The poignant Netflix series has none of the overused tropes of Korean dramas, but all of the heart

If you’re a K-drama aficionado who’s ever tried to get a friend or family member to watch your favourite Korean series, these are probably some of their reasons for resisting: “The plots are totally unrealistic and ridiculous”, “Every K-drama is a romantic fantasy” or “The men are prettier than the women, and no one looks like a normal person”. 

Well, we can probably add: “The male and female lead always seem to know each other from childhood”, “There’s always a love triangle” and “The protagonists always have some sort of tragic past or dark secret”, among at least 10 other used-to-death K-drama tropes.

But these familiar plot devices are why K-drama fans love K-dramas, along with how the acting, music, editing, slo-mo gazes and lights in the distance combine to hit that emotional spot, and make you experience feelings you never knew you were capable of.

What if we told you there is a K-drama that does the same thing, yet employs almost none of the cliches that make people roll their eyes at K-dramas? It’s called Move to Heaven, and all 10 episodes premiered on Netflix in May.

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The protagonist is 20-year-old Han Geu-ru, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and is played by Tang Joon-sang (who was the youngest North Korean soldier in Captain Ri’s unit, for Crash Landing on You fans). Together with his ex-con uncle Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon), he runs Move to Heaven, a trauma cleaning service.

Together, they clean up the homes or rooms of people who have recently died, respectfully disposing of their possessions while keeping the things that they deem the “heart” of the deceased in a yellow box to pass to their loved ones. Along the way, nephew and uncle get a chance to clean up the mess and trauma in their own lives.

Here’s why Move to Heaven is the perfect show for non-fans of K-dramas. 

1. There is zero romance

There are very, very few K-dramas with no romantic relationships. The majority of K-dramas centre on the romance between the two leads (oftentimes with a love triangle or a second couple thrown in), and if you’re lucky, you get some semblance of a plot to move the romance along.

In Move to Heaven, there is no falling in love, and no chaste kissing scenes. It’s all plot and emotional stories, for 10 episodes, as Geu-ru and Sang-gu imagine the lives of the deceased, via the things they’ve left behind. It’s often heartbreaking, but never heart-fluttering. (For the uninitiated, “heart-fluttering” is a term to describe how you feel when the romance in a K-drama makes your heart skip a beat.)

Those who’ve shunned K-dramas as they’re less than fond of romances should give this series a chance. While the lack of heart flutters may put off traditional K-drama fans, there are emotional scenes that require Kleenex in every single episode. We don’t think we can say that even for the best and most heart-warming romantic K-drama.

2. No one is too good-looking to be real, and none of the male characters wear lipstick

We’ve often wondered whose lipstick would smudge first in a K-drama kissing scene—the male lead’s or the female lead’s? Oh well, none of that in Move to Heaven. Firstly, there are no kissing scenes, and secondly, people look normal, not like centuries-old nine-tailed foxes in human form with pale faces and ruby-red lips, nor Italian-Korean mafia lawyers with perfect hair and skin.

Geu-ru has a high-pitched voice, a bowl haircut and an analytical mind that allows him to flesh out the often-tragic lives of the dead whose possessions he’s clearing up.

Lee Je-hoon, who plays the uncle, while obviously a handsome actor who has played romantic leads and action heroes in other shows, sports a scruffy mullet here, along with a gangster gait, unruly facial hair and ill-fitting clothes.

None of the supporting female characters are glamorous or unrealistically beautiful. Yes, the actors and actresses are better-looking than normal people in real life, but in the show, they’re meant to be regular folks, and look it.

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3. The situations are real and slice-of-life. No fantasy elements or convenient coincidences.

K-dramas often employ fantasy, which is what makes them great escapes from our own real and mundane lives. However, sometimes, you just want to watch a show without a devastatingly handsome king who can travel between parallel dimensions, or some other deity-like creature who falls in love with a hapless human.

Move to Heaven has slightly more realistic situations than your average K-drama. In other words, these can actually be things that happen to people in real life. But, it’s still a drama, so expect the plot to be dramatic to some extent. For example, there’s illegal cage-fighting here, courtesy of hooligan uncle Sang-gu with the secret heart of gold (Lee Je-hoon is so good in the role, we are now legit fans and planning to watch all his shows).

4. It tackles social issues often ignored or glossed over in typical K-dramas

Autism, dementia, euthanasia, suicide, domestic violence, neglectful sons and relationships frowned upon by society—just some of the themes explored in Move to Heaven, over 10 substantial episodes.

Of course, there’s no deep dive into these difficult issues, but the fact that a K-drama should touch on so many topics completely ignored by most K-dramas, which instead favour romantic relationships, speaks volumes. If you like your dramas with a little more humanity and a little less frivolity, this is it. 

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5. It’s like watching a 10-hour indie foreign film

Move to Heaven is subtle. It is quiet. The characters don’t scream and shout. It’s about the things unsaid and all the poignant moments in between. And this is very uncharacteristic of K-drama.

Many Korean TV dramas have OTT characters, intense over-acting, physical comedy and cheesy sound effects, along with lots of time-wasting filler content where nothing much happens. In contrast, watching Move to Heaven is like watching a beautiful indie film (it’s helmed by a film director, Kim Sung-ho, and this is his first TV outing), with strong, understated acting, intriguing plotlines, aesthetically pleasing (and sometimes gory) scenes and great attention to detail. It will keep you up at night thinking about stuff, probably more than that K-drama romcom would.

We still like our light-hearted and overly dramatic K-dramas, but once in a while, something like Move to Heaven is such a satisfying palate cleanser.

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