Time travel is such a magical concept ….

Time is a strange phenomenon that understands the physics of our world, but never the chemistry of it

Vishwanath S J

Title
Tunnel  (2017) 
Also known as
 Teoneol
Genre
 Adventure, Crime, Thriller
Written by
 Lee Eun-mi
Directed by
 Shin Yong-hwi
Country of Origin
 South Korea
Episodes
16 

oh! … brief

Detective Park Hwang-ho is investigating a serial killer in 1986. During the course of the investigation, and while chasing a suspect, Detective Park Hwang-ho travels forward in time in a tunnel and enters the year 2017. In 2017, the serial killer is still killing women, but he has a copycat that confuses the investigation and leads the team of investigators on a wild goose chase. Joining forces with Detective Kim Sun-jae and Professor Shin Jae-Yi (criminal psychologist), the three slowly unravel the true identities of the serial killer and his copycat to solve the murders spanning thirty odd years.

oh! … talks drama

From the very first opening scenes, my attention was held captive. I specifically waited for all 16 episodes to be aired so I could marathon this kdrama, and, I’m so glad I did. This was an exceptional production from start to finish with few, if any, flaws.

Writer, Lee Eun-mi created a solid script with a fantastical storyline, but one that was easy to buy into and cleverly crafted. The narrative, which is tight and neatly delivered weaves the two timelines, past and present, together succinctly. To create and build tension, Lee Eun-mi also included several investigative cases ongoing on the peripheral. Also, Lee Eun-mi created a few internal dialogue stories with the leading male character (Detective Park Hwang-ho), where he had to decipher the ‘seam’ that allows him to travel between the past and present and connect the cases he worked in the past to the ones currently playing out in the present. It’s really masterful insight and provides a fully rounded and well-grounded script which the actors and director can work with.

Lee Eun-mi also used a few plot surprises – the destinies of characters from the past intertwined with their future personas. Also, the exploration of everyday life themes – love (or the lack of it where criminals are concerned), family life (or lack of it), and justice (the justice for victims of crime and the justice deranged criminal perpetrate on their victims). It’s a battle between good and evil woven throughout the production in a stimulating, exciting ride that will play with your mind and pluck at your heartstrings.

Within each of the main character’s, there is s backstory and they play out in both the past and present timelines. In particular, Professor Shin Jae-Yi and Detective Kim Sun-jae go through journeys of self-discovery while the investigation(s) play(s) out.

As with many kdrama in the same genre, the investigative team is always a few steps behind the criminals. It would have been a unique take if Lee Eun-mi had allowed the detectives to have the upper-hand at least a few times, but he stuck with the industry norms. He did, however, use a two-killer plot twist to keep the audience engaged, and the surprise of the revelation that the main serial killer was hiding in their midst, visible and in plain sight and they overlooked him almost entirely was clever. It’s also a stark reminder that criminals live among us, they could be your neighbour, your husband, the man who serves you coffee each morning. In spite of predictable criminals being one step ahead of the justice system, the script has enough twists and turns, especially the hard job of deciphering the identity of the main serial killer. The difference between the two criminals is as vast as it is small and Lee Eun-mi delves into the complexities of the two mastermind criminals and exposes raw truths behind their sociopathic and psychotic behaviours.

I must applaud writer Lee Eun-mi for creating a script with lots of research, insight and masterful plays. The story, which while fantastical was addictive and keep me entertained and invested in watching to the final climax.

Whenever I watch a production, whether film or drama, I look to the camerawork that heightens the emotional impact for me. I want the director to take the script and translate the story into a visual creation, which is more than just directing the acting and the delivery of lines. For this production, the director, Shin Yong-hwi, planned the camera work meticulously and did a stellar job!

Set design, scene set-up, cinematography, and acting direction was exceptional! This is by far one of the most compelling unconventional criminal kdramas available and it is all thanks to the exceptional script which was developed with an astute direction under Shin Yong-hwi.

Scene-by-scene the story unfolded and captured the essence of the thematic elements at hand which contributed to the dramas distinctive character and identity. From wide landscape shots to close ups and how the lighting was used to illuminate the faces of the characters, this director used every skill when directing the camera work. There are several scenes where double exposure is used, for example, reflections on a window.

The cameras captured the aesthetics but also communicated the story by establishing settings and keeping the scenes neatly tied together to create a spatial sense in tandem with all the other elements of the script – dialogue, set (indoor and outdoor) and costume design. The visual rhetoric (framing, colouring, lighting, perspective, movement, and duration) made this production work, as much as the storytelling did. I was immersed!

Shin Yong-hwi’s careful consideration of wide-shots and close-ups created and released tension between characters in the story. The use of colour and sometimes murky tones helped set the tone. Creative camera movements and visual compositions depicted information efficiently and revealed elements of the characters. All these cinematographical elements helped the storytelling. All of them contributed to a visually stunning production even as the story was macabre!

The costumes designed for both past timeline and present-day timeline were not only accurate but tastefully crafted to enhance the authenticity of the story. No detail was overlooked from accessories to everyday items, e.g. watches, phones, clothing styles, hairstyles etc. These details helped create the contrast between past and present but also allowed the audience to understand the difficulty and frustration felt by Detective Park Hwang-ho. It added a genuine feel and was a nice touch.

The musical component of the production included the title song, Circle of Life by the accomplished JK Kim Dong Wook who I just admire for his ability to write and create exceptional soundtracks for kdramas. The song itself blends elements of contemporary music with the husky voice and lyrics. But, the title song is not the only musical element incorporated into the production, there are some musical accompanying pieces for chase scenes and background pieces that accompany some of the more tender moments. I can’t wait for the soundtrack to be fully available online for download on Spotify.

Lastly, the cast for this production was impressive. There is not a single character that was miscast and I cannot even imagine anyone else in the leads, they were wisely chosen and they brought their all to their performances.

Detective Park Hwang-ho, the protagonist and amazing all-around kick-ass super hero for this production was played by Choi Jin-Hyuk. Those eyes, that engaging smile, the furrowed brow, the clean-shaven face. Okay, enough gushing. He certainly brought the ‘beautiful’ element to the production! But besides his obvious good looks, the man can act! And he so skilled at his art, he reminded me of my favourite actor. I didn’t feel like I was watching a performance, I felt like I was watching a life story unfold before my very eyes. He was that good! Choi Jin-Hyuk interpreted and delivered the various aspects of his character – determined detective, adoring husband, protective father, and contentious partner. He used his eyes to express emotion and his brow to communicate his inner dialogue. He was mesmerising to watch and not just because he’s such a good-looking man, but because he became his character. He embodied the life of the man he was cast to perform and there was not a single flaw in his delivery!

Yoon Hyun-Min has always been an actor I’ve wanted to see break out and give a performance his all and he certainly did that here! Cast as Detective Kim Sun-jae, a man with a mission and a one-track mind, his performance was the best I’ve seen from him so far. Another handsome man, indeed, and one who I’ve never quite favoured for his acting, but he set me straight with this production. His delivery of his character’s cool, calm, collected exterior contrasted so well with Choi Jin-Hyuk delivery of his characters laid back, relaxed, cunning attitudes. The two shared great chemistry throughout and while it isn’t a ‘bromance’ in the typical kdrama sense, it was a tense but then cooperative coming together of like-minded individuals on the same mission with the same desired outcome top of mind. Would you call that bromance? I digress, Yoon Huyn-Min has a renewed appreciation from me.

Professor Shin Jae-Yi was played by Lee Yoo-Young, a new comer to the South Korean film and drama industry. I believe if I’m not mistaken this is her first ever performance in a kdrama, although she has had roles in a few movies since 2014. And wow! Lee Yoo-Young was mind-blowingly good in her depiction of Professor Shin Jae-Yi. The flat and mostly expressionless demeanour was an insightful interpretation of a young woman with a traumatic past. The performance was flawless!

The detective team of the present-day storyline included amazing performances by Jo Hee-Bong (playing Jeon Sung-Sik), Kim Byung-Chul (playing Kwak Tae-Hee) and Kang Ki-Young (playing Song Min-ha).

Jo Hee-Bong has had a prolific career as a supporting actor since he first entered the industry in 1997 and is fast becoming one of my favourite supporting actors. In this production, he delivered a strong performance and the chemistry he shared with Choi Jin-Hyuk and all the members of his team were exceptional. The character Jeon Sung-Sik is the only character from the ‘past’ and one that was personally involved with Detective Park Hwang-ho and so they share a great camaraderie in the present-day timeline. Jo Hee-Bong used his skill in his performance, emoting well with the right facial expressions and body language. He was funny and serious, and everything in between.

Kim Byung-Chul, another of my favourite supporting actors was amazing in this production. His character, Detective Kwak Tae-Hee was written hilarious lines which made for humour and comic relief. And he delivered them perfectly. Of the supporting acts, this was one of the strongest. He’s not hard on the eyes either, in this sort of earthy guy-next-door kind of way. Watch for his performance and his snarky lines, he’s so good at being witty.

Kang Ki-Young was my favourite supporting actor. He just brought a lightness to the production and his performance was as strong as the others on the investigative team. I could have sworn I had seen him in something previously, but looking at the film and drama he’s been involved in, I haven’t yet seen him in anything else. I will though! As Song Min-Ha, the youngest and cutest member of the team, he interpreted his character’s youth and painted a strong picture of a young guy making his way on his team and using his skills to help the investigations. The camaraderie between Kang Ki-Young’s character and Kim Byung-Chul was excellent. They fed off each other and had their own little bromance thing going on. And it worked for this production!

Mok Jin-Woo, the main serial killer for this production was played by Kim Min-Sang and is my first exposure to this actor. His performance was brilliant as was his interpretation of his characters’ idiosyncrasies and foibles. He gave a calculated performance of psychotic brilliance and stayed strong in character. Of course, because he was the villain of the production, he wasn’t a likeable man, even though he had originally a strong friendship with Detective Kim Sun-jae. Almost like a mentor. He came across as creepy, even when he was being ‘nice’ and the audience wasn’t aware of what he really was. I had him pegged early on but wasn’t 100% sure. It was an excellent performance and an astute interpretation by Kim Min-Sang.

oh! … sidekicks

There were literally 20 or 30 supporting actors and actresses to chose from because of all the side cases in the production and they ALL gave strong performances. There was nothing to critique in the acting at all, not one person failed to deliver, and that speaks volumes to the mastery of the script and the director.

I would like to mention one who I especially appreciated for the overall atmosphere she helped create through her character. or two, however.

Detective Park Hwang-ho’s wife, Shin Yeon-Sook was played by Lee Shi-A. I really enjoyed her very understated performance. Lee Shi-A, a relative newcomer to the kdrama industry, had incredible insight and delivered a genteel performance as the wife of a detective. The gentility, in the midst of the horror, was refreshing and the serene moments shared between husband and wife, or wife and daughter were a stark contrast to the lacking lives of the criminals. I adored this performance. Looking forward to watching other productions she is in.

oh! … that’s a wrap

When all the elements of a production – script, directing, camera work and cinematography, set and costume design, and acting combined, they created one of the best crime dramas I have seen to date. Yes, the drama is targeted at a very specific audience, but this was such an exceptional production I believe many kdrama fans will enjoy it.

People who ordinarily enjoy crime thrillers, in particular, ones that feature sociopaths or psychopaths will get a kick on this new spin.

This production has high re-watch value too so I’ll be adding it to my growing collection and of course, highly recommend it.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

 

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