Director: Park Shin-woo
Writer: Jo Yong
Cast: Seo Ye-ji, Kim Soo-hyun, Oh Jeong-se, Kim Joo-heon, Park Gyuyoung, Kang Ki-doong, Park Jin-joo
Streaming Platform: Netflix
The realm of fairy tales, for quite some time, has been defined by the romances in it. And only recently did its definition expand to familial love. This rather contemporary evolution is quite evident in several Disney and Pixar films — from Cinderella and Aladdin to Frozen and Onward. There is also the more macabre transformation of Sleeping Beauty into Maleficent. The Korean drama, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, on Netflix, balances its act using these three, occasionally distinct, fairy tale classifications — romance, family, and mild horror. With these elements blended together, this show does exhibit some masala film characteristics. And while this cocktail helps bring out some wildly engaging moments in the drama, it is also the reason for unintended narrative clutter.
Most films or even shows, especially romances, follow a similar sequence of events — initial attraction, followed by conflict and friction, and then, final resolution. The K-drama, from its very outset, subverts this narrative and perpetually resides in the second part of the process. Within its conflict and friction, lies the attraction. It is an impressive attempt at interweaving the two disparate steps. And given that only 10 episodes, out of a 16-part series, have released as of now, not much can be said about the show’s closure. But there is enough substance, in this series, to gauge how it is and how it may turn out.
From the get-go, we are introduced to the quintet of central characters — all of them are in a love-hate, hate-hate, love-love relationship with each other. The most fickle and capricious of them all is Ko Mun-yeong (Seo Ye-ji), an affluent children’s fairy tale writer. Unlike the nature of her profession, she isn’t quite honeyed and amiable. Some say she has an antisocial personality disorder, but barring this purported diagnosis, she is quite like an apathetic, egocentric serpent. Mun-yeong is besotted with Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), a caregiver at a psychiatric hospital. His job overlaps with his position at home — he also has to look after his autistic elder brother (Oh Jeong-se). Gang-tae is composed and collected, patient and poised, because every facet of his life demands this demeanour.
The two brothers lead a haphazard, nomadic life — shifting from city-to-city as Gang-tae leaves his jobs. And as they finally settle back in their hometown, Mun-yeong follows them in pursuit of a Gang-tae. Her mansion, in the city, resembles the traditional haunted house — desolate, ragged, and buried under cobwebs. Her publisher and manager Lee Sang-in (Kim Joo-heon), who is always at the mercy of her whims, dreads the thought of even visiting it. Together, they are rather idiosyncratic but individually, they are complex characters veneered in the trauma of their past and suffering of the present. Gang-tae has to endure a fragile relationship with his brother; Mun-yeong copes with her abusive parents; and Sang-in struggles to keep his semi-bankrupt company afloat.
With the overly long episodes, that span for at least 70 minutes each, the show is able to simmer in each character exhaustively. The flashbacks help unfurl their initially tangled personalities. But the surreal treatment their pasts get, using Tim Burton-esque, slightly horror sequences, are unpleasantly overdone. They feel random, an attempt to offset the already romanticised look at their lives. Mun-yeong, who goes on a spiel about how witches are more glamourised than princesses in her stories to an infant, is shown having a forlorn, grief-stricken past. Her mother disappeared and her father has been admitted to the psychiatric facility. Every venture into her childhood has the draughty mansion, her psychological anguish as if it’s on steroids, and an eerie, discomfiting tone to accompany it all. After a point, the creaking and crumbling house becomes too unnatural for the tonality they’re going for in the show.
The romantic subplot (the show tries to navigate a larger territory than just the romance) between Gang-tae and Mun-yeong is overdrawn but compelling. Despite the fact that the drama can get fatiguing due to the tedious runtime, writer Jo Yong is able to create consistent chemistry as well as hostility between the two. She is unrelenting and possessive, and even stalks him just to get an iota of attention from him. She’s described as a “bomb” and him, her “safety pin.”
The two are also caught up in a messy love triangle when his co-worker (Park Gyuyoung) begins to fall for him. The melodrama, while predictable and cloying, is able to sustain the weight of the entire show. There is a saccharine charm to their infatuation and confusion. And their childish brawls give much-needed comic relief, supplementing the sappy with the breezy. The K-drama, overall, manages to withstand its flickering tonality. Each episode, if viewed periodically as it is meant to be seen, makes for a largely pleasurable and entertaining watch.