‘Moving’ K-Drama review: A stunningly original, complex superhero saga with a terrific ensemble

This expansive superhero saga with compelling writing and painstakingly conceived characters might as well be the most stunningly original show to come out this year

October 01, 2023 04:13 pm | Updated 07:00 pm IST

A still from ‘Moving’

A still from ‘Moving’ | Photo Credit: Disney+

Over the last decade, we’ve overdosed on superheroes, had vociferous debates online about where our allegiances lie and have spent months waiting for sequels and prequels to release. There’s been a staggeringly high number of films and television shows, mostly straightforward and exciting tales of good triumphing over evil, and some that have chosen to push the boundaries of the genre. We’ve revelled in it all.

In what is easily the best K-Drama of the year, Moving dives headfirst into all that this genre has to offer and also succeeds in smashing through its trappings. Based on the eponymous webtoon by Kang Full, the twenty-episode show exploits its biggest superpower, the fresh and compelling writing and its painstakingly conceived characters, to the hilt.

Moving’s beginnings are seemingly simple. Affable high schooler Kim Bong-seok (Lee Jung-ha) slowly strikes up a friendship with the new transfer student in his class, Jang Hui-soo (Go Yoon-jung). Bong-seok is watched over like a hawk by her overprotective mother, Lee Mi-hyun (a terrific Han Hyo-joo), and she has good reason to be. Bong-seok sleeps tightly wrapped in a duvet at night, has a protective net on the ceiling of his room, walks with weights around his ankles, and carries heavy bottles with him — all to weigh him down so that he doesn’t accidentally fly into the sky. His mother Mi-hyun meanwhile runs a nondescript small-town restaurant but has heightened senses and guns stashed under her sewing machine.

Meanwhile, Hui-soo and her father Jang Ju-won (Ryu Seung-ryong) both share an extremely useful superpower — being able to heal instantly from any injury. There’s also the introverted class president Lee Gang-hoon (Kim Do-hoon) and his father Lee Jae-man (Kim Sung-kyung), both of whom have super strength, and a bus driver Jeon Gye-do (Cha Tae-hyun) who can generate electricity.

With their larger group of retired operatives being hunted by a terrifying, shadowy assassin figure with supernatural abilities, Mi-hyun and Ju-won realise soon enough that the next generation — their children who have inherited their abilities — might be the actual targets.

Moving (Korean with English subtitles)
Director : Park In-je, Park Younseo
Writer : Kang Full
Cast: Han Hyo-Joo, Jo In-Sung, Ryu Seung-ryeong, Lee Jung-ha
Episodes : 20
Runtime: 40-60 minutes each
Storyline: A group of retired secret operatives with supernatural abilities find their world shaken when their children, who have inherited their abilities come under the scanner.

Moving doesn’t just fixate on the supernatural abilities of its central characters but delves into their lives, their relationships, and what makes them the most vulnerable. The adults might all be branded ‘monsters’ by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) which is keen to exploit their services for the greater good of national security, but the monsters are the humane ones here. As the show progresses, we’re also introduced to a similar group across the border in North Korea with seemingly terrifying origins and both sets of operatives with supernatural abilities find themselves in the midst of a larger, sinister geopolitical churning.

Superbly executed stunt sequences and often gory and indulgent stretches of violence aside, Moving is at its heart, a story about family and how this is held against those who go up in arms against authority. Those in power on both sides of the border are the actual antagonists who perpetuate an endless cycle of violence and war by using these heroes as pawns in their expansive plans.

Writer Kang Full and directors Park In-je and Park Younseo take their time in building up this universe from the ground up. Every character, including Jeongwan High School’s P.E. teacher and secret NIS operative Choi Il-Hwan as well as the band of North Korean spies, all get detailed backstories that are emotionally resonant. There’s so much more to them than their superpowers.

We see Ju-won or Guryoungpo’s origins as a wary gangster not knowing what to make of his powers, to him being recruited by the NIS and his slow, sweet romance as he falls in love. Seung-ryong gets a large chunk of screen time and he stands out even among an extremely capable ensemble cast. Though a lot of this is extremely violent, it is in the scenes with his daughter, played by a sparkling Yoon-jung, that he shines. The father-daughter relationship here is not one that’s filled with grand gestures or loud professions of love but with shared silences and a quiet understanding of their past trauma.

While parts of Ju-won’s backstory come off as excessively violent and stretched, it is Mi-hyun’s past, which chronicles her meeting and getting to know black ops agent Kim Doo-sik (Jo In-sung) that is one of the most sweet, charming and equally heartbreaking parts of the show. Hyo-joo and In-Sung are terrific in their respective roles, as serious operatives who slowly fall in love and wrestle with the larger complexities of their jobs. Later, as a strict, harried mother, Hyo-joo is in great form and she’s ably supported by Jung-ha who plays her son. The duo bring alive a warm, yet troubled dynamic onscreen, mostly owing to the adolescent rebellion that comes with Bong-seok being forced to hide his abilities.

Seung-ryong Ryu in a still from ‘Moving’

Seung-ryong Ryu in a still from ‘Moving’ | Photo Credit: Disney+

At twenty episodes, Moving comes off as being stretched too thin in parts when the violence is excessive. Despite the slow unravelling of the stories of its many central characters, the episodes are crafted in such a way that it remains largely possible to have a firm grasp on the constant past and present narrative shifts.

It also helps that Moving not only puts its characters on a pedestal but goes beyond reducing them to a cardboard cut-out of their abilities, unlike the case in many superpower narratives. This is a show that instead also trails its focus on their weaknesses, without ever resorting to emotional manipulation.

It is refreshing that the last act of the show doesn’t resort to simply becoming a launch pad for a sequel. Moving’s writing remains focused until the very end, something that has been lacking from most K-Dramas this year, and we’re instead left with an intriguing post-credits scene.

Going by Moving’s many strengths, the prospect of a sequel or even a spin-off is immensely exciting. For now, though, this expansive superhero saga might as well be the most stunningly original show to come out this year.

All episodes of Moving are currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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