2015 Baeksang Nominations: Thoughts on Multiple Personalities vs. Schizophrenia [Updated 5/26]

(5/26: Scroll down for results.)

When the 2015 Baeksang nominations came out a few weeks ago, I looked for Ji Sung’s name first. And I was excited to see him nominated for best actor. I won’t try to hide the fact that I’m a fan of the Kill Me, Heal Me star. But the nominations also made me a little sad, because the other four nominees for best television actor are also excellent.

In particular, I feel bad that Ji Sung is competing with Jo In-Sung’s performance as Jang Jae-Yeol in It’s Okay, That’s Love. Jo In-Sung was excellent as the writer with schizophrenia. It’s ironic—an embarrassment of neurotic riches—that two smart dramas about mental illness are rivals. (Their authors are competing for best screenplay as well. Can we have a tie?)

Of the two dramas, Kill Me, Heal Me’s story about dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities) made tougher demands on its star. If Ji Sung wins, he clearly will have earned it.

baeksang nominees 2015 4web

But Jo In-Sung definitely deserved his nomination. And the other best actor nominees are Kim Rae-Won and Jo Jae-Hyun from Punch and Lee Sung-Min of Misaeng. Too much talent! The Baeksangs are one of Korea’s few awards that survey all the networks—kind of a Golden Globes equivalent—so an original, quirky cable drama like Misaeng has a chance for industry-wide recognition—but it has to face stiff competition.

It’s almost unfair to compare Ji Sung and the other four actors. Only Ji Sung had the opportunity to play seven personalities (five of them appearing regularly) on one show. Ideally, Ji Sung’s hell-for-leather performance will secure him the daesang, the grand prize, allowing the four remaining actors to compete for best actor.

How, then, do we judge best-actor-who-only-had-to-play-one-personality? What makes good K-drama acting? (As opposed to good film acting, which is arguably different.)

Here I’ll set out the reasons Jo In-Sung may deserve recognition, even if it means acknowledging two mental illness dramas in one year. I invite readers to comment, and share thoughts on the nominees from Punch and Misaeng.

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It’s Okay, That’s Love asked very different questions than Kill Me, Heal Me, but just as much as Kill Me, Heal Me, it required smart, daring acting. Ji Sung’s character in Kill Me, Heal Me at least knows that he has a mental disorder. But Jo In-Sung’s character in It’s Okay, That’s Love, Jang Jae-Yeol, is missing important insights into his own mind. Handled badly, his character could simply look like an idiot.

In Kill Me, Heal Me, the central question revolves around what does it mean to “have” a personality? How do we know who we are? Are we our names? Our memories? Our behaviors? That’s a tricky question, but It’s Okay, That’s Love addresses an even trickier one: How do we know we’re not crazy?

Most of us are pretty confident in our own sanity. We think we would notice if we weren’t sane. We use phrases like “losing his mind” to describe mental illness, and we assume that losing a mind is like losing car keys—something obvious.

But in reality, the toughest mental illnesses are often accompanied by an overwhelming lack of insight—a blindness to the mind’s real condition.

episode 15 its okay thats love jo in sung insight

Doctors call this challenge “lack of insight” or “anosognosia.” Psychiatrists say roughly half of people living with schizophrenia experience lack of insight. They literally don’t notice that their hallucinations are illogical. They’re unaware that their fixed delusions diverge from reality. They remain fundamentally convinced of their own sanity no matter what the evidence says.

And not because they’re “in denial,” but because the brain has turned off some of its logic circuits. It can be hard for family and friends to believe, but a person with schizophrenia isn’t trying to be a jerk by refusing medication.

When It’s Okay, That’s Love starts, writer Jang Jae-Yeol has lived with anosognosia for years. He’s unaware that parts of his reality are hallucinations. He’s convinced that his weird insomnia is a normal part of life. And he dismisses the possibility that there might be anything “wrong” with him so convincingly that his psychiatrist girlfriend figures he’s okay for the time being.

Jae-Yeol’s “high-functioning,” as doctors would say. Few people have reason to suspect anything’s wrong. “Writer” is a great job for him, by the way—he can pass off his problems as eccentricities. His intelligence leads people to assume he has more insight into himself than he does.

its okay thats love episode 5 jo in sung gong hyo jin bathroom

Wouldn’t Jae-Yeol’s lack of insight make this character easy to play? Jo In-Sung doesn’t have to do anything “special”—no switching dialects or dressing up like a schoolgirl here. Isn’t a person with anosognosia just like everyone else?

Yes, and no. In early episodes, all Jo In-Sung has to do is convince us that Jang Jae-Yeol’s hallucinations are real. And he has the director and writer to help him with that.

But in the final third of the series, Jo In-Sung captures perfectly the look of a man who is smart about everything except his blind spots. The actor doesn’t do anything special to convince us of his lack of insight. But he’s submerged deeply enough into the role that few viewers are tempted to say he’s deliberately lying or “in denial.” It’s hard for people who haven’t experienced lack of insight to understand how it feels. But Jo In-Sung presents it like someone who knows it from the inside.

He shows Jae-Yeol’s ignorance with total nonchalance, as if it’s natural. In the psychiatric hospital, Jae-Yeol remains convinced everyone else is wrong and his vision of reality is correct. He learns to tell the lies his doctors want to hear, so he can leave the hospital. He uses all his charm and stubbornness to protect his hallucinations (below).

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Jae-Yeol is, in short, a typical person with schizophrenia.

He is not, however, an example of what many people imagine as schizophrenia. We tend to think “craziness” is obvious. But nothing is obvious about Jae-Yeol.

When we first meet him, Jae-Yeol is a man who obviously wears many masks. At his birthday party in episode one, he’s irritatingly smug and theatrical—a guy acting the part of a cool celebrity. In the first two episodes, Jo In-Sung channels his oft-cited tendency to ham it up into this complicated character. Jang Jae-Yeol is essentially a person who lives his life like an actor. His whole public personality is a cover-up.

As the series progresses, Jae-Yeol sheds a little more of his disguise in each episode. Despite his blind spots, he does have a good understanding of his own emotions. He practiced smiling into the mirror as a teenager. He deliberately tried to form himself into a person who didn’t feel the despair and fear left by childhood trauma.

its ok that's love episode 1 talk show gong hyo jin and jo in sung

When he talks about his efforts, Jae-Yeol conveys the same profound loneliness that we see in Kill Me, Heal Me‘s Cha Do-Hyun. I almost find Jae-Yeol a more heart-breaking character because of how restrained and low-key his despair is—how utterly familiar it is from the real world of mental illness.

Long-time K-drama fans sometimes dismiss Jo In-Sung because he does have that history of overacting. But he’s come a long way since 2005’s What Happened in Bali. In It’s Okay, That’s Love, the character Jae-Yeol often puts on an act, but Jo In-Sung doesn’t. His acting here is careful and without exaggeration. When we see Jae-Yeol in the end, having grown more comfortable with the world and himself, it seems that this person was always there, under those onion layers, waiting to be discovered.

In a year like this, with the best actor nominations all going to smart, meaningful performances, it’s sad that anyone should have to choose. I’m rooting for Ji Sung—because c’mon, look at the guy (below)—but I wish everyone could get something.

Similarly, in the best screenplay category, I wish prizes could go to everyone. Nominees include Noh Hee-Kyung for It’s Okay, That’s Love, Paek Kyung-Soo for Punch and Jin Soo-Won for Kill Me, Heal Me. Noh Hee-Kyung and Jin Soo-Won’s scripts address more complicated subject matter, but I suspect they’re less polished than Paek Kyung-Soo’s script for Punch, which earned rave reviews. (Yoo-Na’s Street and Heard it Through the Grapevine are the other best screenplay nominees.)

At least we can be thankful the nominations this year are based on merit, not ratings. And we can be thankful we aren’t the judges making the tough decisions!

The Baeksang 2015 ceremony is scheduled for May 26. ♥

Who do think most deserves best actor? Should it go to Kim Rae-Won, Jo Jae-Hyun or Lee Sung-Min?

What about best screenplay? And are there great shows that were overlooked in this year’s nominations?

Update 5/26/15:

And the results:

Best TV Drama: Heard it Through the Grapevine

Best TV Director: Kim Won-Seok for Misaeng

Best Leading Actor in TV: Lee Sung-Min for Misaeng

Best Leading Actress in TV: Song Yun-Ah for Mama

Best TV Script: Park Kyung-Soo for Punch

Daesang (Grand Prize) for TV: Na Young-Seok (PD of 2 Days 1 Night, 3 Meals a Day, etc.)

All great choices—and none of them shows I connected with personally. Another reminder that my taste is as out of fashion in Asia as it is on every other continent! Is this how Barcelona fans feel when Real Madrid wins?

18 thoughts on “2015 Baeksang Nominations: Thoughts on Multiple Personalities vs. Schizophrenia [Updated 5/26]

  1. I really thank you for a very thorough analysis and a brief recap, miss Odes. I had forgotten all about the awards though I was thrilled when the nominations had come out. My prediction is for someone older as the Daesang winner (JJH or LSM). Probably LSM because JJH is last year’s winner (if I remember correctly). I’m a little disappointed for not having been nominated Yoona’s Street male lead, but there’s no room

  2. (got interrupted by a careless finger on tablet, happens all the time)…in this amazing top-5, obviously! Maybe another time, LJH (he’s having fun with his on- and off screen gf, anyway! 😉 ). Having watched both IOIL and KMHM, it’s true that I could see a resemblance at first and only then. They have nothing in common, imo. Even in terms of Psychiatry, they’re completely different. I love both the actors and I have written so so so much for their performances- in my head of course^^. My only objection to IOIL’s scriptwriter is one and ONLY one: Schizophrenia is a disease that first appears in patients’ late 10’s or early 20’s (under severe psychological stress, undoubtedly) and not in their 30’s. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is a condition that can affect almost any target group with no age limitation. The symptoms are almost similar to those we watched on the drama. With that said, I wish each and everyone of these fantastic actors a GOOD LUCK 🙂

    • Good point about reasons Lee Sung-Min could win it. And someone from Misaeng should win something. Also, he’s been nominated before, so he might be “due” for a win! It’s hard to tell how much age counts. Last year the daesang went to Jeon Ji-Hyun for You from the Stars. And then Jo Jae-Hyun won best actor, which makes it less likely he’ll win this year, especially with his costar up for an award. Ironically, though Lee Sung-Min is associated with older character parts, he’s only ten years older than Ji Sung, with KRW and JIS close behind. And Jo Jae-Hyun is maybe a couple years older than Lee Sung-Min? I think. Korean dramas play funny games with age. It’s impossible to handicap this horse race! I’m curious about the results, which I usually don’t find interesting.

      You’re entirely right about schizophrenia starting in the teens and twenties. At first, I found Jae-Yeol’s diagnosis a bit weird for that reason–why aren’t they considering other possibilities? On the other hand, his story might not be totally implausible. Here in the States, the average length of time between a first episode of psychosis and a diagnosis of SZ is a full seven years. And that’s an average, so some people take much longer. When I was working in mental health, I learned not to be surprised when someone tells me their 50-year-old aunt has “developed” schizophrenia. It wouldn’t make any sense for someone to “just come down with it” at 50, but people can hide visible symptoms for years if it isn’t severe yet (psychosis often starts milder and grows worse with each episode). Jae-Yeol is a good example of this kind of person, who has symptoms for years before others notice. (I think I’ve read that some researchers have proposed dividing schizophrenia into different categories because it can progress in a variety of different ways.)

      The stuff they do notice, like his weird sleeping habits, should be a clue something’s off, but even his psychiatrist girlfriend accepts it because he says it doesn’t bother him. We give the benefit of the doubt to smart, successful people like Jae-Yeol. And most people I know are afraid of “losing our minds,” so we don’t stop by the doctor’s office for a first, mild episode of psychosis, the way we’d insist on visiting the doctor for a mild ear infection or a cough.

      I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, which is one reason I found IOTL so interesting. I suspect one reason we Americans don’t notice mental illness right in front of us is because we assume mental illness will look dramatic. But we were raised to be stoic and undramatic, and hide our troubles. So it’s hard to see those troubles until it’s too late (in the case of some suicides in my experience). But you’re right that the teens and twenties are the usual age of onset, and also usually when we notice symptoms. The most severe symptoms can’t be hidden and make themselves very visible.

      Oops, I didn’t meant to write so much. I was so fascinated with IOTL. Thanks for giving me an excuse to natter on, Haria!

  3. Agh I’d seen the list before but forgot about it and now I’m freaking out all over again! WHY WOULD YOU MAKE ME CHOOSE?! My process of elimination was that I never finished IOIL and have yet to start Misaeng, so my enjoyment of those actors take a back seat. While I did like Kim Rae-won in Punch (the cheeky bastard, said lovingly) my discovery of JJH was the one that REALLY rocked my world and who I’ve sought out more post-Punch.

    What’s worse is asking me to choose b/t the scriptwriters of Punch, Yoo-na’s Street and Grapevine. It’s like asking which limb I’m okay doing without. UGH. While I adored Punch’s…everything, I think it’d be saying more if Yoo-na’s Street or Grapevine won. While Punch elevated familiar conventions and had beautifully poetic dialog, the last two felt like a class to themselves within their respective genres. All three managed to create whole world’s with fleshed out characters with fresh narratives. Forget the prize (not really) just have them make me more dramas!

    • Argh, Muse, yes! The pain! I’m really totally confused by these awards. Last year I just rolled my eyes at the weird choice of nominees and moved on with my life. But what’s with this year? Everyone they nominated actually deserves it! That’s so unusual. Maybe the judges themselves deserve an award for good choices?

      Grapevine sounds like it’s so good. Since I didn’t watch when it started airing, I have been waiting to see if it held up the quality until the end. Does it end in early June? Yoo-Na’s Street is the only show I don’t know anything about (intimidating length!), and if it was as good as you say, I’m sooo glad I don’t have to choose.

      I like to get excited about the screenplay award, because I figure no matter who wins, I’m grateful someone remembered the writers. They wouldn’t get far in these dramas without writers, and these writers are totally nuts–where else in the world would one or two people try to write that many episodes? If there was an Olympics of writing, the K-drama writers would keep walking away with the gold medals. Of course, my weird notion of their working conditions comes from “King of Dramas.” Hopefully they aren’t really that exhausted and overworked, but I suspect you have to be slightly crazy to take on that job. (Or maybe any K-drama-related job?) I dream of someday going to Seoul and meeting my favorite writers to find out. 🙂 Just as soon as I learn Korean. (Which I haven’t had time to study in weeks.)

      Too many dramas, not enough time.

  4. Its a problem of plenty! In my heart I hope for Ji Sung, but brain says Lee Sung Min is an equally good choice. I am one of the few who left Misaeng halfway, because I couldn’t connect with the work environment shown there. I wish Punch gets recognition in some form… JJH was in scary form there… May the best one win!

  5. My feeling is on Ji Sung, come one, his wife already has two,
    but my gut tell me it’s gonna be Kim Rae Won, Punch is good, have a good review and rating, is loved by all.

    I knew that detail information supposedly not included but then the fact about the casting on KMHM and how it turn up made me badly want that for Ji sung, he saved the show, he made it popular,
    on the other side, I can’t ignore how good the other nominees is, even Jo in sung with his wrinkled clothes and people who judge him over his looks.

    but between Ji sung and Jo in sung, I think Ji sung has better performance but both is perfect at their roles, it just feels like Ji sung did more than what he have to do, it shown more.

  6. I think the chief competition is Kim Rae Won vs. Ji Sung vs. Lee Sung-Min. They all have really strong claims to it. I’m hoping, and pretty sure that, Punch will get lots of recognition. So good, plus lots of viewers. If it came down to KRW vs JS, I would say JS for best actor and then Punch for best drama and screenplay. But then LSM and Misaeng are in there too! Best director for Misaeng? Then what about Grapevine and Yoona? My brain hurts.

    I don’t expect IOTL to get anything in this strong field of competitors, which is why I gave it a shout-out. I’m just glad it got the acknowledgement of a couple nominations. And, Anastasya, the phrase “Jo In Sung with his wrinkled clothes” is so right on! What happened to perma-press?

    • I don’t really mind a perma-press since it’s personal taste (or he just too good looking that it blind me a bit)
      but wrinkled clothes is just make me said “I can iron it for you if you want, please… please..just let me…”
      I mean if he did laundry by himself he will not buy an easy wrinkled clothes (like I did) or wear jacket often, and if its get laundry outside, who didn’t iron it before deliver it, I ‘ve seen laundry that take only ironing too
      and I feel funny to care a lot about that.
      hahaha

      • The funny thing is I knew exactly what you meant! We’re probably imagining the same shirt. I have to admit, though, I thought the rumpled look was sexy. Kinda says to the world “I’ve been too busy sitting in a remote tower writing great fiction to notice that the weather’s hot and my fine linen shirt has grown damp with my precious sweat.” Part of the whole Afflicted Romantic Poet Chic thing JIS does so well. Or maybe I’m just glad that doing laundry regularly isn’t a prerequisite for succeeding as a writer. At least in Korea. If my bad laundry habits hold me back here, I’ll have to emigrate.

        • I came after seeing the result.. yaay! I hope KMHM have at least 1 win and its not. T.T
          In a related topic,
          I am a barcelona fans as well as my dad (he is a senior fans since he got headache every times barcelona lose from real madrid and in great mood when barca wins.
          He has a serious discussion about buying+wearing barca jersey cause the design is cheesy for him while real madrid always stunning in term of style but he can’t have a heart to wear that)
          This awards is totally feels like that, I agree that Real Madrid is a superior team, I just prefer Barcelona and I can’t hide that it hurts me.

          I watch Misaeng and its really good show, it just for me that the chief oh role is great because it’s a great role that executed well while Do hyun+6 others is half-raw meat that Ji sung grilled himself so it fully cooked to match the drama taste and bring the genuine flavor to other character.

          (′︿‵。)(。’︿‵)
          ໒( •́ ∧ •̀ )७

        • Yes, Anastasya, you say it perfectly! Even though I know the results were reasonable, I’m still sad. That part in KMHM was so demanding compared to more straightforward drama roles, I thought Ji Sung would get some recognition for the level of difficulty. But I do tend to root for the team that’s less stylish but has more heart. I’m glad my Barca comparison works! Now I understand my friends who get depressed about sports.
          (T.T)`\(-_-)

  7. Anastasya, cherie…Barca is our “queen”! We don’t need a real royalty, we have our own, lol!! Barca beat Real for two years In a row…not bad for our ‘BLAUGRANA” queen!
    JS is among the best of the best for this year’s awards anyway. The competition was fierce between superb actors. I am a little sad myself, Miss Odessa 🙁 But since they handed the Daesang to PD Na there was one less acting award… Congratulations to Misaeng and HITTG! Both dramas totally deserve the recognition!
    PS. Punch and the two excellent (mostly cinema) actors left empty-handed (they only got the Scenario Award) *sad face, again* They’re two of the best of their generations respectively!

    • I was very glad to see Punch won for best script! And it’s true, JS is in great company. I’m going to picture him with the other nominees to feel better. It does make me sad that despite five outstanding actors competing, they gave the grand prize to a non-actor, even one like Na PD who’s clearly a game-changer. Korean TV seems to be going in the same direction as American TV–more reality shows, fewer scripted shows–and Na PD’s daesang follows that trend. He’s the best in his field and well-deserving, but I love scripted shows too much to get excited about what the win says for the industry as a whole. It’s a downer that dramas now have to compete with variety shows for awards as well as ratings. If the drama nominees this year had been weak and the prize went to Na PD, it wouldn’t seem like such a statement. But in a year with so many meaty dramatic roles, it sends a real message (whether intended or not) to the people making scripted stuff. Sigh. I want to give everyone prizes. 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness!! I can’t believe you wrote a post on two of my favorite Korean dramas of all time. I definitely think both It’s Okay That’s Love and Kill Me, Heal Me are masterpieces. Usually when I finish watching a drama, I say goodbye when the story ends and I move on to something else. However, these two dramas are ones that have a huge impact on me and my perspective on mental illnesses and what love really is. It’s hard for me to find “good dramas” nowadays because I keep comparing them to these two dramas.

    • We must be sisters! IOTL and KMHM are the shows that have made the biggest impression on me. There are other great shows–even other shows good enough for me to rewatch–but those two are the ones where I want to crawl inside the TV set and never leave. The stories are so painful and also so hopeful. I’m always looking for another excuse to write about them!

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