Updated: June 20, 2022
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) is a Korean drama that follows three main characters and their journey to emotional healing from childhood trauma. It stars Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Yea-ji, and Oh Jung-se.
Here are five reasons why it was a crowd favorite in 2020 and one of the best Korean dramas of all time:
1. It earned 8 nominations at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) earned 8 nominations at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards in May 2021, including:
- Best Drama
- Best Director: Park Shin-woo
- Best Screenplay: Jo Yong
- Technical Award: Cho Sang-kyung (Costume design)
- Best Actor: Kim Soo Hyun
- Best Actress: Seo Yea-ji
- Best Supporting Actor: Oh Jung-se
- Best Supporting Actress: Jang Young-nam
Oh Jung Se took home the Best Supporting Actor, Cho Sang-kyung won the Technical Award (Costume Design), and Seo Yea-ji got the Most Popular Actress award.
The healing drama was also nominated for Best Television Series at the International Emmy Awards in 2021. In total, it achieved 12 wins out of 25 nominations from various award-giving bodies. Meanwhile, Kim Soo-hyun won the Grand Prize (Daesang) award in the TV category at the Asia Artist Award (AAA) in 2020.
2. It talks about mental health and promotes healing.
Inspired by her own love story with a man who had a personality disorder, Jo Yong wrote It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) to shed light on the delicate issues of mental health. Her narrative bravely tackles the struggles of human behavior and conveys the reality that we are all broken in different ways, thus eliminating the stigma of mental health problems in a shame-based culture.
Despite the universal stigma and discrimination on mental health topics, the show has served its core message: many viewers were inspired and motivated 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.”
There is one particular scene with Seo Yea-ji as Ko Mun-young that encourages overcoming battles, a powerful moment where she deliberately cut her hair short, “I’ve been tied up for way too long. So I forgot to cut myself free.” She then visited her mother in the prison to face her trauma. It was a significant process of setting herself free from the bondage of manipulation and finally choosing to become who she is meant to be.
3. It delivers high-quality production.
The production delivered excellence from preparations to finale. Everything from screenplay to direction to musical scores to cinematography to animations to visuals to editing, is a masterpiece and stirs the right depth of emotional impact.
It is worth noting that the visual stortytelling is so clever and artistic in a way that helps viewers better understand human woundings and nightmares of the past. In fact, the drama’s storybooks were published by Wisdom House in 2020 and were listed in the top 20 bestselling books. It was also translated into Brazilian Portuguese in 2021.
The costumes are also visually gorgeous most especially Seo Yea-ji’s outfit that attracted the crowd’s attention.
4. The characters are interestingly realistic.
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-young. The female main character, played by Seo Yea-ji, was described in the drama as someone who is “messed up, has no conscience, and a woman whose eyes utterly lacked warmth.”
Ko Mun-young struggles from Antisocial Personality Disorder, a condition that lacks empathy towards the feelings of others and finds satisfaction in criticizing or speaking harsh words to anyone. She displays manipulation 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. In fact, 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 controls and abuses her emotionally to play by her rules, “My nightmares are always about my mom”. Just like her mom, she has fondness for sharp objects such as a knife or pen. She fights against anyone or anything that displeases her and her defensive stance shows in the way she dresses up.
She also experienced rejection from her childhood friends and neighbors who see her as, “A monster who brings along the shadow of death.” People tell her the worst 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 character, played by Kim Soo-hyun, portrays the personality who is quiet, amicable, patient, but hides in a mask of emotional dependence and avoidance, “You see, when life is unbearably hard, the easiest way out is to run.” He illustrates an individual who needs love and affirmation but avoids attachment for fear of rejection and abandonment.
His childhood wounding originated from his mother’s rejection of him as a person—that he is only loved when he is “serving, saving, and protecting” his sibling. He was not given the freedom and opportunity to do what he wanted 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,” one of his friends said.
Sang Tae. Oh Jung-see played as Sang Tae, the older brother of Gang Tae who has autism. He 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 are powerful and relatable.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) illustrates humanly relatable moments and conveys quotes that certainly utter what we feel, even the unspoken ones. Here are some of the powerful lines from the drama:
“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.”
“You have to look directly into the face of the trauma. And not like this, peep from the back.”
“So what if we’re okay with it when the entire world doesn’t think that way? They all refuse to accept.”
“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?”
“One must face traumatic memories to overcome them.”
“You shouldn’t avoid it. Just face it head-on.”
“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 (2020) teaches that emotional self must be accessed for growth and maturity—that it’s okay to be vulnerable, talk about struggles, and seek help. It is a lifetime process of growing that involves the courage to cut off the leash, own the responsibility of moving forward anew, and walk with the right community that encourages healing.
This drama is a masterpiece. Besides its powerful message, it is worth noting that the cast delivered an outstanding performance and the whole production team worked excellently. It’s one of the best and extraordinary Korean series of all time.
“There are so many things that you can learn on the road.” – Dr. Oh
Copyright 2021: Myra Bansale for KORB Blog.
Genre: Psychological, Romance, Drama
Synopsis: A road to emotional healing opens up for an antisocial children’s book author and an employee in a psychiatric hospital.
No of episodes: 16
Starring: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Yea-ji, Oh Jung-se, Park Gyu-young
Written by: Jo Yong
Directed by: Park Shin-woo
Date: June 20 – August 9, 2020
Network: tvN, Netflix
Photos: tvN Drama