Oh Dal-su

Tunnel (2016, Kim Seong-hun)

Tunnel is a small scale disaster movie. It’s also not. It’s about a small scale response to a big disaster. Writer and director Kim takes some time introduce threads about craven reporters, craven government officials, craven capitalists, but most of the movie is lead Ha Jung-woo stuck in a tunnel. The first ninety minutes of the movie move real, real fast. Ha’s stuck in his car in a collapsed vehicular tunnel; it’s 2016 so he’s got a cellphone with some reception and he’s got some water so it’s mostly an unpleasant camping experience for the first act.

Then Kim starts introducing more drama, more tension. There’s the initial terrifying experience–a tunnel collapsing as Ha drives through–but the film quickly finds a rhythm. The cellphone helps; it lets Ha talk to wife Bae Doo-na and rescue chief Oh Dal-su. Because Tunnel’s not an actor’s film. Ha’s role is good, but he doesn’t have any amazing “man stranded under 200 kilometers of mountain” scenes. Kim’s more interested in keeping Tunnel moving, keeping it surprising in its relatively limited narrative space. Kim has some texture scenes in the second act, but the action never goes too far from the tunnel.

Bae does eventually get some great scenes. She never gets to take over the movie though. Kim’s direction, with a handful of character moments, is all about the drama, all about the gimmick. Man trapped in tunnel. And he does an excellent job with it. There’s enough tension inherent in the narrative itself, going down a rabbit hole with Ha or Bae is just going to distract. Instead, there are those great character moments and there’s also a lot gentle symbolism. Kim’s got to engage the audience’s sympathy quickly but he doesn’t want to be cheap about it. Tunnel’s deliberate pace, which gets positively exhausting in the third act, is one of Kim’s best contributions to the narrative. His direction of his script is spot-on.

But all of his direction is spot-on. Tunnel’s not sensational enough to push the limits of disaster movie (it’s anti-sensational) and it’s not introspective enough to be a character study. It’s an effects-filled, restrained disaster thriller.

Great photography from Kim Tae-Sung, especially fantastic editing from Kim Chang-ju. Director Kim makes a conscious choice to abandon Ha in the tunnel occasionally, even when his narrative might apparently be more compelling then the subplots; the pacing of everything has to be just right. And Kim Chang-ju’s editing makes it happen. There’s not just audience expectation, there’s the characters’ expectations too. The tension is insoluble, but still reasonably gentle.

Oh has a great time as the rescue chief. He doesn’t exactly get to be comic relief, but he gets closer than anyone else. But he’s also got to be the audience’s objective viewpoint. He’s got to be reliable. For both audience and characters. It’s kind of serious, kind of not. Oh excels at it.

And Bae is phenomenal towards the end of the picture. She sort of takes the protagonist role–as much as Tunnel has one–from Ha.

Good support from Nam Ji-hyun.

Maybe Tunnel could’ve gone further, but Kim’s ambitions are confidently realized where it goes. It’s just a thriller after all. We can’t always be worried about tunnels coming down….

Can we?



Written and directed by Kim Seong-hun; director of photography, Kim Tae-Sung; edited by Kim Kim Chang-ju; music by Mok Young-Jin; production designer, Lee Hwo-Kyoung; produced by Billy Acumen and Lee Taek-dong; released by Showbox.

Starring Ha Jung-woo (Lee Jung-soo), Bae Doo-na (Se-hyun), Oh Dal-su (Dae-kyung), and Nam Ji-hyun (Mi-na).

The Thieves (2012, Choi Dong-hoon)

The Thieves doesn’t try to redefine the heist genre. Instead, it shows the genre’s possibilities. The film has the traditional flashbacks, double crosses, triple crosses and so on, but it also brings a tenderness. And it’s a sincere tenderness; the film resonates because of its characters, not its spectacles. However, director Choi does everything he can to make the film viewing experience spectacular. When the film achieves its singular successes, it’s because how of he mixes the ingredients.

There are a lot of characters in the film. Ten thieves and some (mostly) comic relief supporting cast. Choi opens establishing the Korean thieves–they team up with a Chinese crew for the heist–before moving into the film’s central heist. And it’s a central sequence. The Thieves is a never boring 136 minutes and the heist sequences come relatively early. Once it’s done, Choi then moves into the film’s most surprising turn. It becomes an urban adventure thriller. There’s some astounding sequences, which shouldn’t work because of tone, but Choi and his actors bind the everything together seamlessly.

There are showy performances–Kim Yun-seok, Lee Jung-jae and especially Oh Dal-su–and there are quiet performances– Kim Hye-su, Kim Soo-hyun and Simon Yam–and there are quiet performances masquerading as showy ones–Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Hae-suk. They quietly collide and create wonderful energy.

The Thieves isn’t perfect–Choi never finds the right way to end it–but it’s excellent and a lot of fun.



Directed by Choi Dong-hoon; written by Choi and Lee Gi-cheol; director of photography, Choi Yeong-hwan; edited by Shin Min-kyung; music by Jang Young-gyu; produced by Ahn Soo-hyun; released by Showbox.

Starring Kim Yun-seok (Macau Park), Lee Jung-jae (Popeye), Kim Hye-su (Pepsi), Jun Ji-hyun (Yanicall), Kim Hae-suk (Chewing Gum), Oh Dal-su (Andrew), Kim Soo-hyun (Jampano), Simon Yam (Chen), Angelica Lee (Julie), Tsang Kwok Cheung (Johnny), Ju Jin-mo (the chief inspector), Choi Deok-mun (the casino manager), Yee Soo-jung (Tiffany) and Shin Ha-kyun (the art gallery director).

Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook)

Thanks to Joint Security Area, I was leery of Oldboy going in. While Park Chan-wook has a large fan base, all JSA did was convince me they weren’t seeing the same movie. Finally, after Oldboy, I can understand why he has the fan base… and it’s unfortunate.

Park had his big revelation ending to Joint Security Area and it felt inorganic. Oldboy‘s big end reveal sequence does feel organic, but it also feels incredibly manipulative. It’s sensationalist–evidenced by the intentional lack of resolution to it. It’s an either way ending–maybe from the source manga–but also maybe to appeal to that now popular sentiment of an ending like Oldboy‘s being cool because it’s ambiguous. What Park does in Oldboy is deceive the viewer for the film’s entirety, then pat himself on the back at the end. It’s a safe, immature ending. There’s an analog to a John Sayles film–I can’t reveal which one because it’d give away Oldboy‘s conclusion–but the two are world’s apart. Sayles works through the sensationalism to the human reality of the situation and tries to reconcile. Park just tries to be cool. Guess who’s a more popular filmmaker (and guess who’s a better one)?

But what’s strange about Oldboy–I checked with a friend, who said it was in the three to four range… and it was until the Seven slash Unbreakable ending–is Park’s great direction. With the early exception of a very standard umbrellas from above (another Seven reference), Park’s Panavision direction is fantastic. There’s a long fight scene, panning across it, and it’s a wonderful use of the frame. Park’s panning, actually–there’s a lot of it–is maybe the best panning I’ve seen. He does it for tone, he does it for effect, he does it for action. Even at the end, as the film’s crumbling, he’s got this great digital composite shot. It’s a little too clean looking; still excellent.

The music–by Jo Yeong-wook–is an essential component. More than any of the other technical aspects (the editing is good, but the cinematography, while competent, lacks any personality), the music makes Oldboy. The music has a lot to do–combined, it and Choi Min-sik’s voiceover narration (present tense, which is a little odd, but given the film’s manga roots, not surprising), make up the majority of Oldboy‘s exposition. It works–a little awkwardly, a little painfully hip at times–but it does work.

So, in reality, not many of the film’s actors have a lot of acting to do. Choi gives a fantastic physical performance, but it’s physical to the point of a Buster Keaton performance… without the close-ups. He gets to define his character through the voiceovers. Kang Hye-jeong’s character’s allegiances and motivations are in constant question, so she never gets to flesh out her role. She does a fine enough job, but Park doesn’t really ask her to do anything except be sweet and vulnerable. The real stellar performance is from Yu Ji-tae, who gets to run off with the film after a certain point. Park visibly realizes Choi’s character is ruined–in terms of giving Choi anything interesting to do–after the big reveal, whereas Yu gets to become the best Bond villain ever.

While the film does appeal in its shock value trendiness to American audiences, Oldboy is definitely a reaction to the Korean film. Much of it feels like an intentional comment on the Korean romantic drama, only distorted and cynically packaged. As for the originality… again, I’m afraid a glib comparison would reveal the ending… it’s impossible, for me, right now, to know what Park took from the manga and left.

Oldboy‘s very much about watching Choi’s quest. But his quest is very much a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, in the original sense, and it’s a fairy tale without a reward at the end, which always seems to be the thing filmmakers don’t want to acknowledge the form, by definition, requires.



Directed by Park Chan-wook; written by Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Joon-hyung and Park, based on a story by Tsuchiya Garon and the manga by Minegishi Nobuaki; director of photography, Jeong Jgeong-hun; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Jo Yeong-wook; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Kim Dong-ju; released by Show East.

Starring Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yu Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin), Kang Hye-jeong (Mi-do), Ji Dae-han (No Joo-hwan), Oh Dal-su (Park Cheol-woong), Kim Byeong-ok (Mr. Han), Lee Seung-Shin (Yoo Hyung-ja) and Yun Jin-seo (Lee Soo-ah).

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