BIFF 2023: IT’S OKAY! Movie Review – It’s all about seeing the bright side

 It’s all about seeing the bright side

It’s the kind of ‘it’s okay’ that people use when things are anything but okay. And as we’ve learned over the last several years, it’s okay to not be okay – but that doesn’t make it easier to navigate or fit in. But having a positive outlook certainly helps as evident in the movie IT’S OKAY!

Especially if you’re a high school girl who’s recently lost her mother. On top of that, she’s at an extremely competitive dance school, where mistakes are not acceptable and excuses don’t feature. But the hearty In-young carries on, even after her landlord gives her a week to vacate.

So, she sneakily lives at school not revealing her circumstances. The other dancers do know about her mother and that she’s a ‘scholarship case’ – in other words, they already consider her a freeloader at their school. Yet no matter how under-the-radar, you can only get away with living in various rooms in a non-boarding school for so long. And it’s the super strict director who discovers In-young’s hiding spot.

With few options, Director Seol-ah takes her home for a few days which soon extends to a few more. Moment by moment, the sunny In-young gradually makes a less tenuous space for herself while at the same time beginning to brighten Seol Ah’s previously rule-driven, grey life.

With one problem at least temporarily resolved, there’s no time for slacking in a highly competitive program teeming with perfectionists and dance troupe bullies, all vying to lead the next classic dance show. Yet the perpetually positive In-young continues to try her best to see the brighter side. When the lead dancer, the most viciously competitive of the lot, gets into some trouble, she even helps her, earning another friend.

Keeping herself cheerful by focusing on the thing that’s right in front of her, In-young charms everyone around her – some taking longer to succumb than others. But they all get there, drawn to her brightness. From dire straits with few friends, she keeps on going, gaining people who look out for her. Such as a friendly neighborhood pharmacist who gives her vitamins for all ailments – on credit he’s not likely to ever collect.

Shown at the Busan International Film Festival, IT’S OKAY! is a lighter option positioned next to often dark and moody festival fare. Lead actress seventeen-year-old Lee Re is the indefatigable heroine. With a solid career, she’s been appearing in films and movies since 2012, often as a lead’s younger self or younger sibling, earning accolades along the way.

More recently, she’s appeared in popular dramas such as Hellbound and Castaway Diva, and led the rom-com Hello, Me!, for which she won Best Young Actress at the KBS drama awards in 2021. 

Jin Seo-yun plays Seol-ah having also taken awards for her leading role in One the Woman and the 2018 film Believer. Written and directed by Kim Hye-young, IT’S OKAY! is her first feature-length film. She’s known for directing Be Melodramatic, a 2019 rom-com series about female friends working on a TV drama.

From neighbors and classmates to the director herself, the orphaned In-young builds her fanbase and continues to work toward finding her stability. With an outlook (and starting point) like hers, IT’S OKAY! epitomizes that the only way is up.

For more stories from the Busan International Film Festival, click here.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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