They say love will find you when you least expect it. Love will go to you even if you are not looking for it. Some even say love can chase away all the sadness in your heart. Some say it can also be the one to make you hurt. They say the best kind of love is the one that does not discriminate or intimidate. Love is at its best not only when you fight for it, but also when it accepts defeat. This week’s Flashback Sessions will feature different faces and phases of love – the kind of love that can weather through the storm of mental illnesses and traumatic family backgrounds. Please stay with me for a while as we venture into the journey of discovering self-love, familial love, and romantic love in the 2014 eccentric drama, It’s Okay, It’s Love.
This drama tells the story of bestselling mystery author Jang Jae-yeol (Jo In-sung), a fickle-minded, filthy rich hero with occasional visual hallucinations and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by his abusive stepfather, who was later revealed to be killed with the murder pinned on Jae-yeol’s brother.
Ji Hae-soo (Gong Hyo-jin) is a first-year fellow in the psychiatry department at a university hospital who lives in a very strange house set-up with her first love sunbae Jo Dong-min (Sung Dong-il) and a café waiter with Tourette’s syndrome Park Soo-kwang (Lee Kwang-soo). If this cannot get any weirder, add Jae-yeol into the mix and we have a four-way cohabitation pact. Like almost all other characters in this dramaverse, Hae-soo suffers from a fear of commitment and physical intimacy phobia caused by her knowledge of her mother’s extramarital relationship with another man.
Only Jo In-sung can act out a schizophrenic patient with hallucinations of his younger self so perfectly that you will come reaching for tissues in every episode he is crying. The impressive acting should also be credited to EXO’s D.O. who portrayed Jae-yeol’s imaginary friend Han Kang-woo. The scene at the hospital where Jae-yeol washed Kang-woo’s feet still haunts me up to this day. All the hallucination episodes from the running scenes up to the self-harm sights are still as creepy and tragic to witness.
This drama tackles very distinctively the issue of public perception of mental health. I may not know anything about the medical profession, but I think the show gave me a pretty decent portrayal of how the psychology of the human brain works. The show delivered a script that was meant to let outsiders understand that the people suffering from mental illnesses are human beings too. Almost every episode, the drama depicts a case study of patients battling a different kind of mental problem. It may not be perfect, and other professionals may even argue that it is far from being realistic, but it made me understand that the human brain, just like any other part of our body, is vulnerable to sickness. Like how we cannot walk if we sprained our ankle or how we need eyeglasses when our eyes blur, our brains can also malfunction. It is a stigma that up to this day still lacks recognition from society.
Let me share with you Jo Dong-min sunbae’s explanation about mental health: “People who are suffering from cancer or from severed limbs or people who are blind receive sympathy from others in this world. But people suffering from mental illness are viewed as outcasts by everyone as if they’re diseased or something. Everyone is prone to a mental breakdown if they suffer a traumatic experience.”
Jae-yeol also once used a metaphor in an earlier episode when he was talking to Hae-soo about her intimacy problem. He told Hae-soo that it only takes one moment for light to shine in a dark cave where light has not shone in over a thousand years. This representation is also used throughout the entire series with an underlying message that all you need is a single spark of courage to let your mental illness get treated. Self-discovery and acceptance played a big role in Jae-yeol’s healing after he recognized Kang-woo as a figment of his imagination. It took Hae-soo a handful of courage before loosening up and be intimate with Jae-yeol.
His brother Jang Jae-bum (Yang Ik-june), who spent most of his years in jail for a crime he did not commit, colors the series with his fascinating antics about vengeance and familial love. He believed that their mother gave a false testimony on him to save Jae-yeol. Despite being a juvenile detainee, at the end of the day, when all debt has been paid, all he asked from Jae-yeol was about his lack of trust during the day their stepfather died. He was bearing the pain of not only being blamed for their abusive stepfather’s death but also Jae-yeol’s disbelief about his innocence. His personal healing eventually repaired his broken relationship with his family.
Jae-yeol, Hae-soo, and all the other supporting characters may have a rough start at overcoming their respective problems, but when a ray of hope beamed upon them, they eventually learned to accept the reality of their situation and get corresponding treatment.
It’s Okay, It’s Love held an honest storyline of how ordinary people deal with mental illnesses, but the selling point of this series was its compelling characters. No matter how complex and twisted their world may be, the cast proved that they are still normal individuals with mental problems. They are not screwed, nor should be boxed as different.
On the lighter side of the story, Soo-kwang’s Tourette’s syndrome is also very realistically portrayed by comedian-host Lee Kwang-soo. Not to mention Kwang-soo and Jo In-sung are best of friends in real life, this cohabitation set-up is perfect for their bromance as roommies.
This drama is also breakout model-turned-actress Lee Sung-kyung’s debut! How cool is that? Sung-kyung played a high school student who plans to pursue psychiatry just like Hae-soo and Dong-min. She develops a romantic relationship with Soo-kwang who passed through the eye of the needle just to gain her love.
Another notable feature of this drama is the original soundtracks used. Up until this day, I still play its OST in my playlist before bedtime. I don’t want to sound sentimental but there was a point in my fangirl life where I cannot sleep unless I hear Crush and Punch singing “Sleepless Night” along with other OSTs of previous dramas like Reply 1988, Scarlet Heart Ryeo, My Love from the Star, Goblin, and That Winter The Wind Blows. It took me so long before I end up choosing this OST because I want to embed them all. LOL
But as Jae-yeol pointed out in the last quarter of the series, “Love doesn’t mean giving up something for the other person, but it means to achieve something.” Jae-yeol and Hae-soo’s love story is so admirable that it can survive the wrath of post-traumatic disorders. You don’t have to give up on someone you love just because they are not the average human being that you imagined them to be. You don’t have to give up on your dreams just because you are in love with someone. You don’t have to choose between career and love. You can make it through both as long as there are commitment and trust. Just like how this drama aired during a happy stage in my personal life, I hope that you believe that as long there is love, everything will be okay.
Photo credits: dramabeans, SBS