Note to self: Under no circumstances ever get caught inside a collapsed tunnel in South Korea. According to the newly released film, Tunnel, rescue crews will take their sweet time digging me out while politicians seek vote-inducing photo ops snapped by parasitic paparazzi eager for a sordid story.
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Lee Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo) is a typical white-collar career man who sells Kia cars and spends a lot of time on his mobile phone making deals while driving. One fateful day, his patiently sweet wife (Bae Doo-na) waits at home for him and the cake he’s bringing to celebrate their daughter’s birthday.
Stopping at a gas station, while incessantly chatting on his mobile, Jung-soo’s horrified to discover the elderly attendant has filled up his tank when he’d requested only $30 worth of fuel. The old man (whose boss rushes over to apologetically explain his employee’s deafness) then tries to rectify his error by offering Jung-soo two plastic bottles of drinking water. Those two seemingly innocuous gifts will become Jung-soo’s lifeline when mere minutes later he enters a highway tunnel and it suddenly, and violently, crumbles—trapping him inside his car buried beneath mounds of dusty rubble. In just seconds, Jung-soo’s life goes from a loving husband and father driving a birthday cake to his daughter to a helpless, frightened and ensnared man.
Interestingly, in another recent South Korean disaster movie, it was also a young girl’s birthday and her insistance on seeing her mother, separated from her father, that got them trapped—on a train full of zombies. That horror film, Train to Busan, and another, The Wailing, seem to be setting a trend in South Korean cinema. All of those catastrophic movies share high production values, skilled acting talent, and scripts filled with tension and suspense, although not always believable. In the case of Tunnel, there’s little of the blood and gore featured so graphically in the other two films, although Tunnel offers something far more sinister: It’s based on a true story. However, instead of zombies and evil spirits, the monster in Tunnel is, well, a tunnel. But it’s also the bumbling bureaucracy that South Korean government has become, which director Kim Seong-hun contemptuously implies by presenting incompetent public employees and preening political leaders throughout his film.
As days crawl by, Jung-soo remains trapped in the tunnel. His two bottles of water have been drained and he’s instructed to drink his own urine. The bars on his cell phone are dangerously low from numerous calls to his wife and the rescue team leader (Oh Dal-su) who agonizes over the incident to the point of drinking his own urine in solidarity with Jung-soo. Meanwhile Jung-soo discovers an injured young woman and her dog in another vehicle; then, demonstrates great strength of character as he puts her needs before his wants.
There’s also the matter of another, nearby tunnel that work has been halted on while bumbling rescuers attempt to free Jung-soo. Any deliberate explosion at the new tunnel site would likely cause farther collapse of Hado Tunnel, where Jung-soo is buried, and deliver him an instant death sentence. But with millions of public dollars wasted while construction at the new tunnel lags and inept rescuers make one horrifying mistake after another, the country begins to wonder if one man’s life is even worth saving.
‘Tunnel’ opened August 26 at AMC Lowes Alderwood Mall 16, Lynwood; Cinemark Century, Federal Way.
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The War Brides of Japan documentary crew hits the road on September 1. Traveling to a dozen cities in California, Arizona, and Washington, they will record the stories of Japanese war brides—women who married American servicemen occupying Japan after WWII. Some interviews will include the adult children and grandchildren of war brides as well as a historian. Filming is planned for scenes at a Little Tokyo restaurant, several California Japanese gardens, an internment assembly center and a Buddhist temple.
Donation opportunities are ongoing indefinitely, and a tax-deductible contribution to help finance the film can be made any time at: fromtheheartproductions.networkforgood.com/projects/15778-documentaries-war-brides-of-japan.