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"It’s Okay to Not Be Okay" Analysis

Updated: Feb 13

By Michelle Guan

Image via Pinterest


The 2020 Korean drama, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, depicts a romantic story between Ko Mun-yeong, a children’s book author, and Moon Gang-tae, a caretaker in a psychiatric ward who carries the burden of caring for his autistic older brother, Moon Sang-tae. Although it is a romance drama, its discussion of mental health by incorporating different fairy tales makes it stand out among other Korean dramas, most of which don’t emphasize mental health. Throughout the drama, the three characters go on a journey of personal growth and begin to heal from their traumatic pasts.


Ko Mun-yeong

On the outside, Ko Mun-yeong is living a flawless life as a successful fairy tale author who is considered to be extremely attractive. Other characters continuously point out her physical features, fashion sense, and fame to convey that her life is something that they could only dream of having.


Image via It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (tvN, Netflix)

Unlike what other people think, Mun-yeong doesn’t have a perfect life, as she internally struggles with her belief that she is cursed to an inescapable dark fate, which had been emphasized in her childhood by her manipulative mother. This feeling is similar to how individuals suffering from trauma can feel about themselves; some people may also feel like they don’t deserve happiness due to their trauma mentally bringing them down. Mun-yeong’s “curse” is the result of her childhood that she wants to be free of, but doesn’t know how to escape it. She copes with this struggle by writing fairy tale stories that reflect her own experiences. Additionally, her antisocial personality disorder impacts people’s perceptions of her negatively because of her volatility and possessiveness, resulting in her struggling to build positive relationships with others at first. Despite her unbearable personality, she learns to be more considerate of others, especially Moon Sang-tae and Moon Gang-tae, and allows herself to depend on others more often. For instance, she lets Gang-tae cut her hair in episode eight, which is a significant change for herself because her hair had always been praised by her mother (similar to Rapunzel). Mun-yeong’s haircut symbolizes her severed relationship with her mother, implying that she’s ready to begin a new life as she doesn’t allow her past to define her.


Moon Sang-tae

Moon Sang-tae’s experiences show some of the difficulties that individuals with special needs experience while demonstrating that these individuals are people whose talents should be shared with the rest of the world.


Image via It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (tvN, Netflix)


Through this depiction, Sang-tae is seen as multifaceted because he has things that he’s passionate about. For instance, he has a hard time communicating with others, resulting in him having tantrums in public occasionally, but he knows everything about Dooly the Dinosaur and loves art. He utilizes this passion for art to help others by painting a mural for the psychiatric ward of OK Psychiatric Hospital, drawing caricatures for customers at his part-time job, and becoming the illustrator for Ko Mun-yeong’s new book. His different roles allow him to develop as an individual separately from other characters, which may contrast from other dramas because they tend to make autistic characters and characters with special needs reliant on other characters.

Sang-tae also struggles with witnessing his mother’s death during his childhood, which had been caused by a mysterious figure wearing a unique butterfly brooch. To him, the butterfly is a painful reminder of his mother’s death, so he gets vivid nightmares about butterflies that try to attack him. These nightmares affect him so much that he and Gang-tae constantly move from one place to another as an effort to escape the butterflies. However, when he paints the mural for OK Psychiatric Hospital, he learns that butterfly means “cure,” so he changes his perspective on butterflies by believing that “butterflies that cure are good butterflies” and eventually incorporates them in the mural. This new perception allows him to not let butterflies hold him back from living his life, and he slowly begins to heal. Instead of running away, he decides to live his dream of becoming an official illustrator away from his brother, signifying his independence.


Moon Gang-tae

From a young age, Moon Gang-tae had always been told by his mother to take care of Sang-tae. This burden causes him to take on the role of the ‘older brother’ at a premature time, resulting in him neglecting himself.


Image via It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (tvN, Netflix)


In the beginning of the drama, Gang-tae doesn’t understand his emotions because he doesn’t have the time and energy to focus on himself. His story is similar to those who are caregivers of loved ones with special needs – he becomes so selfless that he forgets what having selfhood feels like. His newly established relationship with Ko Mun-yeong helps him learn to take care of himself by setting aside time for himself. When he expresses the emotions that he has been keeping inside for many years, such as grief and resentment for his mother, to Mun-yeong, he lifts an emotional burden off his shoulders. After this, he is finally able to move forward with his life.


Conclusion

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay discusses the characters’ processes of healing from trauma and acknowledges that their healing isn’t necessarily linear. The three main characters often experience setbacks that cause them to falter for a little bit, but nevertheless, they continue to move forward and support one another in their journeys.

Written by writer Michelle Guan

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