must figure out how to ration what he has.

There does come a surprise while he remains trapped, which I won’t go into (the trailer doesn’t reveal it and I’m certainly not going to be the one to spoil it to viewers). But it is unexpected and results in even more difficult decisions he’s further faced with and he forces him to see firsthand what his possible end to the story could be. 

The Tunnel 2016 Bae Doona Korean disaster filmNaturally the rescue effort isn’t a smooth operation outside. The faith of getting out of the tunnel Lee tries to hold onto gradually dwindles as time passes and he receives more and more bad news. The collapse is colossal and despite their initial declaration to the public that they will save Lee, there is a reluctance when the cost of the rescue effort becomes more than the government is willing to spend to save one man’s life.

The tunnel collapse also put to a stop construction on a nearby tunnel. Everyday there is a loss of money and it leads to the inevitable question when do they pull the plug and Lee’s life no longer becomes worth saving. 

There are some heartbreaking scenes of Doona as she remains at the tunnel site watching helplessly as setbacks occur and hearing her husband’s growing despair and hope slipping away. There are some very touching moments of her watching the operation, trying to assist it in the small ways she can and soon facing resentment of the risks that others are taking to save only one man. 

Tunnel 2016 disaster survival drama Korean film movieThe film really sells the disaster scenario with some extraorindary expansive shots of the landscape and collapse. The film really gives you a sense of the large scale and the overwhelming task it will be to reach Lee buried somewhere under that mountain. 

Lee’s scenes conveys the claustrophobic, deadly situation he’s in. Him in his crushed car with the constant dirt and dust swirling around made me want to grab a bottle of water while watching this. 

Tunnel is exactly what you’d want from it – suspenseful, dramatic, intense and it’s all excellently done. It delivers on every aspect you hope it will when starting to watch a story of this kind. It’s a really well done film. 


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