K-Content News

Director touches on social issues through heartfelt series, 'Move To Heaven'
  • June 02, 2021

Director touches on social issues through heartfelt series,
'Move To Heaven'

Updated : 2021-06-02 15:15

By Lee Gyu-lee

Trauma cleaners, or crime scene cleaners, might not sound familiar to many people. The term refers to cleaning specialists who professionally decontaminate and sanitize scenes where a person died, either due to an accident, natural causes, or a crime.

The Netflix's series, "Move To Heaven," which hit the platform on My 14, shows the work of trauma cleaners, which goes beyond simply cleaning up death scenes. They deliver the possessions or stories deceased people left behind for their loved ones.

For Kim Sung-ho, the director of the series, "Move To Heaven" had two purposes for viewers: to introduce the unusual but meaningful job that many are unfamiliar with and to discuss social issues that are often overlooked by the public.

"Nowadays, there are a lot of movies and shows with extreme plots to get people to take a break from the reality of the global pandemic. But I hope this series offers viewers a chance to take a moment to look around their surroundings and those who have been neglected and to encourage each other," the director said in a recent interview with The Korea Times.

The subtle, heartfelt series, inspired by trauma cleaner and writer Kim Sae-byul's nonfiction essay, "Things Left Behind," follows a young man with Asperger syndrome, Han Geu-roo (Tang Jun-sang). Han and his father Jeong-woo (Ji Jin-hee) has been running a trauma cleaning service since his mother passed away, offering closure by delivering the belongings of the deceased to their loved ones.

But when Jeong-woo suddenly dies of a heart attack, his estranged brother and ex-con, Cho Sang-gu (Lee Jae-hoon), comes into Geu-roo's life as the only next-of-kin. To win the guardianship of Geu-roo's trust fund, Cho joins the service with very little interest or respect for the work.

"I liked how the plot effectively tells the stories of ordinary and underprivileged people (through the job)," Kim said. "Trauma cleaning wasn't a common topic, especially in Korea, but I wanted to take a stab at it."

And to bring up social issues in the series, the director explained that he and the scriptwriter Yoon Ji-ryun researched a vest amount of news articles during pre-production.

"I went through a lot of news articles about things that happened in slums or in 'goshiwon' ― a tiny one-room unit in a share house," he said. "But instead of just reenacting those incidents or crimes, I wanted to shed light on the core, or the cause, of the issues."

As he explained, the series explores various issues ranging from people dying alone, stalking, lack of safety guidelines at the workplace, and "gapjil" ― a term referring to the abuse of power by people in authority against those they outrank.

Each episode invites audiences into the lives of different people who died, each with his or her own story.

One of the episodes tells the story of a man who was sent to the U.S for adoption when he was a baby. However, the man is deported back to Korea, where he struggles to survive in his country of birth, unable to speak the language. He ends up dying alone in a small motel room.

The director emphasized that he refrained from making the series overly sentimental, which could have risked it becoming a shallow tear-jerker.

"If the plot is too sad, it might become mawkish and biased," he said. "Different issues are discussed but I didn't want to blame anyone… Neither society nor any individual is solely responsible, but all of us need to take interest and take responsibility together. I made 'Move To Heaven' for people to sympathize with the story that it tells."

And this is the reason why he made the main character Geu-roo who has Asperger's syndrome.

Geu-roo, who is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and has an astonishing photographic memory, delivers the emotional stories of the deceased to their loved ones in stiff monotone as if he is reading a textbook.

He noted that he and the actor Tang studied the spectrum of autism to find the most plausible character traits for the actor.

"There have already been characters with autism in films and movies. But we tried to portray our character differently from the stereotypical depiction of autistic people," he said, adding he is familiar with different characteristics of autism.

The director, who made a successful directorial debut with the horror-mystery, "Into the Mirror" (2003), has built up a filmography spanning genres ranging from horror, thriller, fantasy and drama, including the film adaptation of Barbara O'Connor's novel, "How To Steal A Dog."

After a long career in film, he took on his first TV series with "Move To Heaven." The director said he thought of it as a "long version film," when making the series.

"I was worried how I would keep viewers immersed in the story, because unlike films that people usually watch in a theater, a series is different. So I attempted to make the series cinematic," he said.

The director is basking in praises showered on him by viewers all over the world, as the series has been ranked among the top 10 dramas in various countries, including Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

"I'm very surprised to receive so much feedback since the release," he said. "My favorite one was about how the viewers hugged their family or friends after watching this series."

Adding that such reviews reminded him of the reason he directed the series, he expressed how much "Move To Heaven" meant to him personally, giving him a chance to think about death.

"As I was working on the series, I started to realize that death is much closer to us all than I thought before," he said. "Since we talk about the deceased's belongings, I come to think about how I should live and prepare for death. It reminded me how precious it is to cherish the moments with my surroundings, family, and friends and communicate with them."

Noting that there are a lot of issues that he wants to cover, he expressed hope for the series' second season. "There is a lot that was left out of season 1. We hope to cover more stories and issues through the lives and stories of the deceased."