K-Drama Review: “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay” Gifts Us The Modern Fairytale Masterpiece We Never Knew We Needed
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay beautifully sends the message across – that really, “it’s okay to not be okay”
It might have been a while since the series has ended, but we are still all charmed and bewitched by its untouched and contemporary narrative. The mix of unconventional plot, upbeat storytelling – and of course the impressive acting of Seo Ye Ji, Kim Soo Hyun and Oh Jung Se are icing on its sweet story cake.
TITLE: IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY
NETWORK: NETFLIX | TVN
THEME: FANTASY, MENTAL HEALTH, MODERN LOVE STORY, WARMTH
LENGTH: 16 EPISODES
BROADCAST DATE: 20 JUNE 2020 – 9 AUGUST 2020
MAIN LEADS: KIM SOO HYUN, SEO YE JI, OH JUNG SE
HIGHLIGHTS: WELL-THOUGHT-OF STORY, STEREOTYPE-BREAKING CHARACTERS, STRONG MESSAGE ON SELF-LOVE AND HEALING UNEXPECTEDLY INTERTWINED WITH ROMANCE AND MURDER MYSTERY
QUICK PLOT ROUND-UP *Spoiler Alert
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay portrays the unusual love story between the seemingly stoic, de-sensitized Moon Gang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun), who works as a community health worker in OK Psychiatric Hospital, and the lawless, anarchistic Ko Moon Yeong (Seo Ye Ji), who is a famous children book’s author.
Both Moon Gang Tae and Ko Moon Yeong have unhealed emotional wounds from their childhood that inhibit them from fully accepting each other into one another’s life. The story then beautifully wraps Moon Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se) into the picture as Moon Gang Tae’s brother diagnosed with autism.
Kang Tae and Sang Tae have been orphaned at a young age when a mystery woman (who turns out to be Ko Moon Yeong’s wicked mother) with a two-butterfly brooch stabs their mother to death. Being the only witness to the murder, Sang Tae becomes fearfully anxious every time he sees a butterfly and tries to run away.
Feeling the heavy responsibility of having to take care of his mentally-challenged older brother, Kang Tae endures having to move jobs and houses every year just so they can run away and avoid the butterfly.
The three main character’s first fateful meeting happens at Ko Moon Yeong’s book signing wherein Sang Tae gets into trouble as he sees a kid wearing a dinosaur costume, one of his manic obsessions. The succeeding scenes and episodes then paint the wavering push and pull between Ko Moon Yeong and Moon Kang Tae’s relationship, all ostensibly because of Sang Tae at first, but really due to their own unresolved emotional baggages.
Unbeknownst to Kang Tae and Moon Yeong, Sang Tae even becomes the unifying force for them to decidedly stick together as a couple and for all three of them as a family.
Refreshing narrative and writing
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is not your typical K-Drama. It does not even to try to intently deviate from the K-Drama norm just for the sake of it but it just really offers a fresh, generation-relevant and sincere view of the world.
Writer, Jo Yong, successfully portrays the sensitive subject of mental illness all while gracefully contrasting it against the backdrop of fantasy fairytales, romantic comedy and even murder mystery. It is as if it has created a genre of its own.
It is touching without being overly dramatic; and refreshing without overtly trying hard.
Counter-stereotypical main characters and message
In light of offering a fresh perspective, this drama does it distinctly by creating main characters that do not fit any stereotypical moulds.
As if to assert the message against prejudice, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay trains the viewers to watch Ko Moon Yeong, the rich, famous, successful female author who writes about children’s books oddly about zombies and monkfish and yet willing to chase after a man she fancies.
The drama then contrasts this through Moon Kang Tae, the health worker who can give nothing except warmth to the girl she likes. Lastly, it also offers a healthy dose of inspiration from Moon Sang Tae, the older brother who outwardly has to be taken cared of by his younger brother, but eventually ends up standing up for his own self.
Apart from the characters, this drama further digresses from stereotypes by shattering commonly prejudiced subject matters.
Decipher it from these script writings:
“If you want to have fun, then have fun.”
“If someone shows up when you need them, you call that destiny.”
“The one who neglects and turns a blind eye to the abuse is worse than the abuser.”
“A fairy tale is a cruel fantasy that illustrates the brutality of this world in a paradoxical manner.”
“If you can’t erase it, you just need to cover it with something better.” – Ko Moon Young
“Remember it all and overcome it. If you don’t overcome it, you will always be a kid whose soul never grows.” from The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares
“Do you have to live alone in a castle when you are different?”
“You belong to yourself and I belong to myself.” – Moon Sang Tae
“If we have taken family photos together, we are family.” – Moon Kang Tae
“To make the people around me happy, I have to be happy first.” – Nam Joo Ri
“There are so many things you can learn on the road.” – Director Oh
Impressive Portrayals From The Actors
The depth of the drama greatly surfaces through the immersive portrayal of the lead characters and even the supporting actors. The impressive acting of Kim Soo Hyun, Seo Ye Ji and Oh Jung Se greatly complements the richness of the drama’s narrative.
Take a look at how every nerve, every line in their faces illustrates the pain they feel:
And also, the happiness when they were set free:
Unexpected Plot Twist
The narrative of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay peaks when Head Nurse Park Haeng Ja (played by Jang Young Nam) is revealed to be the same person as Ko Moon Yeong’s mother and the reason why Kang Tae and Sang Tae have become orphans at a young age.
As the drama’s initially unforeseen villain, this revelation depicts the duality of an antagonist that sympathizes with the lead character’s emotional pains but at the same ridicules and torments them for being weak.
Jang Young Nam portrayal of Head Nurse Park is likewise laudable. It is spine-chillingly creepy as if it is from a horror movie.
Cunning Symbolisms and Parallels
Much of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay‘s message is said not through words but through the numerous symbolisms and parallels it employs.
In its attempt to dissolve preconceived beliefs and widely accepted prejudices, this drama deconstructs fairytales and reveals their deep dark meanings.
And, it does so not by explicitly spelling it out but by creatively fusing it into Ko Moon Yeong’s character — an author who writes children’s books with grotesque illustrations but with very comforting message about acceptance, letting go and healing.
Apart from its cunning symbolisms, another impressive effort from It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is its use of astute parallels to depict the main leads’ character development. These parallels are present all throughout the series.
Stunning Production & Costume Design
The creators of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay leaves no stones unpolished. The production and set design perfectly illustrates the unsaid emotions in the story.
‘The Cursed Castle’ takes the front seat in illustrating the dark, cold past of the lead characters. With its Gothic facade and hauntingly gloomy atmosphere, the mansion harbors all of Ko Moon Yeong’s nightmares. As it is a witness to her troubled childhood, it also becomes the physical reminder of all her life’s fears that she tries to suppress.
Ko Moon Yeong’s overly flamboyant outfits are also not just to parade designer pieces. Instead, these are meant to represent how she builds walls and separate herself from others — the more layers, more structured her clothes are, the more vulnerable she feels inside. This can be seen transitioning to more relaxed, colorful outfits as her character develops throughout the story.
Gang Tae’s styling is the total opposite. To depict how he forgets to take care of himself and considers his feelings, his outfits are always bland, weathered and worn-out.
Meanwhile, Sang Tae is almost always seen wearing stripes as people diagnosed with autism are drawn into familiar repeating patterns.
Even the uniform of OK Hospital’s employees are intently kept at soft, pastel colors to send the message that it is a happy, healthy space where everyone can be healed. It is also to contrast versus the heavy, chaotic episodes that takes place in a psychiatric ward.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay Series Afterthoughts
This drama is indeed a creative masterpiece from the narrative, to the script, acting, literary references and up to the littlest of the details in its set design. They have all beautifully and meaningfully meshed everything together.
Warmth, Healing and Growth – the Modern Fairytale We All Need
The message of the drama resonates deeply: we heal and grow through other’s warmth.
Closing with a warm and happy ending, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay shows through its form that there is an attainable modern fairy tale magic in pursuing and trying to overcome one’s prejudices and emotional wounds. And in the process, the story assures that it is okay to not be okay.
In an interview, writer Jo Yong reveals that the series is actually inspired by her own love story when she fell for a man with a mental disorder.
However, unlike Moon Kang Tae who is able to fully accept Ko Moon Yeong with an Anti-Social Personality disorder, Jo Yong is unable to hold back all her prejudices. Hence, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay serves as her sincere apology to that person and to everyone with disabilities.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a gem; a definite K-Drama gift to the world. It elaborates on sensitive topics without losing its literary form. Everything is just well-thought of. It definitely makes it to the list of Best K-Dramas of 2020. It may as well be on the way of becoming a K-Drama classic.
Truly, a must-watch for everyone, whether by episode or all in one binge. The original sound tracks are beautiful as well. Creating a playlist with the line-up is nice to be reminded of the drama’s warmth anytime throughout the day.
Photos from tvN