Official poster
Official poster

There were two brothers and the older one was suffering from autism disorder. Life was hard for the younger one. One day he even tried to kill his older brother. But couldn’t. Why?

“When you’re tired, get some rest. When you’re sad, go ahead and cry. It’s okay to take a break. Then one day, there will surely come a day when you’ll be able to run again.” That’s what a psychiatrist director Oh Ji-Wang said in the recent most famous drama ‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.’ In all the 16 episodes of this drama, viewers get introduced to a serious family crisis and how the family’s life was full of sadness.

‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’ is a South K-drama starring Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji and Oh Jung Se. This drama tells a story about two people who end up healing each other’s emotional and psychological wounds. In this time when mental health-related issues are rising more and more, the storytelling of ‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’ hits at the core of society.

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The series revolves around mental illness and neurodiversity. The story is about Gang-tae (Soo-hyun), who is a sympathetic caregiver in a psychiatric ward. He takes care of his older brother, Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se), who's on the autism spectrum. Fate leads him to a woman, Mun-yeong (Seo Ye-ji), a well-known children's book author who has an antisocial disorder. She's cold, rude, selfish, and lacks empathy. However, when their paths cross, they open up and help each other go through the process of healing their own wounds.

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In a world where people with autism are known as weak or helpless, this drama shows a point of view that they are kind human beings too. Sang-tae struggles with understanding and controlling his emotions, has a die-hard attraction to dinosaurs and children’s books, and studies a chart of facial expressions so that he can recognise other people’s emotions.

Not all those who are hurting, cry loudly

Sang-tae is also a brilliant artist who is able to largely navigate the world on his own. He works part-time at a pizza shop, handles public transportation with ease. He is not shown helpless by any means, and his character seems to deeply desire greater independence.

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This drama makes people realise, societies should stop looking at those who seem different. Especially, those with special needs. Like a dark fairytale, it also reveals layers for every character. In every episode, you’ll be on the edge of your seat as you play detective and psychologist. As each character moves to progress in their own struggles, viewers are moved too. When they were sad, happy, and in love, viewers also feel that. This is the power of healing.

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Your body is honest. When you’re in physical pain, you cry. But the heart is a liar. It stays quiet even when it’s hurting

Everyone is broken or messed up and you can’t keep on blaming yourself for that. Also, part of the “healing” that the drama wants to talk about is understanding the complexity of how people with dementia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, multiple personality disorder, and other mental disorders manage in their own ways. People have a strong ability to protect themselves.

As we sort out our past memories, we tend to forget negative experiences and selectively ignore things we don’t want to face in order to create a truth we think is right. We need to stop feeling like we’ve always been shortchanged, met the wrong people, or felt trapped by circumstances. Most of the time, we are actually trying to gain someone’s sympathy by displaying ourselves as the victim. We all are a combination of good and evil. No one is perfect, so we shouldn’t force ourselves or get stressed about being perfect too.

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In this crazy time, it is natural to feel down. Social distance can be quite lonely too. But that doesn’t mean we should start pointing fingers at others or at our past, and at ourselves. Not all those who are hurting, cry loudly. This drama’s fans especially love this quote that says, ‘Your body is honest. When you’re in physical pain, you cry. But the heart is a liar. It stays quiet even when it’s hurting.’

An interesting thing about this K-drama is, each episode or chapter is named after a fairytale and also the children's books which are shown in the drama actually published in real life.

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Following the massive success of the drama, the production company has decided to publish five storybooks: "The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares," "Zombie Kid," "The Cheerful Dog," "The Hand, the Monkfish" and "Finding the Real Face." All five of the storybooks were listed in the top 20 bestselling books of the month.

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The writers cleverly used originally written, well-known, and even local Korean fairy tales to make understanding the complexity of the heart and mind easier.

Writer Jo Yong said, “Ko Mun-Yeoung, who develops antisocial personality disorder due to emotional abuse from her mother as a child, uses the books to tell the world, ‘Save me,’ and ‘Help me so that other children don’t have to suffer as I did.'” She added, “Though her modes of expression were at times harsh, they were a child’s desperate cries for help and protests against problematic adults. From when I first began creating the character, I wanted to use children’s books as Moon Young’s window of communication and her method of survival."

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The visual storytelling of ‘It’s Okay to Not be Okay’ includes concept artist Jamsan's illustrations in Ko Mun-Yeong's work. His dark, meaningful drawings entwined with screenwriter Jo Yong's stories about family and love re-echoed with fans. The artist said he changed the overall feeling of the illustration styles to reflect how characters overcame their fears and bad memories. In Ko Mun-Yeong's early storybooks, the artist used dark colours to express the emotional damage suffered by the character.

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As the story develops scenes became filled with colour and vibrancy. "At first, I actually focused on clarifying the dark colours for the appearance of lonely characters. But for Sang-Tae's drawings, I wanted to create his world in happy watercolour to give a warm and friendly feel to it, just like ‘The Little Prince’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’," he said.

It’s okay to not be okay but it’s not okay to stay like that. This drama is available on Netflix and free websites like dramacool and asianwiki.

Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 9th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka