[In Defense Of] Tunnel — and no, it wasn’t another Signal
by Guest Beanie
(Some spoilers ahoy, if you’ve yet to watch it.)
After thoroughly enjoying the brilliant piece of work that was 2016’s Signal, I was unsure about wanting to start on Tunnel, OCN’s version of a time-traveling detective drama. My uncertainty was not an isolated case — in fact, comparisons were so quickly raised between the two shows that reporters at Tunnel’s press conference even questioned the show’s PD and actors about potential similarities. This also raised a slight buzz among K-netizens, who seemed to favor tvN’s award-winning drama, and a highly rated one at that.
Welp. The cast and crew of Tunnel certainly had their work cut out for them at the get-go. But despite the initial ambiguity surrounding the show, I knew it was only a matter of time before my crime-show-lovin’ curiosity would be piqued. And after finishing the drama, I must say that the cast and crew worked really hard to hold their own amidst the comparisons — and it paid off.
I’m not sure how often one can describe characters in crime dramas as being endearing, but that was how Tunnel’s made themselves to be at times — with most of it hinging on Kwang-ho. We’re already drawn into his story in the first episode — a tough-talking detective from the ’80s with a strong sense of justice and determination to right the wrongs of the world — and a soft spot for his wife, Yeon-sook (it also helped that Choi Jin-hyuk is adorbs when he acts lovesick).
And when he suddenly became unceremoniously separated from his present to enter into a strange future, it would have been hard to not empathize with his confusion, anguish, and desperation to return to the past. Talk about a forced long-distance relationship. Not an episode would go by after without hearing Yeon-sook’s name mentioned at least once (or twice, or more), or having Kwang-ho pause in the middle of his present-future day to think of her. Seeing how besotted the both of them were for each other in the earlier episodes made my heart go out to Kwang-ho each time he pined for her.
Yet, despite the pains of separation, Kwang-ho maneuvered his way through his present-future with his typical masculine brashness, with a hint of fatherliness — perhaps, a precursor to the father he would have been in his past-present.
Though Sun-jae initially seemed more like the fatherly voice of reason to Kwang-ho’s impetuous streak, it amused me to no end seeing Kwang-ho — looking as young as the rest of his team — trying to be all paternal with Jae-yi, after he came to know of their blood ties. That, and him sizing up Sun-jae the way a dad would when his daughter’s date comes to pick her up for the prom. How could you not love him for that?
Then, amidst the heaviness of untimely deaths, tales of betrayal, and the whodunit mystery, there were still moments of lightheartedness peppered within the episodes. Take the reunion between Kwang-ho and his then-maknae-turned-superior, Sung-sik, in Episode 4. It was heartwarming to see how ecstatic the older Sung-sik was knowing his sunbae was alive and well, after 30 years of thinking that he was dead. It seemed like the fondness and respect he had for him never once faded through the years, and it was hard to hold back a smile each time the present-day boss turned back into the meek maknae whenever they conversed.
How about when Kwang-ho — finally making it back to 1986, albeit for a short time, in Episode 13 — tried earnestly explaining to a bewildered Yeon-sook how phones in 2017 had no lines (“That doesn’t make sense”), and were the size of his palm? (“It’s this small.”)
And who could forget Reporter Oh from the ’80s (and his modern day taxi driver doppleganger), who was constantly on Kwang-ho’s heels for the latest scoops and opportunities?
Aside from the ever-serious Sun-jae — who, thankfully, began to soften up more further down the line — the rest of the Serious Crimes Unit 1 would also play a part in lending a few moments of lightness to the show too. Remember Min-ha’s drunken outburst in Episode 11 at how his seniors were “bickering like children”? They sure weren’t going to let him live it down after that…
So — did Tunnel mirror Signal? I would say no. It wasn’t even trying to be like it. Yes, they were both time-travel detective dramas, but that’s where the similarities come to an end (along with their respective time-travel contraptions of the walkie-talkie and the tunnel). I was in awe of the Signal trio and how they were able to transcend time to solve crimes; but following Kwang-ho and his team on their own time-traveling, crime-solving quests was like rooting for my close friends — or to a certain extent, my older brothers. Simply because of how endearing they each had become along the way.
For me, Tunnel managed to match the cold-bloodedness of its killers and the intensity of its pacing (particularly towards the end) with enough warmth, lightness, and heart. And hey — it ended up being highly rated too! Geonbae to that, I say.
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