Move To Heaven stars bring comfort as ‘trauma cleaners’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Move To Heaven stars bring comfort as �trauma cleaners�
Move To Heaven, topbilled by Lee Je-hoon (left) and Tang Jun-sang, is the K-drama to watch right now.

Move To Heaven, topbilled by Lee Je-hoon and Tang Jun-sang, is the K-drama to watch right now.

If you want a good, liberating kind of cry, or if you want to be comforted and to feel hopeful, this drama can be your answer.

The Netflix Original Series tells the story of Geu-ru (Tang Jun-sang), a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, and Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon) who is suddenly appointed as Geu-ru’s guardian — and how they are transformed by their unplanned arrival in each other’s lives.

In the true-to-life series, the two work as “trauma cleaners” whose job is to clear out the last belongings of the deceased. Because of his exceptional memory and observation skills, Geu-ru uncovers very personal stories from the dead’s possessions — from the deepest secrets to the unspoken messages — and delivers them to their loved ones.

Geu-ru’s estranged uncle Sang-gu becomes his unlikely partner in his Move To Heaven trauma-cleaning business. Despite their differences and complicated relationship, they join forces in helping those who’ve passed on make their “most special, final move” while bringing closure to those left behind.

Move To Heaven is actually based on a nonfiction essay Things Left Behind written by Kim Sae-byul, one of the first trauma cleaners in Korea. The series is directed by Kim Sung-ho and written by Yoon Ji-ryun. Apart from the subject of people with special needs, there are other issues discussed in the series, such as the international adoption of South Korean children, that it feels almost like a documentary.

Leading the cast is rising Korean actor Tang Jun-sang in his most important role yet. He is perhaps best-remembered from the K-drama Crash Landing On You as the youngest soldier in Captain Ri’s well-loved “company of five.”

“In Crash Landing On You, I prepared more for the North Korean dialogues, but for Move To Heaven, acting out Geu-ru, I had to memorize the stingray chants, and the very, very long lines. And because he has Asperger’s, I wanted to prepare and set the tone of his behaviours and every little detail so that’s where I put most of my efforts in,” he told The STAR recently in a virtual roundtable interview.

Jun-sang recalled that the moment he read the script, he couldn’t put it down. “I read the script to Episode 10 at one sitting. I didn’t want to break up the emotional flow of this engaging and moving story. I cried so much reading the script, and I wanted to help audiences feel the emotions I felt.”

It was also the first time for Jun-sang to learn that trauma cleaners exist in real life. “I thought this occupation was very noble and I wanted more people to know about this job, so that’s why I wanted to be in this project.”

Meanwhile, Lee Je-hoon is the boxer and troublemaker Sang-gu who has just earned his freedom after spending time in jail for his involvement in illegal fights. He agrees to live with Geu-ru as his guardian because he wants a hefty piece of his nephew’s inheritance. But in the process, he gets to face the traumas of his checkered past and experiences healing through his relationship with Geu-ru.

After sweeping six awards for Best New Actor, including the Grand Bell Awards and Blue Dragon Awards, for his performance in Bleak Night, Je-hoon has established a strong presence both on the big and small screens with movies such as The Front Line, Architecture 101, My Paparotti, Phantom Detective, Anarchist from Colony, and I Can Speak, and TV series such as Taxi Driver, Signal and Tomorrow, With You.

But despite being the more seasoned actor on the set of Move To Heaven, he told The STAR that he couldn’t recall giving any acting advice to Jun-sang.

“I thought dealing with a character who has Asperger’s would be a lot of challenges, it can be really difficult, but he was so good at acting. He did a very good job. He was like Geu-ru himself. I actually got a lot of help from him because he acted so well. So, I want to use this opportunity to thank him,” he said.

“And besides, from the length of our careers, I think our attitude and sincerity kind of came together. So, I’m really happy that I got to know this great actor through the series and I really look forward to his future going forward.”

He also said that he found it amazing how much the stories in the script resonated with him that he couldn’t stop his tears from flowing when he first read it.

Asked about the hardest part in doing Move To Heaven, Je-hoon shared, “I think the hardest part was when I first came to Move To Heaven and I encountered this job for the first time because I had a lot of prejudice. So we clean up the house of the dead and what to do after that?

“So, I had various questions, especially in the first episode. There was a lonely death of an old lady and the set was very realistic so I was a little bit surprised. And I had this question about how I should cope with these feelings and how should I act out this part because the set was so realistic. So, I think, I could have really acted out in a realistic way.”

He further said, “When we think of birth, we think it’s a very festive event, but when we think of death, we think of loneliness, sadness. But I kind of think that if people are around you when you die and they wish you a good farewell, they should be thankful of that.”

Je-hoon noted how the series brought out a lot of personal introspection on the importance of human connection, especially during this time of pandemic.

“I think it was kind of like a trigger where I looked back on my own life and I got to look around. So when I was little, we were pretty close with our neighbours, we would say hi to everyone, but now when we meet someone new at the elevator, we keep our distance. So, that’s a little sad and we’ve become a little too dry (distant). By doing this drama, I could feel how warmth is really precious in society. I hope other people could feel that, too, by watching this series.”

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