“It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” concluded on August 9th, and it was everything but a simple okay! With the series’ conclusion, it solidified its place as one of the year’s best dramas! The series (and its finale) was funny, sad, tender, and heartwarming all in one! “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay” was 16 episodes of well-written and wonderfully-acted scenes that never had a slow moment. The large cast of characters played so well against one another while the chemistry between the main actors captured viewers by its sincerity and warmth!
The story centers around three main people connected through the OK Psychiatric Hospital, whose staff adds excellent dimensions and depth to the plot. Moon Gang Tae, played wonderfully by Kim Soo Hyun, is the younger brother of Moon Sang Tae, a gifted artist with autism who is tormented by a past trauma. Sang Tae is played to absolute perfection by actor Oh Jung Se. No one could have played this character with the depth and complexities with which Oh Jung Se did. Even small, physical traits he executed as part of his character were so flawlessly pulled off that they helped him fully become his character without viewers feeling like he was simply acting out a role.
The two brothers have lived their lives in a reversal of roles as the younger Gang Tae has sacrificed and practiced self-denial while taking care of his older brother. He longs for the chance to live just one day thinking only of himself but bears his heavy responsibility with love and understanding. Meanwhile, his older brother not only struggles with the challenges that his autism brings, but he also suffers due to the memories of the horrible trauma of witnessing their mother’s murder when he was a child. The relationship of the brothers has so many kind and tender moments that you as a viewer will find yourself pulled in to keep watch over this sweet family and cheer them on. The brothers’ love and dedication to one another is so warm and sweet, yet it is bittersweet as you realize that Gang Tae has given up on all his personal dreams to assume the role of caregiver to his brother.
The character rounding out this unusual trio is the breathtakingly beautiful Seo Ye Ji in her role as the supremely self-centered children’s book author Ko Moon Young. Moon Young’s father is a long time patient at the mental hospital and although estranged from her father, it helps bring her across the path of the Moon brothers on her visits to the hospital. The presence Seo Ye Ji brings to her character is amazing. Despite being an unlikable woman with obvious issues, there is also a vulnerability about her that hints at a deeper story and thus makes you want to find out about her background.
As is often the theme of K-dramas, it is soon revealed that Gang Tae and Moon Young were childhood friends who were separated through terrible events. Growing up, Moon Young’s family was the epitome of a dysfunctional family with a mother who was beyond evil, encompassing all of the characteristics of a fairy tale’s wicked witch and more. After nearly destroying her child and her husband, the mother was killed— yet the effects of her mental and emotional abuse had already done lasting damage to Moon Young.
Now a popular author and wealthy woman who isolates herself and lives completely apart from society, Moon Young is used to having everything she wants and demands and bullies her way through life. Liked by none and only tolerated by a few, she enters the relatively stable life of the Moon brothers where chaos and trouble begin. Moon Young’s anti-social personality disorder is at the core of her abrupt personality, but she makes no effort to try and control her outbursts.
One of the funniest moments in the drama is her outburst at a deer in the road who dares to stop her travel. Her interaction with the deer is an example of how she deals with people as well, and it is priceless! All three of these characters have such deep longings to be loved, yet they all carry deep hurts and emotional scars. As the story progresses, you wonder if they can ever be the source of help for each other that they so obviously need.
The antics between Moon Young and Sang Tae are often laugh-out-loud moments. Sang Tae tends to think like a child, and Moon Young acts like a child. As such, their battle of wills over “ownership” of Gang Tae continues nearly until the very end of the drama. As Gang Tae starts to patiently break down the walls Moon Young has long held against outsiders, she starts to show a sadness and vulnerability that no one has ever seen. The obvious chemistry of these two great actors is unmistakable and their combined beauty on screen caused this particular K-drama fan to refer to this couple as “Mr. and Miss Beautiful” on regular occasion.
The supporting cast is also a great mixture of actors and characters. Each patient in the hospital brings their own story to the table, such as the war-shocked PTSD patient Gan Pil Ong (played with tenderness by Kim Ki Chun) and his roommate and recovering alcoholic Joo Jeong Tae (played charmingly by Jung Jae Kwang). Jeong Tae becomes the romantic interest and savior of fellow patient Lee Ah Reum, who has been abused by her ex-husband. One of the most loving characters in the drama is Kang Soon Deok, the main chef at the OK Hospital cafeteria. Played by the wonderful actress Kim Mi Kyung, Soon Deok becomes something of a surrogate mother to the Moon brothers. She offers them home-cooked meals as she supports them emotionally and also helps look after Sang Tae. She also happens to be the mother of nurse Nam Ju Ri (Park Kyu Young) who grew up with Moon Young and who has had an unrequited crush on Gang Tae for years.
Rounding out the myriad of hospital characters is the loving hospital director Oh Ji Wang, played by veteran actor Kim Chang Wan. Although often seeming to bungle the mental health care of his patients, we watch as the director’s people skills and his gentle and kind encouragement bring healing to both the patients and staff members. Every single character and cast member in this drama truly brings something unique to the story line!
There is really nothing lacking in this drama. The writing is wonderful. The cinematography was stunning.The scenery is beautiful, even just the lovely ocean views from the hospital grounds. Seo Ye Ji’s clothes were magnificent. The sets added so much to the story, particularly the beautiful “cursed castle” in which Moon Young resides. The episodes were paced perfectly. The children’s books written for the program were wonderful as well and are now available to the public. The lessons contained within them (and indeed the lessons contained throughout the entire drama) were so needed and helpful that you will find your own heart healing from long-forgotten wounds as well.
Perhaps, most importantly of all was the slow, sweet, and achingly tender growth of all of the characters as we see them healing and watch them emerge from their hiding places of hurt and sail out into the world like beautiful (and kind) butterflies.
For some people, they might not find watching the earnest growth of flawed people to be their cup of tea. They may want more action or a fast-paced drama. However, in my opinion, this was a perfect drama. It was perfectly written with no slow episodes and had an absolutely wonderful ending that wrapped up the plot and didn’t leave you feeling unfulfilled. In fact, this drama had so many precious moments that brought tears to my eyes that I truly lost count. This is undoubtedly one of the best dramas from Korea this year (in a year with some truly excellent dramas having already been released). In fact, this drama will go down as one of the best-acted and best-written Korean dramas ever in my opinion.
So, run (don’t walk!) to your television, and binge watch this drama. I give it a rare, perfect rating of five finger hearts from this K-drama fan!
The theme of this drama is simply in the title: “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.” Because with the love of family and friends and with the compassion we all seek, everything really will be okay in the end.
DramaElf is a dedicated lover of K-dramas. Not a night goes by without finding her in front of her Kindle, eagerly watching the newest drama. She is a particular fan of Gong Hyo Jin and Shin Min Ah. Although dramas are her biggest fascination, she is also a fan of Kpop and particularly loves Super Junior and SISTAR. Despite being a mom of two and grams of three, she can still fangirl with the best of them when it comes to her ultimate bias Leeteuk.