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'Moving': Adding a Human Touch to Superheroes

A young woman carries a child on her back.

Korean cinema has discovered power on a global scale in recent years, its unique flavour appearing as a breath of fresh air for audiences craving newness. The titles that have earned the biggest global fame demonstrate an exquisite middle ground between commercial genre elements and arthouse sensibilities, allowing its filmmakers to find success in a variety of stories — from the game format of Squid Game to the zombie apocalypse of Train to Busan

This comes as part of a common characteristic of Asian cinema as a whole, where established genres are presented with unique twists that have, over time, become emblematic of its genre films. Korean horror, for example, is a horror sub-genre of its own, and a similar artistic differentiation applies to other genre films from Asia, from action to romance. Amidst this, the ability of K-dramas to blend commercial elements with more dramatic, arthouse aspects has allowed them to present deep and emotive stories to a broader commercial audience.  

Released on the Disney+ platform last year, Moving gave audiences a unique new look into the superhero genre. Appearing at a time when the genre is widely considered to be on its way out, the show adopted it with a whole new set of rules, making no effort to connect with the vocabulary established by the MCU. Rather, the show subverted genre expectations by building its narrative upon an unusual hierarchy —  instead of a classic action flick with superpowers and some K-drama tropes thrown about, the show used the more commercial superhero element as the canvas upon which to explore storytelling of a far more emotive variety. 

From the depiction of heart-wrenching romances, to a piteous exploration of social maladjustment, Moving presents an unusual look at the superhero genre that is more about the people and their relationships than outright action. At the same time, it comes with a strong action element with world-class action set-pieces that genuinely deserve to be considered iconic, playing upon celebrated tropes such as the one-take sequence and the one-man army. 

Moving begins as a high school romance with a transfer student, Jang Hui-soo (Go Youn-jung), developing an awkward new friendship with the innocently affable Kim Bong-seok (Lee Jung-ha). As the minutes roll on in the very first episode, it becomes apparent that the show wishes to give its superpower element a very particular place, low in the narrative hierarchy. In its place, we see a sweet and heartfelt friendship and almost-romance develop between the teenagers, with Bong-seok’s unfortunate proclivity towards floating appearing only as an intrusive secret. 

A Korean couple sits in a park, looking up at the leaves on the trees.

Meanwhile, a superpowered assassin runs covert missions in the same city, giving rise to a more action-focused second plotline. In each episode, a retired superhero is put to death in a chaotic fight sequence. But these scenes appear as temporary diversions from the blooming relationship between Bong-seok and Hui-soo. As an elaborate backstory begins to fall into place, there is the natural expectation for these two storylines to eventually collide. 

But when the two worlds finally come together, midway through the show, the series takes a long step back, spending much of the second half narrating the backstories of Bong-seok and Hui-soo’s parents. A secret division of superpowered government agents comes into play; there is action, espionage, and politics. Yet, even within this overtly action-focused context, Moving tells not a story of wars and world-ending calamities, but of the romances between those involved in this superpowered team. 

There’s Bong-seok’s mother, Lee Mi-hyun (Han Hyo-joo), a highly intelligent agent gifted with supersenses, assigned to spy on Kim Doo-sik (Zo In-sung), the show’s Superman-equivalent and star agent of the superpowered spy division. Instructed to lure him with her womanly charms with the ultimate goal of understanding his deepest beliefs, Mi-hyun ends up falling in love with Doo-sik, but not before he is betrayed by his own government. Yet this relatively straightforward plot is narrated with a slow, deliberate pace, emphasizing every glance and every stage of their new relationship through a cinematic language reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love

Meanwhile, Hui-soo’s father, Jang Ju-won (Ryu Seung-ryong), is a former gangster with a pitifully innocent personality. Endowed with the power of superhealing, he is taken advantage of for years with the pretense of protecting their village gang. He is eventually thrown out when his boss decides to work together with a rival gang. Along the way, though, he falls in love with Hwang Ji-hee (Kwak Sun-young), an escort who frequents the motel where he stays. It’s a romance made heart-wrenching by Ju-won’s abject naivete, a middle-aged man with absolutely no clue of how to function in the world. Cutting across opposing personalities and life experiences, Ju-won and Ji-hee fall in love simply on the basis of the fact that they have absolutely no one else in the world.

And when Ji-hee ends up succumbing in an accident, the sudden shock and fall back into loneliness provokes a response in Ju-won that is absolutely harrowing, to say the least — a masterful bit of acting placed in the last show you expect it. 

Ju-won’s struggle with his own immaturity underlines another recurring theme in the show — the tragedy of social maladjustment. It’s an issue that strikes its victims with the most pitiful form of isolation. In approaching its superpower element with a realistic tinge, Moving focuses greatly on the impact that these powers have on the personal lives of its superheroes. A big impact of these superpowers is the undersocialization that comes from being unable to participate freely in society. 

Even Kim Doo-sik, established as the show’s superhero legend, appears less-than-suave when he has to actually interact normally with people. Jang Ju-won appears as the biggest representation of this theme, his maladjustment reappearing in the present day in his failing restaurant business. Bong-seok demonstrates his own form of isolation despite his pleasant demeanor. Unable to control his ability to fly, and living an undercover existence with his mother, he has been coddled all his life, and for good reason. And while this upbringing gave him a cheerful personality, he, too, is innocent in his own way, unable to make any real friends.

There is also the mentally disabled character of Lee Jae-man (Kim Sung-kyun), father of class leader Lee Gang-hoon (Kim Do-hoon). Endowed with super strength, he is taken advantage of by people in his community, and is forced to miss a good part of his son’s childhood after being imprisoned. Cutting through his emotional volatility, Jae-man loves his son with a passion yet is unable to understand the political threats that encompass his family’s life. 

Across 20 episodes, Moving marks its superhero action aspect loudly with fantastic climactic episodes that leave many Hollywood action scenes in the dust. Yet, like one character overtly states at one point, every action story is actually a story of romance. The series does a great job of marrying its fantastic genre elements with a realistic lens, exploring emotive stories about love, but also elaborating upon more grounded aspects of the human experience in themes etched with deep emotional strokes. 

In between the collision course charted by the dual storyline of relationships and superhero action, Moving does a magical job of telling deeply emotional stories that are masterful in their own right. Whether it’s the burgeoning high school romance, the tender courtship of Mi-hyun and Doo-sik, or the tear-inducing story of loneliness between Ju-won and Ji-hee, Moving charts intense emotional highs that strike you like lightning. Yet, in an added stroke of brilliance, the show manages to capture all these sentiments within the carefully designed boundaries of a superhero tale.

Moving is now streaming on Disney+.


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