We loved the recently concluded Korean drama It’s Okay To Not Be Okay for many reasons. Besides the impeccable styling and makeup on Seo Ye Ji, the female lead who played Ko Moon-young, and the suave looks of Kim Soo Hyun, the male protagonist Moon Gang-tae, we appreciate the show’s daring take on mental health and incisive look into human nature. Not sure what we mean? Read on to find out.
Humans have a strong ability to protect themselves. As we organise our past memories, we tend to forget unfavourable experiences and selectively ignore things we don’t want to face in order to create a truth we think is right. The relationship between Gang-tae and his mother was similar.
In the beginning, we saw flashbacks of Gang-tae’s relationship with his mother. His mother appeared to be biased towards the autistic older brother Sang-tae. Gang-tae, who grew up with such memories, was hurt. But was this truth distorted? In a later episode, Gang-tae realised that he only remembered selected memories as he suddenly recalled a time where his mother felt sorry and guilty towards him as she brought him and Sang-tae to eat his favourite noodles. Moreover, we saw from Sang-tae’s memories that the mother did, in fact, love Gang-tae.
Regardless of how he tried to suppress the pain of his childhood, Gang-tae eventually became brave enough to accept his mother’s love after a bout of bitter crying.
What we learnt from this is that we need to stop feeling like we’ve always been shortchanged, met the wrong people or feel trapped by circumstances. Most of the time, we are actually trying to gain sympathy by portraying ourselves as the victim. In that hatred, is there no sliver of happiness? Why didn’t you make the choice to leave or change your circumstances? We aren’t all-knowing so we don’t know your story, but we urge you to reflect upon yourself when such things happen.
We love watching Moon-young because she had a no-holds-barred approach when she reproached others and revealed them for who they truly are. She went on to label Gang-tae and Ju-ri as hypocrites, who were supposedly the “good people” in the series.
We have many hypocrites around us, and if Moon-young helped you scold them, would you secretly feel good too? I don’t mean to judge hypocrites because I am not one to separate humans as either only good or evil. I believe that human nature is a combination of good and evil. But who dares to say that they have no selfishness? Who can say that they don’t have an evil thought when they are bullied? Or who can say they don’t feel jealousy and envy at all? Instead, we put on a mask as we curse and smile and tell ourselves that this is proper decorum and etiquette.
I admit, I am one such person and do put on a show sometimes. I am a “hypocrite” too because I have desires and wants that occasionally get to my head. Thus, I believe that we should not follow the dogma that “we can’t have a temper”, “doing this will hurt others” or “we cannot place ourselves first and only sacrifice for others”.
This is because after being a perfect human for prolonged periods, we get tired. This is especially so if you are a caretaker. Gang-tae felt that he always had to be the one sacrificing because the brother couldn’t have his own emotions and happiness. After a while, this caused him to develop negative feelings against his brother and think of the latter as a burden. If Gang-tae could express his shortcomings from time to time and release the stress he was under, he could have loved others and himself. This could perhaps even create a balance in the relationship between the brothers.
No one is perfect, so we shouldn’t force ourselves or get stressed about being perfect too.
Gang-tae proclaimed that Moon-young would never be able to understand him because they come from two different worlds. I always opine that “I understand you” are the sweetest words one can utter in any relationship. We always hope that a simple look in the eyes, a small action or a sentence could be understood by another person. However, you need to be clear that there’s a difference between a person who understands you and a person who stands by you regardless of whether you are right or wrong.
Sometimes you wonder how people of two different personalities can be together. Do they really understand each other? Understanding is key to knowing what is deep within the other’s heart. Sounds profound? It actually isn’t. When you think that a person does not “understand” you, it is because they know that you will regret the action you want to take and so they stop you first. Conversely, because they are able to read you, they can see your shortcomings and immaturity and warn you before you fall into them.
My personal experience with Korean dramas hasn’t been long as I don’t have the patience for it. But it just so happens that the recent few that I watched share a similar message. The male protagonist in My Mister (2018) – a personal favourite drama of mine – leads a repressive life where as long as things don’t go wrong, it doesn’t exist. This is how he endures unequal treatment in family, marriage and career.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay also shares a similar sentiment when Moon-young asked the autistic Sang-tae if he ever hated Gang-tae. He was silent. Under the “temptation” of one of her stories, Sang-tae exploded and revealed the deep secret that his younger brother had tried to kill him. Although it was difficult to see Gang-tae distraught, this provided the opportunity for real conciliation as it prompted them to get over what was truly bothering them deep inside.
I particularly like this statement Sang-tae said, “Our 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.”
Text: Yen Leng/NUYOU. Translation and additional reporting by Ho Guo Xiong.