‘Move To Heaven’ review: a moving portrait of life, death and humanity itself

A trauma cleaner with Asperger's syndrome offers up lessons on life, death, family and friendship in this tender K-drama

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    Death is no stranger to the storylines in TV shows but there’s one key aspect of it that rarely gets shown on screen – or considered in our daily lives. Who sorts out our homes and belongings once we’re gone? In most cases, you’d assume the deceased’s family but, if they can’t face it or there are no relatives to take care of things, that’s when the trauma cleaners step in.

    Han Geu-ru (played by Tang Jun-sang) and his dad Jeong-u (Ji Jin-hee) offer such a service with their company Move To Heaven (also the name of the drama) and they approach every room they clean with respect and care. Jeong-u believes the dead can still tell their stories through the things they leave behind, and the father-son pair use the items they sift through to build a picture of who their clients are – and sometimes solve issues surrounding their deaths or that might affect those they’ve left behind.

    They make for a tender but formidable duo, but soon Geu-ru has to face his own grief when his dad dies suddenly. As if that isn’t enough to deal with, the 20-year-old is also introduced to an uncle he didn’t know existed. Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon) is fresh out of prison and not best pleased at being signed up to be the guardian to his late, estranged brother’s kid, who he struggles to understand thanks to Geu-ru’s Asperger’s syndrome.

    What follows is an incredibly moving, sweet and laugh-out-loud funny exploration of humanity itself. Over its 10 episodes, Move To Heaven slowly unravels lessons around life, death, family and friendship. It compels you to think deeper about the idea of good and bad, showing in its multi-dimensional characters that the reality isn’t as black-and-white as TV often makes things out to be.

    There are plenty of sensitive storylines throughout the show, but each is handled with care. Neurological disorders like Asperger’s aren’t always treated carefully by filmmakers – as seen most recently in Sia’s Music – but the portrayal of Geu-ru feels respectfully and delicately done. While we see his struggles, we also see his brilliance: his unwavering commitment to doing right by the dead, his endless ability to care about people’s stories when even those closest to them have lost interest, his sharp and fast-working brain that keeps him three steps ahead of everybody else. He is a character who feels like he was written with love and, subsequently, is impossible not to fall in love with.

    Move To Heaven Lee Je-hoon Tang Jun-sang
    Lee Je-hoon and Tang Jun-sang in ‘Move To Heaven’ CREDIT: Netflix

    Other subjects that are still taboo in Korea are given the same tactful treatment. In one episode about an LGBTQ+ relationship, instead of dwelling too much on how society might react to the relationship, the writers focus on the love story at its core and subtly share a message of strength and courage as they do.

    As Move To Heaven progresses, it begins to shine more light on Geu-ru and Sang-gu’s family, the two gradually growing closer as more details are revealed. The pair’s dynamic is one of the highlights of the show: Geu-ru’s blunt directness and penchant for order fly in the face of his “filthy” and crude uncle’s bad attitude and bad habits. Lee and Tang are the beating heart of the series, bouncing off each other brilliantly as they create a world where you’re rooting for both of them.

    Based on the essay anthology Things Left Behind by former trauma cleaner Kim Sae-byul, Move To Heaven is a gentle contender for one of the best TV shows of the year so far. Through tackling an under-explored facet of life, it asks viewers for compassion and offers heart-warming hope. Like the deceased that Geu-ru is so dedicated to helping, Move To Heaven finds its way into your heart and lingers there after you’ve finished watching.

    Move To Heaven premieres on Netflix May 14

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