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[In Defense Of] Tunnel — and no, it wasn’t another Signal

By Mich

(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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Does Tunnel need a defense? I don't know, I remember it was a great hit and there was a huge part of DB community crazy over this show.
Honestly I was never interested and even when your defense is so good, I still don't feel like watching it, because of the main plot, but for sure, for sure, it is a good show. It seems to be very appealing and endearing, as you said. And for those liking crime solving dramas, they should go for it!!! 😉
For me, it is not my style. Didn't watch Signal as well. But for many of you, guys: have fun with it!!!😀

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Thanks for the comment! Indeed, the show doesn't need defending because it proved its mettle as the episodes went by; but consider this a plea to those who may have written it off because of the initial Signal comparisons :) And also an opportunity to highlight some of the lighter sides of the show!

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You are right. Definitive, well done. People who didn't watch will find your defense very useful. Even I checked a couple of the recaps, and I see why you liked it so much.
I found interesting a relationship father from the past-daughter from the future.... surrealistic. And it seemed to be a serious approach to this kind of "situation", very different from The best hit, which seemed to me like a joke, at least part of it... I hope I am not offending. I should not compare 😑😑😑

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haha, not at all :) the father-daughter arc wasn't something I'd known about prominently before I'd started the show, so it was interesting for me too when I eventually started. As for The Best Hit, I'd considered watching (because Yoon Si-yoon :)) but didn't in the end. Unfortunately I've not heard many good things about it either!

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Thanks for the great defense! Signal is my all time favorite drama, and rather than Tunnel, which had an entirely different vibe, I thought Forest of Secrets was more similar.

I only watched Tunnel till about episode 4, mostly because I was only watching for Kwang-ho, and that wasn't enough to keep me going. Sadly, I've been spolied on the whodunit by now - I want to pick it up again after reading your defense, but how? T_T

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Thanks for the comment! I know the feeling of being spoiled even before embarking on a drama (my intern did that to me for Chicago Typewriter - boo), but I would say to still give it a go. The last few episodes were really intense even after the 'whodunit' reveal. I'll check out Forest of Secrets and gauge the similarities!

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Thanks for the defence but I didn't think tunnel needed one. Admist all the buzz I am yet to watch signal as it is way down my to watch list but I watched tunnel when it started airing because it appealed to me more as I am a fan of choi jin hyuk......Thanks though for spreading the love for tunnel....

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Thanks for the comment! As mentioned to javinne above, yes - Tunnel proved itself for sure. But there may have been some people who stopped short of it because of the initial comparisons to Signal, so this is like a 'plea' of sorts if it were the case. Please watch Signal too, though! It was incredible - I hope the original cast returns for the second season.

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There will be a second season???? Like really???

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There have been rumours going around for a while! Which have been refuted, but last that was reported, it may be a possibility... https://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00115372.html - although I wouldn't keep my hopes up too high either!

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since i was a fan of crime, detective thriller drama/movie I really enjoy this drama Tunnel and for me Tunnel doesn't need any kind of Defense in any angle -:) Though Signal & Tunnel have somewhat same "time travel" thing~y yet the story is way different with each other.

And i am pretty sure that the only people who can say the big difference between the two drama were the ones who did finished watching the 2 dramas. Unless you have not watched it you cannot tell..I also understand that if you are not a fan of this genre you will not have an ounce of interest to watch it.

I am not a fan of any actors/actress in the drama but what drawn me to be addicted of this drama was because of the plot of this drama.

Yes I'm a sucker when it comes to crime, detective and thriller genre.
No wonder I love Forest of Secrets, 14 Days, I Hear your Voice and many to mention.

Overall for me this drama doesn't need any defense as it delivers perfectly and stay to its originality.

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thanks for the comment! yes, I agree - the show needs no defending in general because it proved itself greatly over the course of the episodes. everyone has their own preferences so we can't win 'em all! but to those who appreciate this genre (like both of us), it's a must watch indeed :)

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@Mitch indeed I can't agree less..

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I feel like this post is a direct letter to me, as i can't stand Kwang Ho lmao. I found him exceedingly rude and obnoxious and he never grew on me.

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He was still stuck in the 80's mentally and he hadn't been exposed much to women in the police force so he did say a lot of non PC things, and I also found him a little too paternalistic and abrasive in the beginning, but he did become more "woke" as the drama progressed.

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I didn't think he changed at all, except when things were personal. Hence my dislike.

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haha hello. this really is more of a generic plea to those who may have skipped out on the show for whatever reason! Kwang-ho's approach/personality wouldn't appeal to everyone, as was pointed out, so to each their own :) thanks for the comment!

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i absolutely LOVED this drama and the actors all hit home runs in their deliveries. it IS worth watching. choi jin hyuck is such a great feels actor and really had me routing for him and his wife and everyone.

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thanks Diana! it was the first time I watched Choi Jin-hyuk in a drama and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Kwang-ho, but I was most impressed with Yoon Hyun-min. I'd watched him in Discovery of Love but seeing him in a serious role, and then in Witch's Court after, really made me watch out for him more!

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Count me in the "Does it need a defense?" column. It was a great show. I got my 74 yr old mom into K-dramas with this drama. Lol.

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thanks for the comment! my reasons for my 'defense' are shared above with the other commenters :) glad that your mom enjoyed it! my mom enjoyed Baker King Kim Tak Gu back in the day haha, and would occasionally join me when I watch shows - the latest being Jugglers.

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I have a soft spot for Choi Jin Hyuk so I really should watch this drama sometime and I always heard really good things about it!

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thanks for the comment! yes, it is worth the watch :) especially since you like CJH!

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Still a huge favourite of mine! I've tried numerous times to start/watch signal and I just can't get through the first episode.. Tunnel I binge watched over a weekend and had zero regrets!

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thanks for the comment! I'd actually started on Signal in episode... 4 or 5? and it drew me in so quickly that I had to keep watching it. it was so intriguing! but yes, I'm so glad I watched Tunnel too. *big Kwang-ho grins for you, hehe :)

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One of my favorite shows from last year, and i agree with you about the warmth and heart.

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thanks for the comment! i really got the fuzzies when rewatching some of the scenes for this piece - even more than when I watched it last year haha.

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I loved Tunnel! It was one where I had to avoid the beanie wall for a week to avoid spoilers. When I saw this post, I thought to myself, Tunnel doesn't need a defense! Then I read your write up and can see your reasoning behind it. I didn't watch Signal when it came out, but I did read all the recaps. I tried to watch Signal last year, but the recaps were still so fresh in my head, that I felt I didn't need to continue because I knew what was going to happen. Like you said, the only thing that was the same was the time traveling theme. I enjoyed the entire cast and it's characters. I hope your defense will convince some beanies to give it a chance! Thank you for submitting this!

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aww, thanks Jenmole! yes, as shared with other commenters above, I wrote this as a reminder of the show's lighter side - something quite rarely seen in a thriller type drama. and thrilling it still was, especially towards the end! i do hope Beanies who haven't yet watched this will give it a chance too :)

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I really enjoyed Tunnel. The camaraderie of our cast of characters was phenomenal. I think my only gripe with the show was how easy it was for me to guess the villain. It was so similar to another kdrama crime show (not Signal). But even knowing who done it didn't deter from the overall story.

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thanks for your comment! yes, I greatly enjoyed their camaraderie too :) and wow - I just let myself be surprised actually, haha. I guess it was a bit of a low-hanging fruit (considering how often he'd appeared in the show) but it made more impact when I discovered it eventually! (I didn't even realise the Sun-jae connection till later.......)

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Tunnel is my favorite 2017 show, I didn't watch Signal so I don't know what the similarities are but I really don't want beanies to write this off thinking it's the same, so thank you for defending it and letting everyone know that no, it's not another Signal!

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thank you azzo! i do agree with the other Beanies who have said that Tunnel needs no defending, but thought I'd share my two (or three) beans' worth on why it's worth watching :)

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