I love watching Kdramas but I must admit that Its Okay Not to Be Okay was a very different experience for me. I loved it so much that I don’t feel confident that my review could do justice to this masterpiece of television writing and directing.
Synopsis: Moon Gang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) is a caregiver at a hospital facility who crosses paths with antisocial children’s book writer Ko Munyeong (Seo Ye Ji) by accident. Munyeong is instantly fascinated with the enigmatic Gang Tae but he wants nothing to do with a high maintenance woman like her because he has so much more on his plate, including caring for his autistic older brother Sang Tae (Oh Sung Je). None of them are prepared for fate to play a clever twist on their lives.
I’ve actually seen a lot of the positive reviews about the series, delving deep into its implication on mental health issues, relationships and the like. I don’t think I could do that part as well as they have so I’ll just stick to what I know and share what made me fall in love with the series.
When Its Okay Not to Be Okay started airing on Netflix, I was initially apprehensive to start watching because its dark premise made me fear that it was not going to end happily. The series deals with mental health issues and the trailer alone promised that it was not going to be a smooth journey for all the characters.
Still, I decided to follow clips of the series, enough for me to get hooked but not spoiled, on a weekly basis. I patiently waited for the final week of airing before I started watching. It turns out patience and discipline had its rewards because I never could have survived a weekly wait for the next episodes if watched it on the regular schedule. I would have gone mad — no pun intended. So, here I am, four days later. I completed binge watching the series at the cost of giant bags under my eyes and never regretted a moment of missed sleep.
I loved how well the series was written by screenwriter Jo Yong. The evolution of the story was well thought out from the first to the last episode and the character development was executed perfectly. The characters were written so well that they don’t seem like characters by the end of the series. Rather, they feel like an extended family, making it harder to say goodbye when the last chapter arrives.
Its not just the three lead characters — its everybody. From Gang Tae, Sang Tae and Munyeong — to Gang Tae’s loyal bestie Jae Soo, to the patients at the hospital, to Munyeong’s publisher CEO Lee, to Juri and her mom Ms. Kang. Everybody felt like people that you would want to have on your corner when the chips are down.
I loved that the series was able to tackle the different mental health issues using very realistic characters. Alcoholism, PTSD, split personality disorders, delusions, exhibitionism — these were all treated with seriousness by using characters that felt relatable to the audience — a blacksheep, a soldier, a mourning mother, an abused child.
Every audience can connect to their pain and understand their predicament better because these are the types of people you can bump into at a street corner or in your neighborhood. Yet, these characters are challenged by their mental health conditions, making it harder for them to deal with others.
It was brilliant how Munyeong’s fairy tales were brutal but on point. The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares, The Cheerful Dog, Zombie Boy and The Missing Faces — I would definitely get them if they were actual books from the store. I also loved her harsh take on fairy tales which actually rang true. It was amazing how her story mirrored the tragic scenarios in Rapunzel, Bluebeard’s Wife, and the Ugly Duckling too. Chalk another one up for this series’ writer.
Most of all, I was impressed by how these stories were used as a backdrop to depict the realities of the characters. Gang Tae was definitely The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares. He was also the Cheerful Dog who whimpered when his heart was feeling sad. Sang Tae sees these characters in people and actually provides them the opportunity to realize it for themselves.
Characters and Chemistry
I loved how Munyeong was portrayed as an emotionless princess, and was even called an empty can by Gang Tae, but she was more insightful than anyone in the series. She knew how to read people and courageously take action on their behalf at the expense of acting like the villain of the piece. She actually helped liberate Gang Tae from his personal prison. She even played a key role in helping the assemblyman’s son and Eun Ja come to terms with her daughter’s death.
Munyeong broke my heart more times than I can count in this drama. The way she steeled herself up to hurtful words and rejection. They way she bravely went for what she wanted. She was fearless, a loose canon, but was a lovable one at that.
Gang Tae broke my heart as well with each fake smile and each sigh. As his character evolved in the series, I was rooting for him to find the happiness that he so deserved after living in such misery. Kim Soo Hyun definitely picked the right project for his comeback.
Kim Soo Hyun and Seo Ye Ji’s chemistry is one of the strongest I’ve seen on screen, enough to make me want to ship them in real life. They only have to look at each other for the audience to feel the electricity. They not only look good together but their acting complemented each other perfectly . Each time they spoke hurtful words at each other, I felt like being stabbed on the heart. Each time they tried to push other away, it hurt because everyone knew they belonged together.
I love how they brought to life their characters. The level of their acting skills is off the charts. Its no easy task to portray such complicated and damaged characters but they pulled it off so naturally. While acting usually entailed actors to convey emotions, Kim Soo Hyun and Seo Ye Ji characters were tasked to express their true emotions that viewers need to decipher through their characters’ masks.
Munyeongs’s vulnerability underneath her abrasive personality — Gang Tae’s misery behind his smiles.
This is why when they truly let loose, the scenes are magnified a thousandfold. My favorite Seo Ye Ji scene was the one where she was crying like a baby while she was being fed by Oh Jung Se. There were many great scenes from Kim Soo Hyun but my favorite was his breakdown scene at the hospital.
Some of you may not know it but Oh Sung Je, the actor who played Sang Tae in this series was actually the winner of the best Supporting Actor trophy at the Baeksang Art Awards (Korea’s version of Oscars) for his portrayal in last year’s When the Camelia Blooms. I would not be surprised if he took home another award for his portrayal of Sang Tae.
Who would not love Sang Tae? Despite his handicap, his honesty made more than one character come to his senses. It was heartbreaking to see him carry the burden of his long time pain, pretending that everything was okay. When the dam finally burst, one can’t help but feel his anguish. I loved how he evolved throughout the series and how in end, he also found himself. His acceptance of Munyeong as part of his family was one of the most beautiful scenes in the series. It happened so naturally too. Sang Tae actually made the series even more engaging when he stepped up as the big brother and vowed to protect both Gang Tae and Munyeong from anyone who wished to do them harm.
I love how he fought with Munyeong all the time, and how they made up like kids. Gang Tae definitely had his work cut out for him.
Leaving home with a simple request…
Coming home to this…
Direction and Art
Let us also talk about the breathtaking cinematography of this series as well as the beautiful, beautiful artwork. Its Okay Not to Be Okay is definitely an artistic marvel that deserves high praise. From the opening credits, to the editing, to the acting, the setting, and even Munyeong’s wardrobe. Kudos to director Park Shin Woo for ensuring that all aspects of this drama came together to become the masterpiece that it is.
Its Okay Not to Be Okay is far different from other dramas because it forced viewers to face up to the reality that life is not a fairy tale. Its not such a bad thing. The series posits the idea that its okay to be weak, and to find strength from people who are willing to stand together with you despite your imperfections and flaws.
Its Okay Not to Be Okay is a beautiful story of friendship, love, forgiveness and family. Its voice rings with honesty without fancy sugarcoating despite the fairy tale premise. Everything went together perfectly to tell this tale of imperfection and the beauty of accepting that not everything is within our control.
All in all, Its Okay Not to Be Okay could well be my new favorite drama — ever. I could not get over how beautiful the entire thing was. It was intelligent. It was brave. It was stunning. It manages to connect on a different level, making it a memorable gem. It was as close to perfect despite the wealth of imperfection portrayed in the tale. It was a modern day fairy tale that most everyone can relate with. I will definitely rewatch this series over and over again in the years to come.