There’s a good chance you didn’t come here thinking I’d talk about a Korean Drama. A few months ago, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have ever conceived the notion of spending time to write about one, but here I am. Back in January, a really good friend of mine made a deal with me. She said she would watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (the greatest anime adaptation of any shonen manga ever – no debate) if I watched “It’s Okay, That’s Love,” a Korean drama. Seems like a fair deal, right?
A little backstory: I’ve watched anime for a huge chunk of my life; I’m what you’d call a Shonen Jump enthusiast (in a way. I just like that type of storytelling. Fitting, since it’s targeted toward my demographic). I grew up with Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, and the like. My love for anime has expanded beyond the shonen genre, but that’s still my favorite. This is evidenced by the fact that One Piece is unarguably the greatest manga of all time. This isn’t my opinion; this is fact. That’s a post for another day, though. The point is that I love anime, and I wanted to introduce my friend the medium so that she could feel the same love that I have for it. Watching a 16-episode drama seemed like a small price to pay to reach that goal.
Small pill, big reward. While my friend hasn’t really done much in terms of making her way through FMA:B (though she does recognize its brilliance and pledges to return to watching it one day), I finished “It’s Okay, That’s Love” (which I’ll be abbreviating as IOTL hereafter on occasion). My sisters have been big on Korean culture for a few years now – they’ve even visited twice and plan to move to South Korea later this year. They never successfully put me on any KDrama (don’t get jealous now, dear sisters of mine), because I’ve always had reservations about this medium, and I never saw much to alleviate them.
From afar, KDramas seem to be overacted, odd, and, well, drama-y. It always looked like the actors were put un unrealistically comical situations which was made worse by unrealistically comical acting. At least, that’s what I saw. Yes, I like anime, so it seems a little hypocritical considering that anime suffers from the same issues at times. It just feels different because these are real life humans acting in ways that are so . . . extra.
In any case, my friend wanted me to shatter my preconceived notions in the same way that I wanted her to shatter hers on anime. I think we both accomplished our goals. IOTL was the perfect drama to introduce me into the genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show despite its shortcomings.
I’m not going to talk too much about the plot much mostly because that would include typing a bunch of names like Ji Hae-soo, Jang Jae-beom, and Park Soo-kwang. In any case, Hae-soo is a psychiatrist who deals with plenty of cases in a day, including her two roomates, fellow psychiatrist Jo Dong-min (marital issues) and Park Soo-kwang (Tourette syndrome) who have issues of their own. A famous author, co-star Jang Jae-yul moves in with them (since he’s rich enough to own the building), and the story is about how Hae-soo and Jae-yul fall in love despite all the obstacles, including their combative personalities. Dark secrets, tears, and secret getaways to Japan ensue.
If you rolled your eyes in that summary, you’re not alone. It took me forever to get into. I watched the first three episodes early on, and not much grabbed me. It was entertaining, at least, and that kept me going. I think where IOTL succeeds is that it makes you care about the characters. Each of the main cast has their own world that includes elements that proceed through time even when the camera isn’t focused on them. IOTL does a great job of fitting in all of these world-building details to make these characters three-dimensional.
For example, Park Soo-kwang’s family gets brief attention as we get to see the strain that his condition has on his father and mother. Throughout the whole story, we see how Tourette’s syndrome adversely affects him with his on-stage episodes, but seeing the emotional toll that it has on his parents added depth to his character. It also made his journey more rewarding as he developed to the point of gaining some mastery over his condition toward the end of the story.
This spreading of the wealth in terms of character development can often be to a show’s detriment. For example, CW’s The Flash (also another article for another day) seems to get worse as the cast gets bigger. It’s still a great show; don’t get me wrong. It’s just tough to keep focus when there are so many avenues to explore. Even worse, popular characters get more attention than others, which leads to weak links. CW’s Arrow was forced to kill off the iconic Black Canary because of poor writing. Thea Queen has had to leave the show on a few occasions just because there are so many characters for which to write material. It’s a hard juggling act.
IOTL juggles correctly over it’s 16-episode season. This is all without mentioning IOTL’s greatest strength: the dynamic between Hae-soo and Jae-yul. At first, their combative “friendship” was tiresome. It was frustrating to see two people be so stubborn. This actually worked to the show’s benefit because as they drew closer, it was rewarding considering how far they had come. Their hard-boiled personalities continued on as they grew into their relationship which actually made this KDrama feel . . . realistic. What do I mean?
Relationships are hard. You have to put in serious work, and as someone once told me, “good things don’t come easy.” Seeing Hae-soo and Jae-yul go through this process was very emotionally gripping. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s the truth. They really did battle through some hard times and some tough circumstances (won’t spoil for obvious reasons, but there are some really strong scenes, particularly by Jae-yul’s actor, that exemplify this) to reach the conclusion of the drama, and it was satisfying. The evolving dynamic between the two was easily the strongest aspect of the show.
Some notes on what I liked/disliked:
- Liked: The psychiatry notes from the show whenever a new concept was introduced. I felt like I learned stuff
- Disliked: Maybe it’s just me and Korean culture, but certain things like yelling really loudly in public and hitting each other at random times felt…weird.
- Liked: The ending. Very satisfactory
- Liked: The hour-long programming instead of American TV’s 42-minute broadcasts including credits. Commercials take up the rest of the time
- Liked: Hae-soo’s actor’s acting. She doesn’t always act like a stereotypical KDrama star; her approach to her character was realistic.
- Disliked: Oh So-nyeo’s character . . . in the beginning. She’s a really rude and annoying side character. Toward the end, though, she’s critical in developing Soo-kwang, even though her own character (while developed to an extend) is lacking
- Liked: The tough question of career vs. family. The desire to remain single vs. pursuing what obviously will make you happier (you can see where my opinion rests on this issue).
- Liked: The soundtrack. It included some very catchy songs, and they’re well-placed throughout the episodes. Definitely a plus, even though I’m firmly of the belief that JPop>>>>>>>>KPop.
Where I go from here, I’m not sure. I will always make time for anime and CW shows (not sure why I subject myself to that rollercoaster). I may continue to squeeze in time for Dramas every once in a while because IOTL made a positive impression on me. I believe I’ll check out “Healer” next (that left a good first impression as well), and then “W” is on the list as well. I just know that moving forward, I’ll be much more open to the idea of watching a KDrama now that I know its potential. Not my favorite, but definitely not my least favorite now.
As for personal takeaways, I definitely saw the demonstration of what kind of effort goes into a relationship even through hard times. It takes dedication. Even though I won’t necessarily tackle problems (that might not even be similar to the problems the main couple faced) in the same manner as Hae-soo and Jae-yul, there’s plenty I can take as a lesson. Working hard and giving your all to another person is worth it. After all, *cue image*