With an Absolutely Electric Leading Chemistry, ‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’ Is a Binge-Worthy and Delectable Treat
An extraordinary road to emotional healing opens up for an antisocial children’s book writer and a selfless psych ward caretaker when they cross paths.
Director: Park Shin-woo
Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji, Oh Jung-se, Park Kyu-young, Kim Joo-hun, Kang Ki-doong
Country: South Korea
Runtime: About 74 minutes per episode
For me, the only thing not okay about this Korean drama is how entertaining it is. Brandishing an absolutely electric chemistry between its two leads, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay 사이코지만 괜찮아 is downright fatal for any suckers for romance.
At the same time, the series also flourishes with a delectable cast of engaging side characters and an avid focus on humanising mental illness. I have only seen two episodes for this review, but both are such well-rounded, engrossing treats that I don’t see how its momentum could be halted.
It’s Okay (as we’ll be referring to it as from now on) follows two youths seemingly from completely different worlds. Kang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) works as a community health worker at a psychiatric hospital, looking to make ends meet providing for his autistic older brother Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se). Kang-tae soon crosses paths with celebrated children’s book author Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji).
What brings these two leads closer together is with each finding out that they are both unable to love due to childhood trauma. It sounds unbearably cliche – but hear me out. How the series keeps this very beaten path engaging isn’t through a subversion of tropes, but by fully embracing them.
The series does not downplay the childhood trauma aspect of its characters at all. Each of the pair’s past are unravelled through frequent flashbacks. Even when they are occasionally done through Tim Burton-esque animated segments, the weight behind them are palpable, barely shying away from the grisly details.
It is also helped by how these moments of weaknesses betray the facade of their adult selves, while somewhat making them very empathetic despite their flaws. Although her work resonates with so many, Moon-young is a haughty prick even to children, mostly due to her antisocial personality disorder. Kang-tae is strong-willed with saint-like patience and boundless care for his brother, yet finds himself unable to open up to Moon-young despite clear infatuation.
There is a gender reversal here compared to other series such as The King: Eternal Monarch, with Moon-young being the lofty, fancifully dressed pursuer with her incessant flirtations and Kang-tae constantly blowing her off. Indeed, what makes their romance so compelling is partially due to their fleshed out back stories. This is made all the more potent is with the lead’s incredible chemistry, which occasionally bubbles into whimsical.
Moon-young’s actions and tone are insufferable with only hints of a good nature, yet she is still so fascinating and exciting mainly due to Seo clearly embracing and enjoying her role. It probably also helps that she looks incredible in every frame, with her wardrobe full of intricate, gothic-style clothing making her stand out sharply amidst the sea of mundane.
Kim does a superb job portraying Kang-tae as well. He looks so… typical but still exudes a quiet, boyish charm. Without the flashiness of his other half, Kim is left winning hearts solely through the sincerity of his actions, emotive range and words. He is perfectly flawed with the right amount of daunting yet tameable emotional weaknesses.
Still, it does tend to be hard to root for these leads on their own; it’s in the moments they share together where they feel complete to the viewer. Kang-tae may be cold towards Moon-young (at least, after two episodes in) but there is this ever-present anticipation that they are exactly what each other needs.
The depth of Kang-tae’s care and empathy is mainly demonstrated through the relationship with his autistic older brother. The scope of mental illnesses covered in the series is wide, consistently showing a good grasp in both showing the uglier sides and in humanising them. These spotlighting moments are not only praiseworthy for its delicate handling, but also with how it adds much needed groundedness in a series that occasionally slips into fantasy.
Rounding up the entertainment value is the cast of fun side-characters. Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-hun), the CEO of a publishing company for Moon-young’s books, serves as the key comic relief tirelessly running around covering for Moon-young’s appalling public behaviour. Kang-Tae’s close friend, Jae-soo (Kang Ki-doong), is charming in his own way with his selfless support for his friend.
And of course – perhaps being a Korean drama – it is inescapable that there will be a love triangle, with Joo-ri (Park Kyu-young) being the equally caring and compassionate nurse competing for Kang-tae’s affection. It’s not an exciting three-way dynamic per se but there is a surprising amount of conflict in their collective backstories that could prove to be combustible as the series continues.
Adding on to the series’s compelling characters are its technical aspects. From animated sequences to cartoonish comedy segments, there is more than enough visual variety to keep the series light and enticing. This is furthered by various creative cuts and dissolves that rather seamlessly transition scenes.
Despite its numerous somber and emotional moments, the series’s overall tone manages to remain consistent, fleshing out its world exactly because of the various emotional highs and lows it supplies. Still, at the heart of the series is its romance. The series readily shows that heartracing, tense close-ups of the leading lovebirds are practically a perfected art form for Korean dramas.
I was very pleasantly surprised with how engrossed I got with the series. It felt formulaic with how engineered every beat, every gasp, and every twist the story takes was, but it never felt manipulative or unearned. It’s Okay may not shatter the ceiling for anyone uninterested in lovey-dovey romances but it pushes its cliched beats to excellence through splendid performances and a deftly balanced tone.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is available for streaming on Netflix, with two new episodes released every weekend.
Check out the series trailer below:
– Lighthearted and Hopeful, ‘Workers’ Details the Antics of a Trio Determined to Get Rich Quick
– ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ Promises Syrupy Romance and a Fascinating World Well-worth Digging into
– An Abridged Initiation to Modern South Korean Cinema