Netflix review: It's okay to get hooked on risky 'It's Okay to Not Be Okay'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 11 2020 05:59 AM

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It was only during this year that I had finally given in to watch a Korean drama series in full. "Crash Landing on You" was really quite a trending topic last February so I took the plunge with that one. I liked it a lot, and binged through the whole series in a breeze. So, next, I tried to watch a series in real time as it was still being released weekly -- "The King: Eternal Monarch." It was getting middling reviews and I tended to agree how unsatisfactorily the whole series ended. The next one I chose was because of its multiple awards, "When the Camellia Blooms." That excellent finale was well-worth the series length of 20 episodes.

This review of the just-concluded "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (also called "Psycho but It's Okay") is the first time I am attempting to review a Korean drama series. Since I am relatively new to this television phenomenon, I am not really familiar with the actors, their past work in other series and their reputations. Therefore I am just going to comment on how I see the story being developed and how the characters were being portrayed, with no biases or preconceptions about the actors themselves as celebrities.

Ko Mun-yeong (Seo Ye-ji) was a famous author of a successful series of children's books. However, behind the scenes, she was a petulant, quarrelsome misanthrope who would rather work alone. Her publisher Mr. Lee was always ready with cash to pay off people she would offend with her tactless behavior. One day, during the grand launch of her latest book, circumstances led her to act violently in public. This scandal caused her to drop from public view and return to her old home outside Seongjin City, called the Cursed Castle.

Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) was a caregiver in psychiatric hospitals. He was also the devoted guardian to his autistic elder brother Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) since their mother passed away. Because of Sang-tae's curious aversion to butterflies, the brothers had been constantly on the move whenever a certain time of the year came around. In the current year, the two relocated to their hometown Seongjin City. There, they leased a room in the house of their old friend Nam Ju-ri (Park Kyu-young), and worked in the hospital where she worked.

One of the main settings of the drama was OK Psychiatric Hospital, a charming hospital located on a hill overlooking the sea. The hospital director was Dr. Oh Ji-wang (Kim Chang-wan) who had some unconventional methods of treating his patients borne out of his genuine care for their condition. Mrs. Park Haeng-ja (Jang Young-nam) led the efficient staff of nurses, which included Ju-ri. Ju-ri's mother Kang Soon-doek (Kim Mi-kyung) was the cook in the hospital canteen. Among the patients there was Ko Dae-hwan (Lee Eol), the long estranged millionaire father of Ko Mun-yeong.

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The conceptual premise of the series was very risky -- mental health. All the lead characters had some sort of serious mental health issue that disturbed their day-to-day lives. The leading female character herself was suffering from some sort of anti-social personality disorder, which causes her to lash out on people that she did not like without caring about the consequences of these actions. The leading male character had always been burdened with self-imposed grief and guilt, mostly having to do with caring for his brother, which also prevented him from enjoying what most would call a normal life. 

In the very first episode alone, the first encounter between Mun-yeong and Gang-tae was already a bloody affair with a knife -- definitely not the typical beginning of what was supposed to be a romantic relationship, and this was probably what kept viewers hanging on to see how things will turn out. 

Seo Ye-ji and Kim Soo-hyun are both attractive and charismatic actors who had an electric chemistry between them when they are together. However, you knew that things were not going to be smooth between them easily. There was friction all the way up to Episode 15! Without spoiling any details, for me, the absolute best moment between them was the studio scene of Episode 12, with the campfire scene in Episode 16 coming close. 

The character of Moon Sang-te was truly special one, and a real challenge for any actor to portray. On top of being autistic, he also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of a traumatic event that he witnessed as a child. Beneath his behavioral and psychological disabilities, he had a remarkable talent for the arts in drawing and painting. I did not realize until I am writing this that Sang-tae was played by Oh Jung-se, who was also in "When the Camellia Blooms." It is really amazing how Korean actors look very different in their different roles. Oh won Best Supporting Actor awards in both KBS Drama and Baeksang awards for "Camellia." I won't be surprised if he brings home the bacon again for his role here for his consistency and connection with his troubled character.

Aside from heavy family drama, psychological drama, romantic drama and crime drama, this series has comedic moments mostly from the characters of the sneaky publisher Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-hun), Lee's indomitable assistant Yoo Seung-jae (Park Jin-joo) and Gang-tae's clingy best friend Jo Jae-su (Kang Ki-doong). There was one episode when even the usually straight-laced Nam Ju-ri was absolutely hilarious. 

Balance was also provided by the way Dr. Oh conducted his patients' therapy with a twinkle in his eye, or the way Mrs. Kang cooked her food with motherly devotion. The elegant yet over-the-top fashion sense of Ko Mun-yeong is always entertaining in its own right. 

The black and white fantasy intro sequence with scarlet highlights and haunting music represented the world of the series to a T. The horror sequences reflecting the characters' nightmares and psychoses, as well as real life danger, all bore dark eerie dread. 

Aside from tying up all the loose ends for everyone we met in the past 16 episodes, the finale was very emotionally satisfying with its sincere portrayal of humility and maturity among Mun-yeong, Gang-tei and Sang-tei, especially the inspired way their relationship was mirrored by the beautiful animation of Sang-tae's charming book illustrations. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."