“So don’t forget any of it. Remember it all and overcome it. If you don’t overcome it, you’ll always be a kid whose soul never grows.”
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a Korean drama series that was aired on Netflix in June 2020. The gist of the story is emotional healing from childhood trauma. It has three main characters including a famous children’s book author, a laid-back health care worker at a psychiatric hospital, and an artist who has autism.
Here are some of the reasons why it was a crowd favorite in 2020 and one of the best Korean shows on Netflix.
1. IT EARNED 8 NOMINATIONS AT THE 57th BAEKSANG ARTS AWARDS.
It has the most number of nominations at the Baeksang Arts Awards, one of South Korea’s most prestigious award shows, including:
- Best Drama
- Best Director – Park Shin-woo
- Best Screenplay – Jo Yong
- Technical Award – Cho Sang-kyung (Costume design)
- Best Actor – Kim Soo Hyun as Gang Tae
- Best Actress – Seo Ye Ji as Ko Mun-yeong
- Best Supporting Actor – Oh Jung Se as Sang Tae
- Best Supporting Actress – Jang Young Nam as Park Haeng-ja
Congratulations to Oh Jung Se for winning the Best Supporting Actor, Cho Sang-kyung for the Technical Award (Costume Design), and Seo Yeji for the Most Popular Actress Award.
2. IT TALKS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.
Despite the universal stigma and discrimination on mental health, this drama bravely tackles the struggles of human behaviors.
Its concept is healing with three main characters who helped each other heal from childhood trauma.
“You have to look directly into the face of the trauma. And not like this, peep from the back.”
The drama has significant life lessons to draw from that encourage viewers to face their pains, express themselves, and receive healing, “When you are tired, get some rest. When you are sad, go ahead and cry. It’s okay to do that.”
3. THE SCREENPLAY HAS BALANCE, DEPTH, AND CREATIVITY.
The drama from start to finish of the production is excellent with its theme, character, and plot working smoothly and creatively with one another. Despite its psychological and healing message, it is spontaneous and balanced with the right tone of humor and fun.
The narrative, script, dialogues, delivery, cinematography, the direction of photo-video, music, angle, pacing, lighting, composition, animations, and editing, stir the right depth of emotions.
The visual story-telling is clever, innovative, artistic, and stimulating which helps viewers better understand human woundings and nightmares of the past. The story in each episode is brilliantly written, such as The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares, The Cheerful Dog, Zombie Kid, Finding the Real Face, and others.
4. THE CHARACTERS PORTRAY HUMAN STRUGGLES AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
There is so much truth about how the drama describes the root cause of a person’s behavior into adulthood. The main characters (as well as the patients at OK Hospital) are stuck in their childhood who seek legitimate love, security, empathic understanding, and emotional nurturing.
Somewhere in the developmental stage, a child receives wounding from the primary caregiver. Such traumatic events experienced from significant people are overwhelming for a dependent and helpless child that they create defensive patterns growing up.
Ko Mun-yeong. The female main lead was described in the drama as someone who is “messed up, has no conscience, and a woman whose eyes utterly lacked warmth.”
She portrays the role of an Antisocial Personality Disorder who lacks empathy towards the feelings of others, is fierce, unapologetic, possessive, aggressive, and violent. She finds satisfaction in criticizing people and speaking harsh words to anyone.
She is manipulative and uses charm to get what she wants, “Well, you know, like shoes, clothes, and cars. When I see something pretty, I want it. And I need to have what I want. Whether I have to pay for it, steal it, or just take it by force. What matters is that I make it mine.”
She lived in an abusive home and walked life with hatred at anyone or anything in the world. It shows in the way she writes dark stories and treats people around her.
She was psychologically trapped or imprisoned to behave like her mother who controlled and abused her emotionally to play by her rules, “My nightmares are always about my mom”.
Just like her mother, she has a fondness for sharp objects such as a knife or pen. She fights against anyone or anything that displeases her. Her defensive stance shows in the way she dresses up.
She experienced rejection from her childhood friends and neighbors who see her as, “A monster who brings along the shadow of death.”
People tell her painful words:
“Drugs and injections can’t cure you. You were just born that way. So there’s no way to treat you. And you have a poor prognosis. It’s just best to avoid people like you.”
“You’re all empty inside. You’re just loud. Like an empty can.”
“You will end up like your mother. You won’t be able to escape.”
Gang Tae. The male main lead portrays the personality who is quiet, amicable, patient, and hiding in a mask of emotional dependence and avoidance, “You see, when life is unbearably hard, the easiest way out is to run.”
His character illustrates an individual who needs love, attention, affirmation, and yet avoids attachment for fear of rejection and abandonment. In the drama, he avoids Ko Mun-yeong (his childhood crush) but easily compromised when the lady stirred his emotions. He is seen as desperately clinging to Ko Mun-yeong no matter what the cost.
His childhood wounding originated from his mother’s rejection of him as a person – communicating that he is only loved when he is “serving, saving, protecting” his sibling. He was not given the freedom and opportunity to do what he wants to do, to realize his dreams, and be who he can become.
He was made to believe by his mother that he was born to take care of his sibling, suppressing his own childhood needs and dreams, “Gang-tae, you need to stay by your brother’s side until the day you die. Your job is to look after your brother and keep him safe. That’s why I gave birth to you.”
Orphaned as kids, Gang Tae had to be an adult – to be a father and mother to his older sibling with autism. To survive life, he suppresses his emotions, appears strong in front of others, protects his brother at all costs, and avoids any romantic relationship.
“Gang-tae is an expert at hiding his feelings. He’s never even had a chance to whine or complain. He got so used to just putting up with things and keeping it all inside. He’s still a kid inside,” his friend Jae-su tells Ko Mun-yeong.
Sang Tae. He plays the older brother of Gang Tae who witnessed the murder of his mother and suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was a traumatic burden that he carried with him into adulthood, making him fearful of butterflies, and running away with his brother from the threat.
“Where are we headed? To a place where the butterfly can’t find us. Somewhere far. Yes, far away.” He locks himself up in his cabinet or hides under a table whenever he feels threatened or saddened.
5. THE LINES AND DIALOGUES CONVEY REAL-LIFE STRUGGLES.
The drama holds relatable moments and quotes that surely utter what we feel, even the unspoken ones.
“Your body is honest. When you’re in physical pain, you cry. But the heart is a liar. It stays quiet even when it is hurting.”
“You’re like a kid who wants to be loved.”
“Hurtful, painful memories. Memories of deep regrets. Memories of hurting others and being hurt. Memories of being abandoned. Only those with such memories buried in their hearts can become stronger, more passionate, and emotionally flexible.”
The drama highlights mental health awareness, eliminating the stigma of human problems in a shame-based culture.
“So what if we’re okay with it when the entire world doesn’t think that way? They all refuse to accept.”
It conveys the reality that we are all broken in different ways, “People are all hypocrites. We all live with a lot of hatred, but we act like that’s not the case. After all, who isn’t flawless?”
It encourages overcoming battles – to acknowledge what is broken and face trauma, “I’ve been tied up for way too long. So I forgot to cut myself free,” says Ko Mun-yeong where she deliberately cut her hair short and visited her mother in the prison. It was a moment of setting herself free from the bondage of control and manipulation and becoming who she is meant to be.
“One must face traumatic memories to overcome them.”
“You shouldn’t avoid it. Just face it head-on.”
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay means that emotional self must be accessed for growth and maturity – that it’s okay to be vulnerable, talk about struggles, and seek help.
Yes, it’s okay to not be okay, but it doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end with a cycle of struggles. It is a healing journey that encompasses the courage to cut off the leash, own the responsibility of moving forward anew, and walk with the right community that encourages healing.
DRAMA RATING: 10/10
This drama is a masterpiece. Undoubtedly, the talented cast gave an outstanding performance and the whole production team worked excellently. It’s one of the extraordinary, unforgettable, and remarkable Korean series.
“There are so many things that you can learn on the road.” – Dr. Oh