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Friday, July 3, 2020

Kim Soo-Hyun Calms Nightmares In ‘It’s Okay Not To Be Okay’

With its moody Tim Burton style opening credits, the k-drama ‘It’s Okay Not To Be Okay,’ starring Kim Soo-hyun, quickly establishes itself as a dark fairy tale.

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With its moody Tim Burton style opening credits, the k-drama It’s Okay Not To Be Okay quickly establishes itself as a dark fairy tale. 

Shadowy themes of nightmares and betrayal permeate the children’s books written by one of the main characters, author Ko Moon-young, played by actress Seo Ye-ji.

Moon-young has embraced the darker side of her nature and does not pretend otherwise. She has no qualms about frightening wide-eyed children, sampling the blood dripping from her rare steak or being horribly rude to everyone she encounters. She wears her darkness like a protective cloak, possibly because she grew up believing she was a monster and that everyone would find her repulsive. 

Something about her chilling books has a special appeal for Moon Sang-tae, played by Oh Jung-se. The character has autism spectrum disorder, which makes it difficult for him to process certain kinds of information. He doesn’t readily recognize human emotions and easily gets rattled, so he can’t really manage situations that require social interaction. Instead he spends hours drawing in Moon-young’s published books.

His brother, Moon Kang-tae, played by Kim Soo-hyun, patiently cares for him, which often means calming his outbursts. Kang-tae is compassionate and unusually composed, which makes him well-equipped to deal with his sometimes over-emotional brother, and also with the patients in the psychiatric ward where he works. His calm manner is very effective and yet, for some mysterious reason, he never works at any hospital for very long. 

Kang-tae and Moon-young meet, as is their destiny, when she arrives at the hospital where he works. The connection between them is instant, electric, and disturbing. While she’s there for a reading in the children’s ward, she is attacked by an escaped mental patient. When Kang-tae prevents her from retaliating by stabbing her attacker, she tells him that some people deserve to die, adding that there are people who kill such vermin during the night, so everyone else can sleep. 

When that recaptured patient is found murdered, Kang-tae must wonder if Moon-young is really monster enough to cold-bloodedly kill. As monstrous as she might be, he is drawn to her.

In the Jessie J song, also named It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, she sings that “seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing, it’s okay not to be okay.”

Perhaps inspired by those lyrics, the drama of the same name artfully blurs distinctions between the real and the unreal, sanity and madness, dreams and nightmares, leaving the characters unsure what to believe. Each of the drama’s leading characters lives with his or her own nightmare and must embrace the murkiness of the past before they can move on.

The mysterious Kang-tae is a well-chosen comeback role for Kim. Except for two cameo performances in recent hit dramas Hotel del Luna and Crash Landing On You, It’s Okay Not To Be Okay offers his first acting role after two years of serving the mandatory military duty required of all able-bodied Korean men. 

Rising star Seo was last seen in the drama Lawless Lawyer and the film By Quantum Physics: A Nighttime Venture

Besides being very funny in the comic film Extreme Job, Oh appeared in  the drama Hot Stove League which won best drama in the 2020 Baeksang Awards and he also won a best supporting actor award at the same ceremony for his role in the drama When The Camellia Blooms.

Besides top notch performances by these three actors, there’s also back-up from some great supporting actors, Park Gyu-young plays a nurse, who once knew Moon-Young; comedienne Park Jin-joo plays Yoo Sung-jae, an art director turned minion; and Kang Ki-doong plays Kang-tae’s friend, Jo Jae-soo.

It’s Okay Not To Be Okay is the latest k-drama to focus on mental health issues, following such dramas as Good Doctor, It’s Okay That’s Love, Kill Me Heal Me, Sky Castle  and Chocolate. Director Park Shin-woo previously directed another drama that explored a mental health issue, Hyde, Jekyll and Me, as well as the romance, Encounter, and the thriller, Phantom.

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