By Bryan Tan
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (IOTNBO) is definitely more than just okay. Unlike the typical Korean drama, it is a mould-breaker in every sense of the word. IOTNBO is indubitably a romance drama, yet writer Jo Yong manages to infuse it with astonishing layers of intellectual and emotional depth. It gives us a powerful glimpse into the lives of people who live with difficult, often debilitating mental illnesses which hinder them from functioning normally in society.
IOTNBO is also actor Kim Soo Hyun’s highly anticipated comeback drama since his release from the South Korean army in July 2019. The 32-year-old actor is currently the highest paid actor in Korea, famous for his roles in Moon Embracing the Sun (2012), My Love From the Star (2013) and Producers (2015).
Kim Soo Hyun plays Moon Gang Tae, a caretaker and less-favoured second son, living with his high-functioning autistic older brother Moon Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se).
As a result of Sang Tae’s trauma from the death of their mother, the two brothers move nomadically from city to city, unable to settle down. Gang Tae’s strong attachment as his brother’s guardian renders him unable to develop meaningful relationships with anyone, and he finds himself burdened and shackled to the last words of his late mother, seeing his only duty in life as being to care for his older brother.
A wrench is thrown into their plans when they encounter the mercurial Ko Moon Young (Seo Ye Ji), a children’s book author with an anti-social personality disorder compelling her to possess anything that catches her eye. Gang Tae realises that they knew each other as children, and even though her cruel ways repulse him initially, his feelings for her morph into one of loving understanding as the show progresses.
The trio eventually settle into a familial way of life, though often fraught with spats and unnerving revelations, revolving around OK Psychiatric Hospital where Gang Tae works and also where Moon Young’s father is committed for dementia.
Many of the patients in the hospital display crippling mental illnesses and addictions, particularly Kwon Ki Do (Kwak Dong Yeon) who strips naked during episodes of mental breakdowns. Kwon is ‘abducted’ by Ko Moon Young and ruins his father’s aspirations to run for political office by stripping and publicly embarrassing him at a rally. Kwon’s story is a reflection of society’s lack of understanding and empathy towards people with mental disabilities, oftentimes even from their own families.
From actress Seo Ye Ji’s show-stopping couture dresses to Oh Jung Se’s incredibly compelling acting as an autistic adult, IOTNBO tells us that no matter what life throws at us, it’s okay not to be okay. What’s more important is acknowledging that we are all flawed in one way or another, and to see the beauty in what we cannot change.