Steve G’s review published on Letterboxd :
Delightfully, Manchester Odeon has started showing a lot more foreign language films recently, and even more delightfully they have started showing them at times when I might actually get to fucking see them!
They used to do this a lot when I was at university, but they weren't the only ones. Another local multiplex fully dedicated itself to the Tartan Asia Extreme 'tours' back then as well, and generally there was a lot more variety in the cinemas round here. I guess Manchester is just a microcosm of the general situation around the country though for those of us wanting to see something other than the blockbusters or those films generating sizable world of mouth.
As such, although I'll miss out on Julieta, next week they're knocking out the Hong Kong action thriller Line Walker, which I'm hoping to catch on Monday if my dash from psychotherapy in Hazel Grove to the cinema in Manchester is successful. Otherwise I'll be on here on Monday evening complaining about all the presumed jump scares in Don't Breathe instead, judging by the fucking trailer I saw for it before Morgan the other day. I'm sure you'll be GLUED to your screens awaiting the outcome of this, GLUED I tell you.
Of course, the stupid thing about all this above is that it's not like (The) Tunnel is some kind of obscure arthouse offering or anything. It's a pretty universal disaster tale as a tunnel collapses on Jung-woo Ha's car on his way home and he ends up trapped in there for over a month. You only have to look at the fact that it's got three of Korea's biggest and best actors in the lead roles - Ha, Doona Bae and Dal-su Oh - to see that this was very much set up as a crowd-pleasing Korean multiplex pleaser itself.
And as such things go, it's extremely enjoyable. There are very few surprises in it and the one big twist is also pretty obvious, and it does have its stupid or unexplained moments that these kinds of films always seem to hope that they will get away with. At the same time, it doesn't dwell that much on the usual cliches, instead just paying them passing attention and mostly focusing on Ha's seemingly hopeless plight and the increasingly desperate efforts of Oh to persuade the authorities that all of the resources being pumped into saving one man are completely justified.
Directed Seong-hun Kim, presumably now on Korea's A-list after this and his successful debut A Hard Day, places lots of things on the surface but doesn't get too much into the details of all of them. Stuff like media satire, governmental incompetence and familial complications are all here but they're not dwelt on too much. We all know that the media are bastards in this sort of situation, he doesn't feel the need to wave that in our faces too much.
Oh's character is certainly the best thing in this film. Starting out as the manual-reciting leader of the rescue operation (the bit where he yells at an underling because an ideal rescue manual hasn't been translated from English yet is superb), it's great watching him become more and more 'human' as the days wear on and he realises that everything he's been taught and read is almost useless when a mountainside collapses on an incompetently assembled road tunnel.
Ha, who was absolutely superb in the little seen terrorist thriller The Terror Live, doesn't start all that strongly here but grows into the film really well - especially when Kim starts filling it with moments of occasionally very silly humour. His reaction to Ha trying to sympathise with his plight by informing him that he also drunk his own urine out of solidarity is golden, as it is when a dog runs off with the only food that he has to eat down there - a birthday cake he was taking home to his daughter. The bit with the army of drones venturing into the tunnel is hilarious as well.
I think where (The) Tunnel works best though is regarding how much (or how little) Kim shows us of Ha's surroundings. We see as little as he does, adding to the claustrophobia - and believe me, if you're not good with that sort of thing, you may struggle with this film. I don't know if that's a trigger warning or something but there you go. It's also outstanding in not getting too deep into 'moral conundrums'. Ha, for a short while, has to share what little he has with another survivor, but thankfully doesn't go down the tiresome route of him having to eat her or her dog. Kim fills this film with more than enough to keep you occupied without having to resort to that.
It does falter in a couple of places, such as why Oh doesn't descend into a drill-hole earlier to try and hear if Ha is still alive and also regarding the aforementioned obvious twist. It's also a bit non-committal on just how he survives that long on a bit of birthday cake and a few dog biscuits. But this is a well made and really enjoyable survival thriller, extremely well acted and well worth tracking down.
Or you can wait for the utterly inevitable Hollywood remake in 2018, your choice.