Tunnel: Episode 1
OCN’s newest thriller focuses on an old school detective from 1985, before the advent of modern technology. Even though cases took more time to solve in those days, Detective Park Kwang-ho proves to have a quick and modern mind. He struggles to overcome preconceived ideas about criminals, certain that he and his colleagues are faced with something that they’ve never encountered, and this drama slowly turns up the intensity as it introduces an unnerving case.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man chases a figure in a hooded black jacket through a tunnel. He loses his subject in the darkness, only to be grabbed from behind and hit on the head. On the ground, he thinks, “The culprit that I wanted to catch for so long is right in front of me. I, Park Kwang-ho, have worked as a homicide detective for ten years. I will follow him until I catch him.”
It’s 1985, and the same PARK KWANG-HO (Choi Jin-hyuk) pursues a cow thief with the help of two colleagues. The thief runs through a field before falling into a mud puddle. Kwang-ho finds him scrambling in terror and unable to speak intelligibly, since he’s been shocked at an unexpected discovery of a young woman’s corpse bound by her hands and feet.
At Hwayang-dong Police Station, Kwang-ho scolds a reporter over the phone for publishing a photo of the body. He stands up, surprised to find his two colleagues waiting with a spray bottle and a comb.
Despite Kwang-ho’s protests, the two men get him ready for a blind date with SHIN YEON-SOOK (Lee Shi-ah). The older policeman insists that Kwang-ho keep the date, which he is already late for.
At a nearby coffee shop, Kwang-ho sits nervously across from Yeon-sook. When the delivery girl walks in, the hostess nods toward his table, so she sits next to Kwang-ho to ask why he’s so dressed up. He sends her away, explaining to his date that the delivery girl is like a sister to him.
Kwang-ho smiles as he follows Yeon-sook down a narrow street. A truck passes too closely, and Kwang-ho pulls her to safety, surprising Yeon-sook when he forgets to release her hand. He notices that her hands are cold, while she finds his warm. Kwang-ho tells Yeon-sook that he has a warm heart before boldly asking if he can hold her hand.
Kwang-ho sits at his desk, clearly besotted. With everyone busy, he slides under his desk with his giant rotary phone, unaware that the chief noticed. He calls Yeon-sook at work, but she asks if he’s the same Park Kwang-ho who held her hand on a first date and never called back.
Kwang-ho apologizes, blaming his job for keeping him busy before he asks if she’s free that day. The chief startles him, wanting to know if he’s calling Yeon-sook, which causes Kwang-ho to drop the phone (even though the chief encourages him to call her). Yeon-sook hangs up before he recovers, so he thinks that she’s calling back when his phone rings, only to be surprised by some unexpected news.
Kwang-ho’s team stands over another woman’s body, this time near a river bank, bound like the victim from two weeks earlier. Policemen hold back reporters while detectives work the scene. Struggling with nausea, Kwang-ho’s junior team member verifies that the body wasn’t there the day before.
During a lunch break at the station, a familiar reporter walks in. The detectives pause uncomfortably when he notes, “I heard another woman in a skirt died,” surmising that they were killed by the same person.
The detectives dismiss the reporter’s theory, calling him a storyteller. Thinking Kwang-ho dense, REPORTER OH wonders how anyone could like him as he informs him that someone named Yeon-sook is waiting outside.
Kwang-ho runs out, surprised when Yeon-sook tells him, “You seemed to be missing me, so I came to show you my face.” She asks, “The blinking. It was you, right?”
Kwang-ho remembers sitting outside of the shop where Yeon-sook works, holding a large flashlight as he asked, “Is Yeon-sook thinking of me too? Yes, no. Yes, no.” With every yes, he would click the light on, then off for every no. The blinking brought out Yeon-sook’s boss, who yelled after Kwang-ho’s retreating figure as he accused him of playing a late night prank.
Yeon-sook admits that she agreed to a blind date because he was a detective, reasoning that if he caught bad guys, that would make him a good guy. Certain that she’s right about him, she asks if they can go on a date once he catches the criminal. Kwang-ho promises that he won’t make her wait long.
The station is full as detectives question the male acquaintances of the victim, KIM KYUN-SUN. At the end of the busy day, Kwang-ho sits in the same coffee shop where he had his blind date, this time with the chief and the young detective.
The hostess asks if the killer is still on the loose, and is unapologetic when the chief hisses at her. He wonders why CHUN-HEE hasn’t returned, but the hostess explains that her deliveries to a printing house take forever.
Frustrated by the lack of leads, Kwang-ho grabs his flashlight, explaining that he’s off to see a DR. KIM. The autopsy doctor informs Kwang-ho, yet again, that he was unable to recover any fingerprints or find any signs of rape. Kwang-ho sits down, telling himself that he has to solve the case so that he can call Yeon-sook.
Kwang-ho’s young colleague, Officer JEON SUNG-SHIK, dozes at his desk, his eyes propped open with toothpicks. The coffee shop hostess wakes him, since she’s alarmed that Chun-hee never returned.
The officer reminds the hostess that the girl has quit before. She explains that Chun-hee left her cherished bank book behind and asks the officer to search for her right away. The hostess agrees to return to the restaurant if Sung-shik will tell Kwang-ho that Chun-hee is missing.
Police vehicles descend on a crime scene in the middle of a field. Kwang-ho runs to the body, nodding when the chief asks if the victim is Chun-hee,.
The hostess runs towards them, calling Chun-hee’s name. The chief stops MADAM JUNG, who tearfully demands to know why her concerns were ignored. Consumed by guilt, Sung-shik sprints into the field while ignoring Chief Oh, who calls to him in concern.
The chief and Kwang-ho witness Dr. Kim’s examination of the body. He determines that Chun-hee was already dead by the time Madame Jung visited the station. As the doctor prepares to remove the pantyhose around her neck, Kwang-ho observes that victims Lee Jung-suk and Kim Kyung-sun were strangled the same way.
The chief refuses to consider that the women’s murders are connected, and instead orders Kyung-ho to examine Chun-hee’s delivery list. Madam Jung tearfully hands over the girl’s personal delivery book.
Kwang-ho returns to his desk to study the list, recalling Madam Jung’s complaint about deliveries made to the print shop. He sees that the shop appears frequently on Chun-hee’s list and asks Sung-shik to accompany him before noticing his empty chair.
Kwang-ho finds Sung-shik sitting outside of the station. He tearfully insists that he doesn’t deserve to be a cop, but Kwang-ho assures him that reporting Chun-hee missing earlier wouldn’t have changed anything. Kwang-ho offers Sung-shik two choices – he can help find the killer or go home to blame himself.
Sung-shik accompanies Kwang-ho to the print shop, where they learn that Chun-hee had a crush on one of the employees, a man named Mr. Kim. An older employee explains that she would join them for noodles, estimating that she left around 7 p.m. the night that she was killed.
Kwang-ho and Sung-shik visit Chun-hee’s crime scene at 9 p.m., the estimated time of her death. The remote location suggests that someone familiar with the area took her there. The detectives are watched as they walk away from the scene, guided by Kwang-ho’s flashlight.
The chief, who we’ll come to know as CHIEF OH, hangs his head as his superior demands to know, “What were you doing while three women were getting murdered?” Chief Oh is told that he has one year to catch the killer before his boss is scheduled to leave for Seoul.
Chief Oh asks his exhausted team if they have any suspects, but they can’t even find evidence. One officer suggests that another incident may provide a clue, but the rest of the team is troubled by the thought.
A beaming Kwang-ho poses with Yeon-sook for a group photo on their wedding day. Chief Oh asks about Reporter Oh and learns that Kwang-ho didn’t invite him, since he insisted that he would ruin his happy day. Later, Kwang-ho and Yeon-sook walk arm in arm down a neighborhood street.
A jeep stops at a military post while a young woman walks along a path nearby, smiling at a newly purchased necktie, unaware that she’s being followed. She finally senses someone and hurries along before turning around, only to find herself alone on the path. When she begins to run, a figure in a hooded black jacket tackles her to the ground.
Sung-shik pounds on a gate at night, shouting for Kwang-ho. He opens the gate, and Sung-shik apologizes for interrupting his day off before informing him that there’s been another incident. Kwang-ho looks back at his concerned bride.
Kwang-ho visits the crime scene, finding the contents of the victim’s bag strewn around her. He learns that she is SEO YI-SOO, a newlywed living nearby. Kwang-ho asks if her family was notified, and gets upset when Sung-shik reports that no one answered his call. Kwang-ho volunteers to inform them himself and threatens the officer who mentioned that another incident would yield evidence if he fails to find anything.
Kwang-ho sighs at the sight of a worried-looking man standing outside with a crying baby. The man hurries to the crime scene, even though Kwang-ho urges him to stay away.
The man pulls back the sheet covering the body and falls down when he sees the victim’s face. Kwang-ho holds the baby as the man begs Yi-soo to wake up, seeing her mouth gagged with pantyhose. Sobbing, he clutches the necktie when an officer asks if he recognizes it.
In Dr. Kim’s office, Chief Oh notes that Yi-soo was strangled with pantyhose, wondering if it could be the same killer. Dr. Kim details the defensive wound on the her wrist, indicating that she fought hard to survive, clearly shaken by a culprit so determined to kill. He asks the detectives to be sure to catch the killer this time.
Reporter Oh walks into an empty station and sees Yi-soo’s dazed husband sitting alone, holding his sleeping baby. Kwang-ho and Sung-shik visit the shop where Yi-soo bought the necktie found with her body and learn that she took the bus from the stop outside.
A bus driver tells Kwang-ho that a soldier exited the bus along with Yi-soo, noting that they seemed to know one other. Kwang-ho questions the soldier, asking how his face was scratched, but he verifies that he was at a motel at the time of the murder. Later, the station is full of soldiers as the detectives conduct interviews.
Yi-soo’s husband stands in a small boat to scatter her ashes while mourners watch from the shore. Kwang-ho stands at a distance, recalling his admission to her husband that he couldn’t find her killer in spite of his promise to catch him. Yi-soo’s baby wanders towards Kwang-ho, looking directly at him.
Chief Oh stares out of the police station at the rain which soaks Kwang-ho as he walks home from the funeral. Yeon-sook walks out of their gate to find her husband sitting alone in the rain, since he’s sorry that he couldn’t tell Yi-soo’s husband that her death wasn’t his fault. She squeezes his hand as he admits to feeling helpless.
In September, 1986, six months after Yi-soo’s death, her husband waits at the police station with his son and looks up when Kwang-ho walks in. Holding the boy, Kwang-ho can see how much KIM SUN-JAE has grown before passing him to Sung-shik.
Yi-soo’s husband asks Kwang-ho for an update as he shares that he heard of other incidents. Kwang-ho assures him that even though they coincidentally took place near Yi-soo’s crime scene, the incidents are otherwise unrelated.
Kwang-ho asks the husband to stop coming to the station, but he can only apologize, explaining that it’s all that he can do. Just then, Reporter Oh walks in and gives Kwang-ho grief for not inviting him to his wedding.
Reporter Oh recognizes Yi-soo’s husband and peppers him with questions before Kwang-ho pushes him away in anger. The reporter tries to place his card in the man’s pocket, but Kwang-ho tosses it away and calls the reporter disgusting before escaping into the station.
Reporter Oh shouts that Kwang-ho can’t even catch the criminal as Yi-soo’s husband walks away. Kwang-ho’s team looks up in alarm when he punches a locker. Kwang-ho looks out the window as Yi-soo’s husband walks away with his son, vowing, “I’ll catch that jerk no matter what.”
Kwang-ho’s team investigates a new crime scene inside of a tunnel. Shining his flashlight on the body, Kwang-ho notices something unusual on the woman’s bare heel. He drops his flashlight and walks away, ignoring inquiries from Chief Oh and Sung-shik.
Kwang-ho wakes Dr. Kim to confirm that all four victims had dots on their heels and chastises him for not including the information in the autopsy report. Kwang-ho paces as Dr. Kim reviews the victims’ files as he realizes that the marks prove that they were killed by the same person. He asks if the doctor observed the marks on any other bodies, but he’s not sure and only admits that he thought it odd that anyone would get tattooed in such an unusual spot.
Kwang-ho warns the doctor to prepare for another body, one marked with six dots. Dr. Kim verifies that the victim has six dots instead of five, noting that victim one had one dot, victim two had two, and so on, meaning that the next victim should have five dots, not six.
Chief Oh reviews the victims’ files with Kwang-ho, who argues that they are dealing with the same killer. Victim #6, JIN SEON-MI, was marked with six dots, meaning that they have yet to discover Victim #5. Chief Oh orders Kwang-ho to call everyone together.
Chief Oh supervises soldiers as they search for the missing victim while Kwang-ho and Sung-shik question citizens about any missing women. They have no luck and join the search for a body. They eventually peer into a large pipe, which prompts Kwang-ho to toss his malfunctioning flashlight.
Kwang-ho returns home long enough to change clothes. Yeon-sook has packed a dinner and encourages Kwang-ho to keep up his energy. She walks with him outside, stopping to give him a gift before he leaves — a chain with a whistle.
Yeon-sook places the whistle around Kwang-ho’s neck, promising that if he uses it when he’s in danger, she will save him. Kwang-ho smiles at the thought as he tells Yeon-sook, “I’m Park Kwang-ho of the Serious Crimes Unit.”
Kwang-ho promises to take Yeon-sook on a Han River Cruise, reminding her that her birthday is approaching in January. She asks for roses, but her husband is embarrassed at the thought of buying them before agreeing to her request. He hugs Yeon-sook, sorry that she’s been alone for five days. She just asks that he come home, no matter how late. He turns back to wave at her before walking away.
In their sleeping quarters, Kwang-ho has Sung-shik mark a map with the victim’s locations, including the most recent one in Hwayang-ri Tunnel. Kwang-ho thinks there must be a pattern, as the women themselves have nothing in common other than being in their twenties. When Sung-shik keeps turning the map around, Kwang-ho wonders if he’ll succeed as a detective and calls Sung-shik’s dream to become chief impossible.
Kwang-ho studies the map at his desk, positive that the locations are significant. He decides that the killer started with places that he knew well and traveled farther when he wasn’t caught. Kwang-ho is convinced that the killer lives close to the location of the first murder and calls for Sung-shik to join him.
They question the residents on one of the neighborhood streets and happen upon a young girl crying to her older sister, worried that their dog has been killed. Kwang-ho learns that most of the neighborhood dogs have disappeared. The older sister shares that the night their dog went missing, they saw a neighbor in front of their house and points to where the high schooler lives.
Kwang-ho opens a gate to a large yard. He is surprised to find the house’s front door locked and a window covered with newspaper. He and Sung-shik walk to the backyard, observing that every window is covered with newspaper. Kwang-ho stops at the sight of a small mound of earth.
Using his bare hands, Kwang-ho unearths a plastic bag and removes his hands to find them covered in blood after checking the contents, which triggers Sung-shik’s nausea. Kwang-ho looks up as a young man in a school uniform asks, “Who are you?”
Kwang-ho questions the the student at the police station, certain that he is the killer. At the house, even after surveying the proof that he killed numerous dogs, Chief Oh refuses to accept that a high school boy could be guilty of multiple murders. Kwang-ho argues that the boy used the dogs for practice before turning to women while insisting that his age doesn’t make him incapable of murder. Kwang-ho promises to make the boy confess.
Kwang-ho returns to question the suspect, JUNG HO-YOUNG, who confesses to killing the dogs, but not any humans. Kwang-ho grabs the boy’s jacket, demanding to know why he killed the women before pushing him away. Ho-young stands up and asks, “Does there have to be a reason… to kill people?” Ho-young invites a shocked Kwang-ho to hit him, admitting that he might confess if he does.
Kwang-ho punches and kicks Ho-young before Chief Oh pulls him away, stating that the boy has an alibi for the recent murder. Kwang-ho insists that the chief is wrong: Ho-young is the killer they’ve been searching for. Ho-young smiles to himself as Chief Oh escorts him from the interrogation room.
That night, Kwang-ho leaves the station at 8:15 p.m. and pats a sleeping Sung-shik on his way out before explaining to Chief Oh that he’s going to catch the killer.
Walking alone, Kwang-ho vows, “I will never give up.” He reasons that he should discover something if he visits the scene of the most recent crime at the same time it was committed, between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m.
Kwang-ho enters the Hwayang-ri Tunnel, wondering where the missing fifth body could be. He’s distracted when his flashlight goes out before he detects the smell of cigarette smoke. A figure in a black hooded jacket lies inside the police outline where Jin Seon-mi’s body was found, holding a burning cigarette. The figure sits up and relives how he strangled Seon-mi.
Kwang-ho chases the figure, which brings us back to the beginning of the episode. When Kwang-ho is struck on the head, Yeon-sook ominously pricks her finger with a needle while the whistle that she gave Kwang-ho gets torn from his neck as he falls to the ground.
Yeon-sook picks up a newspaper advertising the Han River Cruise, smiling as she glances at the calendar marked with her birthday. Meanwhile, the killer squats next to Kwang-ho before he walks away, dropping the rock he used to hit Kwang-ho with.
As Kwang-ho’s gaze follows the suspect, his flashlight suddenly shines on the fallen whistle. Remembering Yeon-sook’s promise to find him, Kwang-ho strains to reach the whistle before passing out.
Tunnel has a decidedly slower feel than other mystery dramas, but before I knew it, I was on the edge of my seat. This drama relies on suspense, allowing the horror of the cases to snowball throughout the episode. What happens when ordinary people encounter a cold-blooded killer who lacks any emotional connection whatsoever? Clearly, the people who lived in 1986 had an expectation of human behavior that excluded someone capable of such evil, making the crimes so much more devastating.
In that sense, Kwang-ho is ahead of his time, and he was one of the first who was willing to consider that the strangulation murders were connected way before he had any evidence. His frustration and exhaustion grew with each murder, since he was unable to get Chief Oh to consider that the cases were linked to the same killer. The lack of evidence alone is a commonality that sets the murders apart. In the end, Kwang-ho discovered the killer’s mark, proving conclusively that the victims were killed by the same person, but now he must convince Chief Oh that a high school boy can be a serial killer. His chief just can’t accept the possibilities in spite of the Kwang-ho’s solid analysis and Dr. Kim’s assertions that the culprit is a killing machine.
Along with the murder mystery, we were treated to a sweet romance. How adorable was Kwang-ho as he found himself falling for Yeon-sook? While Chief Oh may be an impediment to Kwang-ho’s investigation, he obviously knew what he was doing when he encouraged his detective to keep that blind date. Kwang-ho’s face completely changes when he smiles at Yeon-sook — he looks so happy. His bride has a strength that makes her an ideal detective’s wife, since she just wants Kwang-ho to come home safely. It’s too bad that the demands of the case cheated Kwang-ho and Yeon-sook of the precious little time that they had together.
Even though this is a time travel drama, this first episode was all about Kwang-ho’s life in the past. It’s important to appreciate the life that he will be forced to leave behind to fully understand what he’ll be missing in the future. Yi-soo’s young son will be a grown man in his thirties instead of a toddler. Sung-shik will be his sunbae, but not really. Some in his circle may be gone — possibly Chief Oh, perhaps others. Instead of being ahead of his time regarding his police work, Kwang-ho will have to accept how much things have changed. But have they really? In the end, successful detective work hinges on understanding and accepting what criminals are capable of. In that regard, Kwang-ho has shown that he has what it takes to be a good detective, no matter what year it is. I only hope that there is someone in the new timeline that makes Kwang-ho smile.
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