TV Review: Tunnel (Spoilers!)

Sometimes, getting into a drama takes precise timing, and I think that most tv show watching veterans, and especially Korean drama watching veterans will attest to this. It took me THREE attempts to watch “Tunnel”, with one attempt getting me as far as four episodes, but it was only now that I was able to finally pick it up and finally watch the drama in its entirety, and I am so glad that I did. Although it has a time traveling element to it that might remind someone of tvN’s 2016 “Signal” “Tunnel” is very much its own thing, with one major case spanning decades, and the story of a dutiful detective and husband who will everything that he can do the right way in order to give the victims and their families some piece of mind and to go home to his loving family.

OCN’s “Tunnel” ran for sixteen one hour plus episodes from March 25 to May 21, 2017. Before “Voice 2” came along this year, this show broke the record for OCN for its highest ever rated drama. It was written by Lee Eun Mi; and was directed by Shin Yong Hwi (“Hide and Seek”, “Cross”, “Bad Guys”, “Gap Dong”), Kim Kyung Chul, Kim Sung Min and Nam Ki Hoon (“The Beauty Inside”).

Tunnel Poster
Image Source: OCN

“Tunnel” follows one major case that spanned across time for thirty years, and those who were affected by it. While investigating a series of seemingly related  murders of women in skirts in Hwayang, Detective Park Kwang Ho (Choi Jin Hyuk) mysteriously disappears through a tunnel in 1986 and somehow reemerges in Hwayang in 2016. While in the present, he ends up teaming up with Jeon Sung Sik (Jo Hee Bong), an  old friend; Kim Sun Jae (Yoon Hyun Min), a serious but elite detective whose past is connected to Kwang Ho’s and the murders in the ’80s; and Shin Jae Yi (Lee Yoo Young), a brilliant criminologist with a mysterious past. Together, they try to solve the unsolved murders after another killing spree begins with the same modus operandi, and work together to get Kwang Ho back home to his loving wife, Shin Yeon Sook (Lee Shi Ah), in the past.

In terms of story pacing, I was surprised at how tight the story was. It’s down beats were well placed to give us some breathing room and much needed character moments, the there were nod details or moments that were left to waste, the cliffhangers were superb, and when the plot started picking up the pace it flew by fast enough that viewers could still catch up to it. The direction and writing were excellent, and was really good at character development, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats, and making us feel so much for these characters and what they’ve all been through.

The character development of our main trio was just beautiful, and in particular, the development of the character’s of Sun Jae and Jae Yi were done well. I liked the fact that the changes in them weren’t too drastic, but a natural progression of everything they experienced during the case they were solving, and they did it in such a natural manner. The dynamics between the main trio as a team and in pairs were great as well, and even though there were some subtle shifts in that dynamic during the course of the drama, the characters stayed true and consistent.

Kwang Ho in the past
Choi Jin Hyuk as Detective Park Kwang Ho Image Source: OCN
Sun Jae 3
Yoon Hyun Min as Lieutenant Kim Sun Jae Image Source: OCN
Jae Yi OCN Site
Lee Yoo Young as Shin Jae Yi Image Source: OCN

Choi Jin Hyuk, Yoon Hyun Min and Lee Yoo Young definitely delivered great performances in making these characters come to life on the small screen.

I also liked the fact that we got enough screen time with the secondary characters as well. By the end of the show, we also felt and cared very much for Serious Crimes Unit 1, which not only consisted of Kwang Ho and Sun Jae, but Sung Sik, Song Min Ha (Kang Ki Young), and Kwak Tae Hee (Kim Byung Cheol), as well.

Min Ha and Tae Hee OCN Site
Kang Ki Young as Detective Song Min Ha and Kim Byung Cheol as Detective Kwak Tae Hee Image Source: OCN

I also liked the fact that the show put more importance on how important it is for the victims and their families to get closure and justice for the crimes they were affected by, and how it also affected them as well, more than diving into the psyche of a killer.

As I mentioned earlier, it did take me three attempts to watch this show, but that was only because I wasn’t in the right disposition to watch it then, and finally, third time definitely was the charm, and I’m so glad that I finished it through and through. It’s definitely a great watch that balanced out great character development, humor, emotions, mystery and heart, making it one of the best well made Korean dramas, in my opinion, in 2017.

Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!

Spoiler Warning

As as I mentioned earlier, I loved the main plot of the story and how tight it was, especially as it left no detail out, and managed to make everything connect and make it somehow work, from the smallest details to the time traveling tunnel.

I also didn’t mind that that we didn’t really get a full explanation of how and why the tunnel worked only for that one time and only with Kwang Ho, but I’m guessing that the universe made it so because of the sheer strength of will that he had to truly solve this case and right many wrongs. I also enjoyed the fact that we didn’t time travel just once or twice, but SEVERAL times. I also liked how they showed that our villain, Mok Jin Woo (Kim Min Sang) and Jae Yi both started having different memories even if Kwang Ho was back there for only a short while.

To be honest, when I first tried watching the drama, while I was pulled in by the premise, I wasn’t in the right disposition for it, and I found the whole love story between Kwang Ho and Yeon Sook to be a bit too long. However, now that I’ve watched it in its entirety, their love story is very essential to the entire plot.

The way that they executed the main plot with the main mystery, and with our two killers was great, and although, in the end, they were what you do expect out of them, the whole cat and mouse game was fun to watch, and the show’s plot twists regarding them were great. I never expected the killer that Sun Jae was after, Jung Ho Young (Heo Sung Tae) to have been just a witness to the original 1985-86 murders, and I still enjoyed delving into what made Jin Woo the way he is, although it was nothing special. As mentioned earlier as well, I liked how they really put emphasis on getting closure for those affected by what happened, and seeing the team tell the victims’ families that Mok Jin Woo had been put away for good was touching and very emotional. Also, in a way, Kwang Ho and especially Sun Jae had a different perspective regarding the matter as they have been profoundly affected by the murders.

88 Kwang Ho OCN Site
VIXX’s N as the young Park Kwang Ho Image Source: OCN

Aside from attention to detail, and the ability to move from suspense to emotional in one episode, I loved how the writers were able to make sure that the young Park Kwang Ho’s (VIXX’s N) presence was felt all throughout the drama, even if he wasn’t physically there. I just loved how he was just as tenacious and intuitive as our Kwang Ho to notice that something wasn’t right with Jin Woo, and started going after him after he realized that he may have been the cause of the death of some elderly people. I bet that if he dug harder, he would have realized that Jin Woo was the murderer in the 80s. And it was pretty touching that our Kwang Ho was the one who put the young Kwang Ho’s remains with his late grandmother.

Kwang Ho Tunnel
Kwang Ho in the tunnel. Image Source: OCN
Kwang Ho 2
Kwang Ho doing what he does best. Image Source: OCN

At first, I couldn’t really warm up to Kwang Ho’s character, as he was the typical gruff but tenacious kind of detective who is a complete marshmallow in the inside. However, after watching the show, Kwang Ho is very much a product of his generation, and that was very much seen in the show. In the present, he acted like our parents would, with them being used to the ease and convenience of technology, but rely on advice, experiences, values and techniques that were more prevalent during their time. This was seen especially when Kwang Ho would deal with Jae Yi, which made it feel like they were father and daughter, even before they realized who they were to each other. I liked that he could prove that old school methods still work despite the advent of technology, and that at his core, he never really changed but was consistently the same loving, yet dedicated detective he is. He is a man of duty who puts his family and doing the right thing above everything else, but allows people to enter into his little circle as well.

As mentioned earlier, more than Kwang Ho, it was Sun Jae and Jae Yi that went through more of a journey throughout the show.

Sun Jae
Sun Jae at work. Image Source: OCN

Sun Jae went from a prickly lone wolf burdened by his mother’s unsolved murder, to a team player who can finally let others in, and in the process, finally heal. It was only a matter of time before Sun Jae discovered the truth about Kwang Ho and Kwang Ho about Sun Jae, and I loved that moment that they were finally on the same page. When that happened, they became a more effective as a pair, while understanding each other through and through. I also loved how their partnership is a weird one- an epic bromance, yet Kwang Ho disapproves of Sun Jae dating his daughter, Jae Yi. Aside from Kwang Ho, letting Jae Yi into his life allowed him to heal better rather than just lash out at the world in anger as he usually does. His growth was really telling after he became devastated after realizing that his number one blind spot, his mentor, Jin Woo, is the murderer he’s been after all this time. However, despite this, he allowed himself to cry, and went to Jae Yi instead of brooding about it. I also like the fact that having Kwang Ho in his life made him understand his own father more, that there was nothing really that could be done at that time.

Tunnel Bromance OCN Site
An epic bromance, and the best partners ever. Image Source: OCN
Jae Yi 3
Jae Yi/Yeon Ho, blooming while spending some quality time with her father. Image Source: OCN

Jae Yi or Yeon Ho, on the other hand, went from an eccentric professor with a mysterious past, one that she has been blocking for many years; to a still eccentric professor who knows that she’s loved, and someone who is more sure of herself. Having Kwang Ho come into her life at that moment was really the key for her starting to remember her childhood, and allowing her to finally discover who she really is. She started to bloom when she started letting Sun Jae into her life, and even more so after finding closure with her past, and spending time with her father in the present. That scene in which they realized that they knew who they were to each other was quite touching, and the shift in dynamic played out wonderfully naturally. I also like the fact that along the way, Jae Yi’s reason for being a criminologist changed and became better. In the beginning, it felt like she became one as she also didn’t know who she was, but know, as her father reminded her, she now does it because doing this helps save lives. I also love that she’s as kind and as caring as her mother, but has the keen intuition and stubbornness of her father.

Main Trio
Our main trio, in front of the tunnel once again. Image Source: OCN

However, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the powerful performances of the entire cast.

Now, about the ending. I really like how they finished things off, with Kwang Ho back in the ’80s, and with that time jump to 1988. There, he still talked about his journey to the present, got back Sung Sik as his partner, had Jin Woo jailed thanks to the fact that he had managed to convince the only survivor to testify against him, and was reunited with Yeon Sook and his daughter. Even better, a young, happier looking Sun Jae often visits them, dispelling my fears that Jae Yi/Yeon Ho and Sun Jae wouldn’t get together in this new future of theirs. However, the cherry on top has to be the fact that the young Kwang Ho who was taken from us earlier on in the series, was named Kwang Ho because our Kwang Ho helped his mother get to the hospital when she prematurely went into labor with him. I’m pretty sure this Kwang Ho will grow up to be a great detective just like his name sake.

Spoiler Ending for Tunnel 1
A Happy Ending at Long Last for Kwang Ho Image Source: OCN
Happy Endings 2
Kwang Ho’s family–baby Yeon Ho (Jae Yi),, Kwang Ho’s loving wife, Yeon Sook, and a young & happy Sun Jae. Image Source: OCN

I also didn’t mind that they didn’t show us the new future, as it leaves everything up to the viewers imagination, and what better way is there to end it than the peaceful smiling face of our Kwang Ho? I also didn’t think that the journey that Jae Yi and Sun Jae were all for nothing because Kwang Ho now is able to act with more foresight with regards to their bright futures.

“Tunnel” was an immense joy to watch and one that I wouldn’t mind watching again. It exceeded my expectations on all levels and gave us a great mystery story, great characters, and even greater performances in a tightly paced story. No wonder that this drama beat records for OCN in 2017, especially as I do think that it’s one of the best of the year.

Have you seen “Tunnel”? What did you like or not like about it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: OCN

 

 

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