Korean Movie Review #7: My Wife Got Married (아내가 결혼했다; 2008)

My Wife Got Married 2(Source)

Starring: Son Yae-jin (Joo In-Ah), Kim Ju-Hyeok (Noh Deok-Hoon), and Joo Sang-Wook (Han Jae-Kyeong). Written by Song Hye-Jin (original novel by Park Hyun-Wook) and directed by Jeong Yoon-soo.119 minutes.

Before the mid-1990s, very few Korean movies featured a wife leaving an unhappy marriage. Of those that did, either she would ultimately return to her husband, tail between her legs, or she would face an untimely death, so great was the inevitable spiral into destitution and despair.

So, when Kim Tae-kyun (김태균) directed The Adventures of Mrs. Park (박봉곤 가출사건; 1996), who not just successfully pursued her lifelong dreams of becoming a singer, but found new romance with a second husband too, he softened the subversive social message by making the movie into a romantic comedy. But even then, he would later confess to Cine 21 magazine, he was extremely concerned at how audiences might react to such “an unexpected ending”.

Fast forward to 2008, and My Wife Got Married, about a woman who demands 2 husbands, was one of the most popular movies of the year, and even won Son Ye-jin the Blue Dragon Film Award for best actress. Not quite a comedy, and sparking minimal complaint or controversy (although women were careful not to publicly identify too closely with her character), it’s difficult not to see it as a sign of how quickly and irrevocably Korean attitudes had changed in the preceding decade. I’ve projected feminist empowerment onto it ever since.

It’s somewhat ironic then, that it turns out that the movie is *ahem* actually told exclusively from the perspective of the main male character, Noh Deok-Hoon…

*Minor spoliers follow*

Opening in Spring 2002 with Deok-Hoon bumping into Joo In-Ah on the subway, next they’re at a coffee shop, where he reminisces about missing his chance to ask her out back when they worked together, and speculating with his male coworkers about whether she wore a bra or not (as one does). Discovering a shared love of football, specifically the rivals Real Madrid (him) and FC Barcelona (her; expect many ensuing football/relationship metaphors in the movie), soon they’re having drinks, then sex at her place.

My Wife Got Married 3In a surprisingly erotic scene, Deok-Hoon has the best sex of his life, and instantly makes such an emotional, almost spiritual connection to In-Ah that it’s easy to see how wounded he would be by what audiences already know will come. But, by no means does she merely humor him in response. So, even without that benefit of hindsight, it’s no surprise that they do genuinely fall in love.

Nymphomania a historyThis is more important than it may sound. Because, before falling in love, first they are lovers (what an oxymoron!), with one scene in which she encourages him to very explicitly talk about his sexual fantasies — he struggles; she’s well aware of hers — hinting at her much greater sexual subjectivity, and willingness to act on it. Considering that just 13 minutes in, audiences were — à la Basic Instinct — reflexively craning their necks to get a better glimpse of her exposed(?) nipples, it would have been very natural and easy for writer Song Hye-Jin to have continued on that salacious, titillating basis, portraying In-Ah as a emotionally manipulative nymphomaniac that can’t be satisfied with just one man, with all the double standards that that implies.

Instead, as soon as we’re shown that they’re in love, In-Ah also says that despite that, she can’t guarantee that Deok-Hoon will be the only person she loves for her entire life. Her surprise at his umbrage with that seems both authentic and naive (a constant theme), as is her not realizing how he might feel at her continuing to drink and socialize until all hours as if she were still single.

Not that she can’t or shouldn’t mind you. Rather, it’s how secretive she is about it that is the problem, never answering her phone; it’s only when he eventually, desperately confronts her at her apartment after one such session that it seems to click. Only slightly drunk and still impeccably dressed, you sense maybe she is only testing him when she retorts that she was sleeping with someone. Either way, he leaves her.

After a month of moping around, he’s encouraged by a friend to forgive her, but also to ensure it doesn’t happen again by marrying her and then knocking her up. Surprised at his call, let alone his marriage proposal, she takes a lot of persuading, only finally acquiescing during a World Cup game.

Those that were here that magical summer, will surely understand.

My Wife Got Married 1(Source)

Domestic bliss ensues, only briefly interrupted by her moving to a different city for 4 days a week for the sake of her job; after all, such arrangements are completely normal for millions of Koreans. This movie being what is though, soon his world comes crashing down when she reveals that she’s not just fallen in love with a second man — Han Jae-Kyeong — there, but she would like him to also be her husband — not just boyfriend — just as Deok-Hoon is in Seoul. Angry, emotional, and this time also physical confrontations follow, with Deok-Hoon resolving not to let her to “win” by divorcing her.

Let’s pause for a moment here, as many viewers may well have needed to take a deep breath at this point in the movie. Because, victim or perpetrator, likely most would also been affected by cheating spouses, partners, or parents at least once in their lives. Equally likely, they resolved to never let it happen again, or to them. So, if Deok-Hoon returning to In-Ah the first time didn’t already, his acquiescing to this new arrangement surely brought many of those same feelings of rage, hurt, impotence, and frustration back to the surface.

Or perhaps I’m just projecting? Either way, frankly, if I wasn’t already committed to a review, I would have stopped watching at that point, for the same reasons I turn off most Korean dramas within 10 minutes: it’s difficult to be sympathetic to — or interested in — a character you constantly want to grab by the shoulders and just shake some damn sense into.

My Wife Got Married 6(Source)

Yet, for a time, the trio — well, technically two duos — does seem to work, providing one takeaway message that polygamy (technically, polyandry) is neither as absurd nor as evil as it’s usually assumed to be. Moreover, in the process the movie pointedly questions many of Korean society’s double standards regarding marriage, especially how prostitutes and mistresses are tolerated for men while many wives languish at home, resigned to continuing their — by their own admission — loveless, sexless marriages out of financial dependence and fears they will lose custody of their children. Many reviewers erroneously claim these are shared by Deok-Hoon; however, but for sneaking glimpses of In-ah’s breasts at work, then complaining of her not wearing a bra in public (after sleeping together just one time!), he’s only guilty of firmly believing in monogamy. Indeed, he’s the one that repeatedly lashes out at his male friend’s hypocrisy, although it’s true that he could have done so with much greater gusto at his brother’s.

However, no matter how positively it portrays polyandry, the movie also demonstrates how unfeasible it is in a society where it’s both illegal and there’s strong social prejudices against it. And, coming from a movie which can be described as a romance only by default (to those reviewers that call it a comedy, I’m perplexed at what they laughed at), you’re left wondering what the point of the 2 hours was exactly.

*Major spoilers follow*

My Wife Got Married 7 (Source)

Specifically, it’s the birth of a daughter that starkly demonstrates how the trio’s arrangement simply can’t be sustained in the face of family and official obligations. Questions of paternity aside (In-Ah wants him to love the child regardless of the who is the father, so never reveals that. Later, it’s Jae-Kyeong that reveals that they always used contraception when they were together), it soon becomes apparent that Deok-Hoon and Jae-Kyeong’s families are none the wiser.

This facade comes tumbling down when Deok-Hoon’s colleagues in Seoul see In-Ah, Jae-Kyeong, and daughter in a magazine article written by (unknowingly to them) the latter’s cousin, and assume that he’s secretly gotten a divorce. Fearing he’s slowly but surely losing both wife and daughter, and partially out of spite (really, he hasn’t felt in control of his life since the start of the movie), he responds by crashing the first birthday party Jae-Kyeong’s family has for “their” daughter.

My Wife Got Married 5(Source)

In response, In-ah disappears with her daughter, and her two husbands — this is much more believable than it may sound — come to live together and even become friends; as they say, they have nowhere else to go. When a postcard from Spain arrives 5 months later, the movie ends with both of them joining her there to watch football games and live happily ever after, as if somehow questions of employment, visas, schooling, custody rights, and social prejudice didn’t also apply there.

*Spoilers End*

Was it too much to ask that the movie delved a little more into some of those questions? Do any movies know any Korean movies that do cover alternative living arrangements a little more realistically, but are still entertaining? Thanks!

Update, Feb. 3: By coincidence, today The Atlantic had an interesting article titled “When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense,” with the byline “Historically, polyandry was much more common than we thought.”

Update, January 3 2014: And today, Salon one titled “My Two Husbands.”

3 thoughts on “Korean Movie Review #7: My Wife Got Married (아내가 결혼했다; 2008)

  1. After being in a relationship with a Korean woman, who’s also in a relationship with a Korean man, and during almost a year all of us living in the same part of Seoul (in separate apartments), within ten minutes walk from each other, I’d say this movie portrayed polyamory quite realistically. And, not the least after all the questions I’ve had to answer, I’d say it’s natural to make the movie out of the “poor man’s” perspective, as that’s what people wonder about, not how it was for “the nymphomaniac that can’t be satisfied with just one man, with all the double standards that that implies” (come on, I think you know better than that).

    There was definately things to laugh about (I saw it with my partner; I think her other partner watched it alone), and it was a sheer relief seeing poly taken this seriously. Truly a wonderful story, and I’m amazed that it of all countries was made into a movie in super-conservative Korea. Of course it’d be more difficult to live openly like this in Korea than in European countries like Spain, but considering it’s also – considering family (values) – more difficult as non-married (add young, add woman) to have a sex-life, or even a partner, that’s not exactly the issue.

    And as for your ending question, yes, you ask too much, this movie was fabulous as it was. We’ve got to start somewhere.

    • Sorry for the long delay in replying Eric. A couple of things:

      1) I think you’ve misinterpreted the line you of mine you quote, which is preceded by “Considering that just 13 minutes in, audiences were — à la Basic Instinct — reflexively craning their necks to get a better glimpse of her exposed(?) nipples, it would have been very natural and easy for writer Song Hye-Jin to have continued on that salacious, titillating basis, portraying In-Ah as a emotionally manipulative nymphomaniac that can’t be satisfied with just one man, with all the double standards that that implies.” Or in other words, with an erotic sex scene so soon into the movie, the producers could have just presented more of the same for the rest of the movie, playing on stereotypes of nymphomaniacs. But as you know, fortunately they didn’t do that, nor do I subscribe to those stereotypes of nymphomaniacs myself.

      2) We’ll just have to agree to disagree about whether presenting the movie from the man’s or the woman’s perspective is the more natural. Either way, I’m sure it would have been quite possible to present both, and that surely female viewers in particular would have preferred much more of the woman’s perspective. What did your partner think of it?

      That said, I’m glad you liked it, and finally had a movie that presented polyandry in a positive light. But frankly it put me off polyandry personally, mainly because the strong emotions I felt while watched it showed I could never ever accept the same arrangement in real life. (Not saying that the arrangement is evil or unacceptable of course, just that I personally could never have one like that.)

  2. This post is not an attack towards you James Turnbull since it seems you didn’t like the movie either – I just want to share my thought on this movie here.

    This movie is honestly the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s the worst because it’s the first movie that’s ever made me actually want to kill the female lead. This movie did not present polyandry in a positive light. The female lead came out as one of the most hateful characters I’ve ever seen with her fake innocence (i.e. when she says ‘why’ after the male lead refuses to let her marry another man and when she is unable to understand why the male lead wants to know if he is the father – which he has a right to know). This woman had no respect for her husband and I honestly thought this movie was a disgrace to women (and men). This movie did not empower women – because there was nothing great about the female lead. I find it weird that movies with cheating/two-timing women are labeled as being empowering towards women. They are not. There is nothing empowering about a person cheating and being cruel towards another person – whether it’s a woman or a man doing it. Those who label this movie as empowering towards women are also indirectly saying that men who two-time their wife or girlfriend are great or ‘empowering towards men’. A woman doing something bad does not equal ‘empowering towards women’ just because it’s a woman doing it.

    This is a review I wrote – it contains spoilers but since your article also contains spoilers I thought it was okay to post it:).

    A movie full of double standards.
    “My Wife Got Married” is probably the worst excuse for a movie i’ve ever seen. I thought I’d never see a movie worse than 10.000 BC or Taken 2 but I was wrong, so wrong. The problem with this movie is that while it’s trying to fight double standards it ends up being filled with double standards and fakeness itself and even ends up promoting adultery and cheating. The movie gave a picture of our society as a place where people celebrate men being unfaithful to their wives which is not how reality really is. The truth is that I don’t know one person who actually think it’s okay for men to cheat on their wives. Try asking yourself whether your father, mother, brother or anyone close to you actually think it’s okay for a man to cheat on their wife? I bet the majority is against it no matter the gender. I’ve actually been noticing that nearly each time a man in a movie cheats on his wife he’s portrayed as horny bastard while the wife is portrayed as a sweet wife who does everything right. While movies with cheating wives nearly always portray the wives as being neglected by their awful husbands. Now back to the movie itself and it’s fakeness. In the midst of all this fakeness is the female protagonist In-ah with her fake innocent face. Her fake innocence and double standards are first seen – besides the times she comes home late at night drunk and fails to understand why her boyfriend is mad – when she’s telling her (now) husband about the other guy she has been seeing and wants to marry. When her husband gets mad all she says is “why are you mad” like she does not know it. She then proceeds to say that she wants to keep it a secret from her parents so obviously she does know why he got mad… What follows really showed her true colors. When the guy left his ring at her apartment she follows him home and keeps on pressing on to him instead of just letting him go even going as far as telling him that he had to grant her wish of never leaving her while she still wants to marry another man (all this happens while she herself earlier in the movie had said that she belongs to no one and that if any one of them wanted out of the relationship they should be allowed to go). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a more selfish person than her. While she wanted her husband to understand her feelings she never once tried to understand or reason with her husband and everything had to go her way – a total narcissist. When their child is born she didn’t even once try to understand how her husband felt and got angry when he wanted to know whether he was the father. The culmination of her selfishness came when the husband revealed everything to the families and she ran off to Spain with her child without telling her husband or anyone else. I wouldn’t actually have cared about her cowardice and selfishness of running away from the mess RIGHTFULLY crashing down on her – since she herself had created it by her own selfishness – if it hadn’t been for the fact that she actually kidnapped the daughter from the father. This fact is amazingly ignored in the movie and it just shows how bad this movie actually is – as if anyone would actually be okay with losing a child like that after going through so much pain of knowing whether he was the father or not. The male protagonist is a sorry excuse for a human being – but at least he admits it himself early in the movie when he says that he is a loser – and that’s exactly how he came across. He came across as a pathetic person who couldn’t stand up for himself and it was hard to feel any sympathy for him either because of how pathetic he was.

    The message in this movie seems to be. 1: It’s okay to cheat on your wife/husband. 2: It’s okay live a double life tricking two families. (The family of the second husband was left to believe that the child was their family by blood.) 3: It’s okay to run away with a child without telling the father. 4: It’s okay to run away from the mess you created yourself. 5: If you follow 1-4 you will have a happy ending with two husbands.

    The movie is labelled as comedy and romance but I felt neither was present in this movie. It was not funny neither did I feel any love between the leads. If it’s considered love to be selfish and wanting everything your way not considering your partners feelings at all then this movie is full of love. My take on love is different though – The Classic and A Moment To Remember (in which Ye-jin Son stars) portray love much much better than this movie. It’s a shame that she decided to star in this film because each time I remember one of the above-mentioned movies I’ll always remember this film also and be put in a bad mood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s