It's Okay To Not Be Okay
사이코지만 괜찮아
Studio Dragon (2020) 16 Episodes
Family Medical Melodrama, Grade: B-
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

I really wanted to like this family medical drama It's Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) because its male star Kim Soo Hyun (My Love From Another Star, Dream High, Father's House, etc.) is an actor I have always enjoyed watching over the years, dating back to his earliest works when he was first getting into show biz. This was his first starring role in a drama since he was released from his military requirement and I wanted to support his work. It turned out to be far more difficult for me to do that as the story progressed. I stayed the course and finished it, but it felt like enduring a hurting pulled tooth; it's definitely not his best drama, not by a long shot. That honor remains with the superlative masterpiece My Love From Another Star. That one will stand the test of time, and this one will soon be forgotten (and I'm sure deep down he knows that, too). Even the title of this drama makes little sense. If you were not okay, would you still think that was a perfectly fine way to continue living your life? Wouldn't you want to be okay instead? Even the original title was weird: I'm A Psycho, But That's Okay. If you were a psycho, would you consider that to be an okay way to live? I doubt it. Everyone wants to be normal. Everyone wants to be okay. The title here should have been It's Not Okay To Be A Psycho. That at least would have given these mentally troubled characters a positive goal to shoot for!

Kim Soo Hyun

The first few episodes I did rather enjoy, even though I had some reservations about the story and the characters from the very start, but as the drama progressed it became harder and harder for me to tolerate it, or to even like the characters much. It just became tedious. Definitely the fault of the writer of the script, someone who had only written one prior drama, and who obviously didn't quite know how to create an exceptional story instead of a superficial, trite, campy, predictable, frustrating, cliche-ridden one. There didn't seem to be much real personal growth in the characters for the majority of the story, either: people who were all severely wounded mentally, stemming from their sad, love-starved childhoods (a favorite theme of many Korean dramas and films). And of course the three main lead characters knew each other briefly in childhood. Excuse me if I yawn over that vastly overused trope as well.

The fact that one of the characters, an adult male, was severely autistic (actor Oh Jung Se, When The Camellia Blooms), and not really receiving proper medical care for his condition, bothered me quite a bit, since I am a mother who raised a child on the autism spectrum, and worked very hard to get that child to finish high school, and even to get a college degree and become independent. The autistic-savant character here in this drama had some artistic talents that could have been a key to help him live a more normal life, but no one around him, not even his loving brother played by Kim Soo Hyun, really encouraged him to develop that talent from youth in any steady, meaningful way.

Oh Jung Se

Then they threw into the mix of the two brothers' story a female lead character, played by Seo Ye Ji (Lawless Lawyer), who was a total outlandish nutcase, a profound narcissist who always had to have things her way or she'd pout and walk off like a spoiled child. She was a character who should have been humbled early on in the story, but who was allowed to trounce upon everyone's feelings for far too long, acting more like an entitled, nasty rich princess living in a luxurious tower, rather than a normal, caring woman with both feet planted firmly on the ground.

I had found it hard to warm to this actress very much in Lawless Lawyer too, at least in the beginning, so I was prepared to be
as patient as possible with her this time too, but honestly I never really liked her character at all. I tried, but all along I thought Kim Soo Hyun's character would have been far better served by having a helpmeet like the normal girl who had a crush on him for years, played by the second female lead, Park Kyu Young, who was a total sweetie. In real life a couple like the one played by Kim Soo Hyun and Seo Ye Ji would never last. They both were far too troubled in their basic natures. I really think that the heart of this drama was the two brothers' story, and that adding a twisted romance detracted from what could have been a unique and special K-drama instead. I felt in a similar way about the 2015 K-drama I Remember You. In that one the two brothers' story (Park Bo Gum and Seo In Guk) was far more interesting than any fluffy romance they tried to bring into the basic story. Although at least in that story Jang Nara's character was a normal working woman, not a rich, entitled witch who wore ridiculously ornate designer clothes and earrings, and strutted around like the world owed her a living and that everyone should serve her because she was just soooo special and rich. Shudder.


Kim Soo Hyun & Seo Ye Ji

The Story:

Brothers Moon Kang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) and Moon Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se) are loving brothers who have been living and struggling together basically since childhood when their family disintegrated. Kang Tae has to especially watch over his older brother because he is severely autistic and really requires constant watching so that he doesn't harm himself. For instance, due to a trauma in childhood, whenever Sang Tae sees a butterfly he panics and hides himself from anyone who could help him, screaming like a tortured animal. It takes Kang Tae hours to help him to calm down. It's no wonder the stress of caring for his autistic brother is overwhelming at times and makes Kang Tae depressed. As an adult it doesn't help much that he is a lowly-paid male nurse working in wards of psychiatric hospitals. All day long Kang Tae works with mental patients and then comes back to an apartment to take care of an autistic brother. Sometimes he has help from his best friend Jo Jae Soo (Kang Ki Doong) who runs a fried chicken cafe, but Kang Tae continues to live a very harsh existence, and one senses someday he will snap emotionally because of all his burdens.

His brother Sang Tae likes the illustrated novels of a popular children's writer named Ko Moon Young (Seo Ye Ji). Her stories are dark, with Satanic imagery galore in them, so the audience is tipped off ahead of time that she may have a dark soul and be yet another troubled person in this story. (Personally I would never allow my children to read her kind of books, eek!, to me that would be child abuse!). Kang Tae tells Sang Tae that he will take him to see her in person at a book signing, but all does not go well, and Moon Young and Kang Tae end up having a very public confrontation.

Despite that, Moon Young seems intrigued by
Kang Tae and likes that he is so handsome. They end up being thrown together by fate on several other occasions, and then when Kang Tae moves with his brother to start work at a different psychiatric hospital he discovers that he will end up seeing Moon Young even more frequently there because Moon Young's own father Ko Dae Hwan (Lee Eol) is a committed patient there. Slowly we begin to note that Moon Young does not like her father very much because in the past he has tried to kill her and supposedly killed her mother! She doesn't really care if he lives or dies.


What a mess of a person
Kang Tae now has to deal with, on more and more occasions. This "princess", living in an isolated creepy mansion near the hospital, constantly verbally insults him, but then will try and seductively cozy up to him in the same encounter. Kang Tae, despite himself, seems moved by Moon Young's clear psychiatric disorder and her pleas for attention from him. He's obviously so lonely himself that whatever web she spins he is helpless to extricate himself from it entirely. Although a nice normal nurse working at this hospital, named Nam Joo Ri (Park Gyu Young), likes him, he pays her no attention at all, even though she would have made a much more normal match for him, since they both work in the same profession and both have compassion for others. Even so, when have men ever been smart about women? Joo Ri ends up having growing feelings for Moon Young's long-suffering publicist, Lee Sang In (Kim Joo Hun) instead, and he for her. Their growing affection for each other was nice to watch, and Kang Tae really loses out on the far better woman. He seems oblivious to this fact and totally falls for the troubled Moon Young. Joo Ri even had the far better, more normal mother, Kang Sun Duk (played with her usual flair by veteran actress Kim Mi Kyung) who feeds them all on a daily basis while also dishing out bits of wisdom about life. (Even I wished to have a mother just like her!). While all this is happening Sang Tae has been concentrating on painting a mural on the hospital's wall, a commission for pay. That looks like a positive development in his life, but even that is not to last long.

Even when
Kang Tae and Moon Young plan to take a holiday together it doesn't work out. They fight again and break up immediately. The twists and turns in their relationship were extremely annoying to watch. So too is her family situation, which goes from bad to worse when her father's condition deteriorates even more, and her mother turns out to be still alive and - a shock - a longtime nurse at the same psychiatric hospital (come on, gimme a break!) named Park Haeng Ja (veteran actress Jang Young Nam). This is when I really started to check out mentally from this drama. It was all just too much silliness. It felt like the writer was just throwing globs of paint against a wall and hoping a pretty picture would result, but by the end I was yelling with relief, "Thank God this mess is over!" :)

I would have been far happier with this story if the primary emphasis had been on the brothers' story. That should have remained the foundation of the story, and it would have ended up a unique masterpiece. Kim Soo Hyun and Oh Jung Se did give excellent performances as the brothers who loved and needed each other. How heart-warming it would have been to show those two characters growing together as a family, and dealing with their sad past effectively as time went on, getting qualified psychiatric professional help when they needed it. That would have been an inspiring way to teach the audience about mental dysfunctions, especially autism. Throwing in a campy, unrealistic romance drew away from this possibility big time. Autistic people deserve more understanding than they got here. The writer was clearly out of her element writing about the subject.

The two best Korean dramas on the subject of mental issues remain 2014's It's Okay, That's Love, and 2020's Fix You. It's Okay To Not Be Okay, which ripped off the title of the far superior K-drama to some extent, doesn't come close to these true masterpieces. Watch them instead.