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K-drama ● Review: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

English Title: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Korean Title: 사이코지만 괜찮아 [lit. psycho but alright]

Director(s): Park Shin-woo & Jung Dong-yoon

Screenwriter(s): Jo Yong

Studio: Studio Dragon Released: 2020

Runtime: 16 episodes, min. 1h 10m – max. 1h 23m

Starring: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Yea-ji, Oh Jung-se, Park Gyu-young, Jang Young-nam, Kim Joo-neon

My Verdict: Character-driven series. Tries to balance dark and light, both in terms of storytelling and visually. Mostly looks good but a bit bloated.

● Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) is a caretaker at the OK Psychiatric Hospital. He lives with his older brother Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) who is autistic. Sang-tae is an (aspiring) artist who is a fan of author Go Mun-young (Seo Yea-ji). She writes dark fairy-tale-like stories and supposedly has anti-social personality disorder. One day, she visits the hospital for a reading event and meets Gang-tae, not leaving a good impression.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

● From that meeting, Mun-young and Gang-tae slowly develop an understanding and some sort of relationship. The series is character-driven (and relationship-driven) rather than plot-driven. If one is not into this type of drama, then one will probably not like it.

● There is, of course, more to the series than Gang-tae and Mun-young.

● Both she and the two brothers have a past and part of the story is about them dealing with that. Given the focus on mental health and its associated issues, this is expected. Unfortunately, there is the usual “our main characters have a past that overlaps” and therefore feels too contrived. It doesn’t need it, a similar past if even that is perhaps enough.

Go Mun-young (Seo Yea-ji) and Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun)
Go Mun-young (Seo Yea-ji) and Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun)

● I am not a psychologist but there are different types of anti-social personality disorders and no doubt a spectrum. Although Seo Yea-ji plays Mun-young with the traits expected from the condition such as impulsiveness and being indifferent to the needs of others, she mostly just plays Mun-young as a bitch with an attitude. That is fine but it is something to note in case one is expecting something more severe.

● Thankfully, Sang-tae is not simply the “totally disabled autistic” nor is he the “totally silent autistic who is a genius”. He does need help but he can do much by himself. He is a decent artist but he is not some virtuoso either. Interestingly, there is a shrewdness about him that only Mun-young seems to notice, at least out loud. For the purposes of drama, there must be some obvious traits but it is commendable that the writer has created a complex character. Oh Jung-se is the real star of the series with his consistently solid performance.

Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) and Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun)
Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) and Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun)

● There are some “lovable” supporting characters. Although these follow a template to complement the three lead characters’ personalities and their dark past, they do work. Gang-tae’s fellow nurse Nam Joo-ri played by at-the-time newcomer Park Gyu-young is the nice young lady who tries to be positive. She obviously likes Gang-tae, forming a love triangle there without being excessively dramatic and cheesy. Lee Sang-in played by veteran Kim Joo-heon is the longsuffering publisher-editor boss of Mun-young. Both convey pathos convincingly as well as effective instruments of a little comedy.

Nam Joo-ri (Park Gyu-young)
Nam Joo-ri (Park Gyu-young)

● Visually, there is the use of a rich palette that is not uncommon in K-dramas. Mun-young, given her personality, has an array of colorful costumes. It mostly looks good if nothing else. This is obviously derived from the “fairy tale” approach, trying to balance between dark and light.

Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-heon)
Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-heon)

● The artwork that goes with Mun-young’s stories is brilliant. Although impressive visually, its use in storytelling is less so. The intent is obvious, that what is happening in real life is partially reflected or told in these stories and illustrations. This technique is fine but its execution feels a bit unfocused. Admittedly, this is difficult as only so much can be read in any scene without spoiling the rest of the episode or series.

● As already mentioned, this is a character-driven and relationship-driven series. Even with that consideration, it is a little bloated. At 16 episodes, each episode can be tighter. It is not a bad series. It is overall moderately engaging and it is good to see one that addresses mental disorders and mental health without glorifying them even if it is over-simplistic at times. It does look at the darker side of things but also takes an optimistic approach by having a little comedy and a positive ending without outright trivializing it.


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