“I’m trying to figure out what was on the deceased’s mind. Can you figure it out by doing that? They can’t speak vocally as they did when they were alive. But there comes a moment when you begin to see what the deceased wanted to say and thoughts they wanted to share.”
Move To Heaven is a South Korean television series that was released by Netflix in May 2021, directed by the award-winning filmmaker Kim Sung-ho and written by Yoon Ji-Ryeon. It’s a 10-episode drama adapted from a non-fiction essay, “Things Left Behind” by Kim Sae-byul, a professional trauma cleaner in South Korea.
The drama delivers untold stories of the departed through a trauma cleaning company named “Move to Heaven” which is managed by Han Geu-ru (Tang Joon-sang), a 20-year-old suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, and Cho Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon), an estranged and ex-convict uncle.
Together, they will navigate the isolated lives of the deceased and fulfill a restful departure in each story as they personally grieve and receive healing from their own brokenness.
What matters the most in life when our loved ones depart? What is left behind when we face death?
Here are some of the good reasons to watch this original series on Netflix:
1. It is a healing drama inspired by true stories.
Move to Heaven is one of those rare Korean drama series that strongly stirs emotions, relates to human problems and talks about the underexplored, delicate facets of life. Notably, it leaves a strong impact on the effects of loss or death which moves a viewer to contemplate the shortness and value of life, the significance of connection in relationships, and living with a disability or special care.
Kim Sae-byul’s expertise in the field of trauma cleaning made him write real-life stories of people who died from murders and suicides as well as unattended deaths of the loneliest and socially isolated which reflects in the drama. Thus, Move To Heaven is a lifelike story from the viewpoint of an experienced trauma cleaner.
Moreover, it narrates a real disaster in the city of Seoul which happened in June 1995 where a department store suddenly collapsed due to a structural failure, resulting in over 1,000 casualties. In the drama, the father of Geu-ru was one of the injured.
Another featured real-life story is the fate of some of the adopted Koreans overseas who fail to obtain citizenship, then face deportation, rejection by biological parents, and live a lonely, abandoned life as a stateless person.
Each episode empathetically delivers a heartwarming message conveyed through authentic characters. Personally, the stories of the old couple, Matthew Green, and Han Geu-ru emerge as the most tear-jerking and heart-wrenching. Every chapter warmly brings tears and a sense of relief as the main duo tries to connect the missing pieces of the story.
Certainly, watching how each story unfolds can break the heart. Nevertheless, each cleaning session imparts moving on and peacefully ends with proper closure and healing with the help of the company, “Move To Heaven”.
2. It presents a new, unique, and realistic concept.
The drama concept is unique as it highlights the unusual job of trauma cleaning, which is unknown to many. It brings a viewer to every heartbreaking sight, feeling, movement, and experience of a trauma cleaner.
Moreover, it delivers an unfeigned context of how it is to live with Asperger’s syndrome, abandoned but fully loved in the drama. A condition known to be intellectual, detail-oriented, and persistent, his special traits dramatically fill the gap in every cleaning task and traumatic story.
Remarkably, its plot unravels the deeper issues of life in a simple yet heartfelt manner, oftentimes using meaningful symbols and metaphorical details such as the fish, fried egg, shoes, yellow box, tree, and plant.
The manta ray, known to be the giant of the ocean and mostly illustrated in the drama, is said to be a symbol of grace. As it navigates the great depths, it teaches life to maneuver all kinds of situations gracefully.
3. It tackles cultural and societal issues.
This drama humbly narrates the real struggles that adopted Koreans face, raising awareness and stirring grace and empathy. They were denied love at home and abandoned for adoption. Others faced ostracism in their own country, were deported, and struggled to live while finding their identity.
This cultural tradition is said to begin in 1955 and skyrocketed in the 1980s, to fight post-war poverty, which left several children without parents. Interestingly, despite the economic prosperity in South Korea, thousands of young orphans still suffer and are sent overseas for adoption.
However, there are numerous success stories of other adopted Koreans whose life significantly improved by being loved, cared for, and provided for by the new family. On the other hand, not all adopted have the same opportunity.
The drama states, “Over 65 years, about 200,000 Korean kids were sent away for overseas adoption. That’s 2% of Seoul’s population which is nearly 10 million, and it brought dishonor on Korea as the biggest baby exporter in the 20th century. 1 out of 10 children who were adopted before the year 2000 failed to obtain citizenship and became stateless because no one cared about them. As they are not recognized as citizens by either of the countries, they struggle to live a lonely life.”
Workplace mistreatment was also tackled. In the drama, a diligent student who pays for his college studies got his leg accidentally injured while working extra hours as ordered by the boss. The employer forced him to go to work despite his condition and threatened him to conceal the accident.
Other societal issues presented include domestic violence and illegal gambling.
4. It teaches us the value of time, life, and family relationships.
“The deceased tell their story when looking at their belongings closely. Without our willingness to listen, we couldn’t hear it clearly,” Gaeru tells his samcheon or uncle.
A lot of unsaid words and untold moments of the deceased can be traced through personal belongings, as experienced by the trauma cleaners in the drama. It teaches that there is more to a person who has departed – that there are more undisclosed layers to a seemingly simple story.
“Two of us are looking at the same thing, but one sees love while the other sees hate,” the community worker tells uncle Sang-gu.
There is so much insight into how a single life simply leaves a mark and how a loss unravels moments, hidden desires, and thoughts through personal objects or possessions left behind.
What did the person value most in life? What dreams did the person accomplish or want to achieve? What type of book, food, music, films, or familiar places interests the person? What sacrifices and sufferings did the person experience to survive life? Is the person surrounded and loved by friends and family?
Audibly, the drama never fails to remind us that family is everything. It is where a person begins and ends – the driving force that inspires one to work hard and achieve something in life – the first thing that comes to mind when life is at stake or loss – the only relationship that will patiently endure our pain, protect us from a bad fall, embrace our shortcomings, accept us for who we are, and walk with us persistently.
It also explores how broken we are in our relationships, raising awareness and kindling compassion on the issues of adoption, abandonment, social isolation, detachment from families, rejection, and abuse. “What will you do with the garbage that even her family didn’t want?” the uncle asks Gae-ru.
The drama amply illustrates that life is lonesome where family is out of reach and relationships are disconnected. It compels one to ponder thoughtfully about the value of time, family, and social connections.
5. It’s a well-produced and performed drama.
The portrayal of living with Asperger’s Syndrome was excellently performed by Tang Joon-sang. Notably, his genuine expression of grief in the drama is so powerful and poignant that it causes one to cry buckets. “Although you can’t see someone, it doesn’t mean they’re not with you. As long as you remember, they are not gone,” his father reminds him.
Similarly, the action and dramatic scenes of Lee Je-hoon were also impressive. The uncle-nephew tandem naturally serves pure bromance and chemistry, while the character of Yoon Na-mu (Hong Seung-hee), the next-door best friend of Geu-ru provides humor, energy, and charm.
Indubitably, Move To Heaven has the potential to be the Best Emotive Drama and one of the best Korean shows of 2021. Every movement and detail from cinematography, directing, photography, and narrative simply evoke true-to-life emotions and moments veiled behind the culture of noise and haste. It was beautifully done.
Interestingly, the various stories, characters, location, symbols, and casting of special guest appearances or cameo roles were perfectly weaved together in a simple yet profound setup. The producers did a great job creating this one-of-a-kind series.
Drama Rating: 9/10
It’s one of the remarkable Korean dramas of 2021. It’s short and simple, but rich in content. Music can improve. The ending indicates Season 2, as other characters and details in the story need a conclusion.
“How beautiful it is to look at someone from the back, who confidently knows it’s their time to leave. My love that endured. A season of passion in spring is falling. Blossoms fall everywhere. I am surrounded by the blessings of farewell. And now it’s time to leave toward an exuberant forest and to autumn when trees begin to bear fruit. My youth dies like a flower does.” – Mr. Kim