Seo Ye-ji’s realistic and blunt portrayal of trauma: from the lawless lawyer to It’s Okay To Not Be Okay


Maybe it’s her sonorous voice, piercing eyes, or sarcastic smile, or maybe it’s a combination of all three, but it’s hard to deny the power Seo Ye-ji, when she enters a scene. She knows how to make an impression – and draw you into the story without fuss. In one of the opening scenes of the internationally acclaimed series It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, Seo Ye-ji’s character Ko Moon Young sits with a child and frightens them with a bloody fairy tale. The child jumps up and cries, and Ko Moon Young has a wry smile on his face. We are introduced to the seemingly cold, antisocial, demure Moon Young, a popular children’s book author who writes quite twisted and disturbing stories for children. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine any other actor playing such a role.

It’s not surprising that It’s Okay brought Seo Ye-ji onto the international stage. Away from the manic pixie, damsel in distress, a common trait across many shows. Here, Ye-ji played the role of a broken, damaged woman struggling to come to terms with a repressed childhood trauma that keeps coming back. Her mother was a cold murderous narcissist who wished her child to embrace the same cold values ​​she did and live without love or feelings. Shamefully negligent, Moon-young’s father takes a drastic step after learning of his wife’s criminal activities – something that creates a rift between him and his daughter.

Seo Ye-ji and Kim Soo-hyun on the It’s Okay To Not Be Okay poster

Growing up alone, Moon-young is unable to form cohesive friendships or relationships due to her not-so-acceptable social skills. However, her demeanor changes after meeting Gang Tae, a man who carries more of a burden than he should. Beyond the inexplicable attraction, they learn that their childhoods are intertwined, along with the deep horrors of their past that no one could get past. And so begins a healing and closing process. Far from imagining actually being saved – a common expression of several Korean dramas – she showed the importance of being healed.

There were many sides to Moon-young and it required a special mastery of acting to take on a role like this, depicting vulnerability, seething anger combined with overwhelming guilt caused by her own mother. By no means was Ko Moon Young a character to fully support due to her cruel nature coupled with her violent tendency when it came to protecting her loved ones. Still, you felt an inseparable connection with her because Seo Yea-ji’s acting skills were so great.

Seo Ye-ji knew how to not only twist the knife, but push it further in several scenes, especially the ones where her nightmares are haunting her. In one scene, Gang Tae (Kim Soo-hyun) rushes to her room after hearing her screams of agony. She has just woken up from debilitating dreams, and while he struggles to care for her, she insists he go and still holds him. Her rasping screams and screams are particularly unnerving and it’s a scene not easily forgotten.

There were many such scenes on the show. Another outstanding scene is the one in which she ends up visiting her neglectful father in the psychiatric hospital. He hovers in and out of lucidity and hallucinates about his wife, nearly killing Moon-Young. In one rather frightening scene, Moon-young just lies flat on the floor while everyone else tries to save her from being strangled. There is a peculiar resignation and mockery in her eyes as she sees her father frantically clinging to any semblance of meaning in his life. It is the face of a woman who has no warm memories of family and who has no one to call her own.

After realizing that her mother is at the root of the trauma Gang Tae and his brother Sang Tae carry through their lives, she begs for forgiveness in a particularly heartbreaking scene when a confused Sang Tae tries to close her feed. Rather than being abrupt, Moon-young’s character development was particularly encouraging to watch – how she softens but still maintains her brash way of speaking.

There’s always something particularly captivating about a show with Seo Ye-ji. It won’t be something that exists for its own sake, or non-cerebral. Before It’s Okay, Seo Ye-ji starred in the seemingly funny action film Lawless Lawyer, starring Lee Joongi – a story about revenge, justice and the search for truth. Her character Jae-yi was badass, disbelieving the stories of corrupt lawyers and able to hit hard when needed while struggling to piece together the truth of her life. Jae-yi had her own distressing story to tell when her mother disappeared when she was a child – a disappearance linked to the murder of Lee Joongi’s mother on the show. Filled with comedy, impressively emotional scenes and sharp dialogue, Seo Ye-ji proved her skills.

Lee Joongi Lee Joongi and Seo Ye-ji in Lawless Laywer. (Photo: Netflix)

Seo Ye-ji’s acting has an unusual sense of rawness that brings it close to viewers. Perhaps it’s the nuanced characters she chooses, or perhaps her ability to convey a variety of emotions in just a few words. This woman is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Korean entertainment.


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