Available on: Netflix
Total episode #: 16
Dumpling-rating scale: 4/5
After watching the skin-deep/fluffy Birth of a Beauty, I found myself engrossed in a very different type of romantic comedy called “It’s okay, that’s love”(괜찮아, 사랑이야).
This drama was anything but light and dealt with some very heavy topics such as physical intimacy, abuse and mental illness.
It follows the two leads — Jang Jae-yeol and Ji Hae-soo. Ji Hae-soo (portrayed by Gong Hyo-jin) is a psychiatrist who after watching her mother cheat on her paralyzed father is unable to become romantically physically involved with another person. In stark contrast, Jang Jae-yeol (portrayed by Jo In-sung) is a playboy author/radio personality/DJ. Jang Jae-yeol suffers trauma from being abused as a child by both his step-father and older brother.
The primary story follows the meeting and subsequent relationship of Jae-yeol and Hae-soo. Jae-yeol’s forthcoming and honest personality in combination with Hae-soo’s guarded demeanor meant that the chemistry was both convincing and engaging to watch.
Aspects of their relationship formed the strongest parts of the drama however other aspects of it — such as the constant bickering and trust issues — formed the weakest. At it’s core, I believe their relationship was a vehicle to explore different forms of mental illness. I would have preferred more of an exploration into their personal issues with mental health rather than relationship and other character’s issues. If not that, I wish the drama could have supplied more tender moments (like the one below).
Aside from the main leads, this drama also had a strong supporting cast members. Each supporting cast member had their own individual story line. These additional but disparate story lines (in theory) should have enriched the drama. However, not enough screen-time was given to them. The consequence was that their contribution to the drama was so superficial that in some ways the subplots were a distraction.
The two main subplots involved Jo Dong-min and Park Soo-kwang (who are both Ji Hae-soo housemates). Jo Dong-min (like Hae-soo) is a psychiatrist. He is the father-figure of the house and treats: Soo-kwang overcome symptoms of his Tourette’s Syndrome, Hae-soo with her anxiety and Jae-yeol’s brother (spoilers later). He also happens to have a very complicated relationship with his ex-wife which is also explored by the drama.
Park Soo-kwang works at a cafe (owned by Jae-yeol) and his story-line is about how he manages living with Tourette’s Sydrome, dealing with parental disapproval and navigating a complicated relationship with misguided teenager Oh So-nyeo (portrayed by Lee Sung-kyung).
Overall, I enjoyed and (more importantly) appreciated this drama for its portrayal of mental health. While, it may not have accurately and sufficiently explored mental health, it did so (in my opinion) the best way a Korean romantic comedy could and contributed to de-stigmatizing it in a region of the world which arguably still has a long way to in recognizing and treating mental illness. For that, I am grateful. For those still interested in the drama, I have listed below my top 5 episodes (spoilers alert).
Episode 2| Jang Jae-yeol moves in with Ji Hae-soo (and company)
Episode 2 builds on the main events of episode 1 which were:
- Jae-yeol’s criminal brother violently assaulting him with a fork;
- Hae-soo’s boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend; and
- Hae-soo in front of a live audience capturing Jae-yeol attention and interest while discussing his latest novel.
In episode 2, it comes to Jae-yeol’s attention that his latest novel has been plagiarized by his ex-girlfriend. We soon find out his childhood friend Tae-young — out of infatuation for Jae-yeol’s ex– leaked it to her.
Before Jae-yeol terminates his friendship with Tae-young, Tae-young convinces him to move in with Hae-soo and her two other housemates (Jae-yeol happens to also be their landlord). Jae-yeol motivations for moving in are three fold: find inspiration for his new book, move away from the construction noise at his current apartment and to get closer to Hae-soo.
Unfortunately, Jae-yeol is unable to be the quiet observer. During a housemate/friends dinner, Jae-yeol exposes the affair Hae-soo’s boyfriend has been having with her best friend. Naturally, Hae-soo is devastated and Jae-yeol is ostracized…
Episode 4 | Mental health revelations
Jae-yeol in this episodes gets slapped a couple of time as he employs questionable tactics to assist Hae-soo address her relationship anxieties.
Although Hae-soo is at first reticent towards Jae-yeol advances, their relationship does look like it takes a turning point when she watches Jae-yeol talking about love…
Putting aside the budding romance, a much larger plot is unveiled that is Kang-woo (portrayed by D.O.) — first appearing in episode 1 during Jae-yeol’s assault — is in fact a figment of Jae-yeol’s imagination. This eerie scene reveals that Jae-yeol’s mental illness extends beyond his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (colour co-ordinated everything and his ability to only sleep in the bathroom).
Episode 13 | Addressing mental health issues
I previously mentioned that a weakness of this drama was the number of sub-plots and the pace at which it moves to address the main plot that is Jae-yeol’s un-diagnosed schizophrenia.
Finally in episode 13, Hae-soo is confronted with the possibility that Jae-yeol is schizophrenic and that Kang-woo — who Jae-yeol has progressively become obsessed with over the course of the drama — does not in fact exist.
It is further revealed, that Jae-yeol’s abusive brother — who has been out to get Jae-yeol from the start — was wrongly imprisoned and Jae-yeol’s mother was in fact responsible for their step-father’s death. Thickening the storyline, it is implied that the abuse Jae-yeol suffered as a child is a contributing factor to his various mental ailments.
Episode 14 and 15 | Seeking treatment
In episode 14 we discover that Hae-soo’s mother only had an affair so that Hae-soo could go to college. Obviously, this in addition to Jae-yeol’s forthcoming treatment — and the possibility he may not love her after it — causes her great distress.
Unable to accept that Kang-woo is a product of his trauma, Jae-yeol goes to see him and his brother. In the frenzy of this reunion, Jae-yeol gets hit by a car and is rushed to hospital. After successful surgery, Jae-yeol is admitted to the psych-ward and begins receiving treatment.
Jo Dong-min — after what feels like months of treatment — finally confronts Jae-yeol’s brother and calls out his selfishness. Jae-bum absorbed only with himself has ignored his brother’s trauma — which he in part is responsible — and his mother’s feelings.
Jae-bum — annoyed at Dong-min for refusing to assist him convince his mother to confess — wastes no time attacking Jae-yeol while he is in hospital (I really dislike Jae-bum). Jae-yeol while having the c*** kicked out of him, he endeavors to separate out imagination from reality and starts mentally questioning the existence of Kang-woo.
Finally, with the support of his loved ones, Jae-yeol is able to effectively question the existence of Kang-woo and realize that Kang-woo is a manifestation of his trauma and guilt as a child.
Upon this realization, Jae-yeol is slowly able to let go of Kang-woo, step back into reality and join Hae-soo.
Episode 16 | Hope and importance of community
Epsiode 16 (the finale) is a lot lighter (and I mean a lot). After fare-welling Kang-woo and Hae-soo’s reconciliation with her mother, Jae-yeol encourages Hae-soo to take that worldwide trip she has always been meaning to take.
Hae-soo reluctantly agrees to travel the work and we fast forward a year. One year later, Jae-yeol is doing a lot better: he is back a work, adored by fans and more importantly no longer sees Kang-woo.
Hae-soo returning from her overseas adventures reunites with Jae-yeol. And it is beautiful. The drama, in a matter of a couple minutes, skips along and we soon learn that Hae-soo and Jae-yeol have gotten married and are expecting….
The finale moves quickly and covers a period of a couple of years in a matter of minute. But it does so organically. In the end, I felt like it wanted to send two messages: the first is that there is always hope no matter how dire the situation. And the second is the importance of a community. With that our drama waved goodbye…
How did you find ‘It’s Okay, That’s Love’?