Goodbye Madame Butterfly, Hello Sexless Marriage

See here for my latest Busan Haps article, a review of Sumie Kawakami’s Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman. Any readers have similar horror stories about sexless Korean marriages to share?

Must See Korean TV: 21st Century Family (21세기가족)


Thank you very much to Maria, whose synopsis instantly sold me on this recent drama:

…I’ve seen a lot of Korean dramas and they almost always find a way to disappoint me in the way they portray women, sexuality or both. This little drama is quite refreshing. Unusual in that it’s only 8 episodes long, it openly talks about issues like teenage sex, puberty, the difficulty married couples have getting sex regularly, and even one episode about viagra. To be fair, I have taken the last nearly 9 months away from watching dramas, so maybe things have heated up out there when I wasn’t looking. But this is the first time I’ve seen sexually related issues being dealt with so frankly and humorously…

If you think it already sounds a lot like Modern Family, you’d be quite right — it’s explicitly modeled on it, albeit without a gay family. See here for a helpful family tree, starting with Lee Deok-hwa (이덕화) playing the father role that Ed O’Neill does in the US original, and DramaTic for some historical context on Korean sitcoms, which helps you better understand what makes this one so different. In particular:

…the word comedy [was removed] from the show’s promotion to avoid all the implications it brings to the table, at least in Korea – namely, the idea that sitcoms should all be about a relentless succession of mindless gags punctuated by the good old laugh track. It’s an intelligent expedient, which highlights this show’s priorities better than any trailer or presentation would. This, in other words, is a back-to-basics approach, while at the same time exploring different answers to the usual formula.


Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s so easy to find with English subtitles then — I just watched episode 1 here, and although frankly I found it a little slow after all that build-up, it was still quite enjoyable. Also, crucially, it only had precisely one cringe-worthy moment for me, when Oh Yoon-ah (오윤아) behaves quite childishly in the police-station towards the end. Considering how routinely women behave that way in most Korean dramas, making me turn the TV off in disgust within 5 minutes of watching, it was very refreshing not to see it for a whole 40 minutes here.

Anybody else seen the show, and/or like a detailed episode by episode discussion (à la Dramabeans) over the next 8 weeks? Please let me know!

Korean Gender Reader

For anyone following the response to the MBC video, please note than an “International Couples and Friends Picnic” event is being held in Seoul on Sunday June 17th, which you can read more about here. It also has a handy list of the most recent links about the video.

Update: For those of you not on Facebook, here is a Microsoft Word file with the information in the link.

Next, as you can see above, Busan’s first drag prom will be on the Saturday after that, with all proceeds going to charity. For further details, please see the Facebook event page (you don’t need to be logged in).

Finally, here are this week’s stories. Probably the one that will impact the most readers is the news that the contraceptive pill will now require a prescription, while ironically the morning-after pill is to be made available over the counter (see the links in “Body Image/Health” below). I’ll write a more detailed post on it the week after next (next week is the last week of the semester sorry!), but in the meantime thanks to Alex for providing the rationale for the move over on the blog’s Facebook page:

My wife (Korean nurse) says it has to do with the doctors vs pharmacists lobby. Basically the doctors want a certain amount of drugs to require prescriptions so they can get their cut but the pharmacists want to give out the morning after pill so it’s easily accessible in times of need (ie when the doctors clinic isn’t open). So the government cut a deal to basically swap the situations of the pill and the morning after pill. Then the doctors ‘lobby’ decided to make some stuff up about how the pill should need a prescription even though they’ve been giving it out for years (decades?) without one. This news should be on the mouth of all sexually responsible women in Korea, but it hasn’t really blown up that big yet.

Body Image/Health:

Single Women in Seoul More Likely to Drink, Smoke (The Chosun Ilbo)

Morning-after pills now available OTC, but regular contraceptive pills now made prescription only (The Korea Herald)

Contraception and women`s health (The Dong-a Ilbo)

South Korean FDA drops prescriptions for emergency contraception (Lifesitenews)

Emergency Contraception Is Not Abortion (XX Factor)

Celebrity Worship is for Chicks (Via Korea)

Word of the Day: Lookism (The Unlikely Expat)


South Korea: Court Upholds Military Ban on “Subversive” Books (Global Voices)

Malaysian Officials Denounce K-pop’s “Indecency” (MTVK)

Is hallyu guidebook censorship? (The Korea Times)


Mother kills daughters, self over divorce issues (Asian Correspondent)

Go Young Wook rape charges dropped by police due to lack of “physical damage” (Asian Junkie)

Ladygate: ‘Hair Ripping Girl’ is Identified After Attack (Korea Bang)


HK Women – White Men Dating Ad Sparks Outcry (The Wall Street Journal)

A Girl You Should Date (Nonamerah)

The Benefits of Sharing a Bed (The Wall Street Journal)

Ladygate: ‘Date Girl’ Picks up Coffee Bill, Feels Cheated (Korea Bang)

The English Spectrum Series at Gusts of Popular Feeling:

Part 30: Dirty Korean women who have brought shame to the country?

Part 31: Foreign instructor: “In two years I slept with 20 Korean women”


Crows and Japanese brides (The Marmot’s Hole)


Pride Breakdown (Chincha?!)

Blog of the Week: The Kimchi Queen (Chincha?!)

The stress of being bisexual drives young people to drink (io9)


Binge Drinking Rife Among University Students (The Chosun Ilbo)

Singing North Korean waitresses: Why I was not amused (Korea Law Today)

High Heels for Korean Men (Seoulistic)

Foreign teachers in the news (Gusts of Popular Feeling)


47 members of new parliament won exemption from military service (The Korea Herald)

Pop Culture:

Girl’s Day’s Oh! My God (Frank Kogan)

Re-structuring T-Ara: The Addition of Dani (Seoulbeats)

T-ara’s Dani’s tale of discovery probably outs CEO Kim Kwang Soo as a pedophile (Asian Junkie)

The Babies of K-pop: How Young is Too Young? (Seoulbeats)

When (Korean) women do rap (Occupied Territories)

Idol History: K-pop By The Numbers (Seoulbeats)

Are We NOT MEN? Part 1 (Frank Kogan)

Dal★shabet, “Mr. Bang Bang” MV (Occupied Territories)


Free child care feared to deepen moral hazard among young mothers (The Korea Times)

S.Korean Parents Use of Childcare Facilities, a Concern (KBS World)

Migrant workers’ children face discrimination in South Korea (The Washington Times)

Int`l marriage in Korea to decline due to falling farmer pop. (The Dong-a Ilbo)

Discipline in Korean Schools: Divide and conquer (Hello Korea!)

Evolution To be Dropped From Korean Science Textbooks (Gord Sellar; also see Surprises Aplenty, io9, The Marmot’s Hole, and ROK Drop)

Privileges for varsity athletes (Surprises Aplenty)

“I want to make it better for my kids” (The Korea Times)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

Korean Movie Review #4: Saving my Hubby (2002)


Has there ever been an actor you’ve really liked, but couldn’t put your finger on why?

For me, that was Bae Doo-na (배두나), much on my mind since I heard she would be starring in Cloud Atlas. Later, I’d also stumble upon a…let’s say “eye-catching” movie poster of hers from 2003, which I remember constantly distracting me as I looked for jobs around my new home of Busan. And finally this week, when my family and I decided we’d go the 2012 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix on Saturday, I suddenly remembered that she’d played a former volleyball star in Saving my Hubby (굳세어라 금순아) too.

It was time to investigate. Just what was it about her that I found so compelling?

To my surprise, I soon realized I hadn’t actually watched many of her movies, including The Host (2006) and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) for which she is best known. I had watched Take Care of my Cat (2001) of course, twice, but in hindsight I probably missed a great deal without subtitles, no matter how good my Korean used to be.

That just left the coming of age movie Plum Blossom (2000) then, probably best known for its numerous sex scenes — not quite the answer I expected or wanted. Still, it is a very affecting movie, with Bae Doo-na’s performance more much memorable for her character’s spunkiness than her frequent nudity. That’d be the image of her I’d bring with me to Saving my Hubby.

And who can blame me with a poster like the opening one above, or trailers like this?

As Wikipedia describes the plot (slightly edited by me):

Former volleyball star Gum-soon (Bae Doo-na) is now a married housewife with a baby daughter. Her husband, Joon-tae (준태, played by Kim Tae-woo {김태우}),* is starting the first day of his new job, when Gum-soon receives word that her in-laws are going to visit the following morning. While she struggles to get their house ready, Joon-tae is taken out for a drink with his new colleagues. Later that evening, while preparing her home for a visit by her in-laws early the next morning, Gum-soon gets a phone call from a nightclub owner who is holding her husband hostage, claiming that he has run up a huge bill and doesn’t have the money to pay for it. Strapping her baby to her back, Gum-soon sets out to rescue her husband.

*Not the former g.o.d. member of the same name, despite what what Wikipedia says!

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when, just a couple of minutes into the movie, both Gum-soon and Joon-tae are having tantrums more befitting of preteens than young parents. But then they are young — Gum-soon the character and Bae Doo-na the actor are both clearly in their early-20s, only marrying because of her pregnancy, and this youth and unpreparedness for domestic life is a central theme of the movie (Joon-tae’s age is less clear, while Kim Tae-woo the actor is a youthful-looking 31). A parent at 30 myself, it took some effort not to project that more typical age onto the couple, and to judge them less harshly for their childishness. Especially as adult women constantly behaving like children is a pervasive, grating part of Korean popular culture.


Ironically though, it’s also precisely some of those childish domestic scenes, which dominate the first 20 minutes, that are among the most endearing parts of the movie. Viewers with Korean partners are likely to find much about the couple’s interactions that warmly resonate with their own relationships (mine is at 18:10 when — squeee!— Gum-soon says “정말?!”).

But don’t get me wrong: this is no romantic comedy. Nor, despite Gum-soon’s heroine role, can it remotely be described as a grrrl-power flick. Rather, once Gum-soon receives that phone-call, it’s all slapstick from there, complete with the mandatory inept gangsters, chasing her for accidentally getting their boss’s suit dirty. All of which you can see for yourself via this alternative trailer, which gives a much more accurate impression of the movie:

For the next half hour or so, the ensuing antics are amusing enough. The movie also really captures Korean nightlife well. In particular, when she can’t find the nightclub her husband is in, her lost wanderings readily evoked my first few months in Korea: when smartphones didn’t exist, and all the bars, clubs, norae-bangs, and 24-hour haejang-gook restaurants of downtown Jinju seemed to blend into one vast neon blur…even though they were just a few blocks in reality.


Indeed, ultimately it becomes too realistic, for about halfway through the movie the gags suddenly seem to dry up, and we’re left with Gum-soon literally running around in circles as she avoids the gangsters and looks for the nightclub — minus the gangsters, it’s like watching me trying to find my hotel in Insa-dong one drunken early morning last summer. When things do finally pick up again, unfortunately it’s so late in the movie that there’s no time to build up the momentum of laughs that would compensate for the long lull.

That said, it’s still worth seeing (you can watch it online here, with English subtitles) — it has its amusing moments, and others that will likely remind many readers of why they’re with their Korean partners, or at least of their Korean newbie days out on the town. But don’t be fooled by the promotional material into thinking that it’s anything more than that, and I’m certain that there’s much better movies with Bae Doo-na out there.


Any recommendations? :)

Workshop: “U.S. Military Camptown Prostitution in Korea: 1945-Present”

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

As you may or may not know, the House of Sharing International Outreach Team has recently regrouped under the name, Women’s Global Solidarty Action Network. Our new expanded goals include focusing on issues of sexual slavery, trafficking women and the “comfort women” issue. This Saturday (June 9th), we will be hosting a workshop under the title “U.S. Military Camptown Prostitution in Korea: 1945-Present”. The workshop will be given by Professor Nah Young Lee.

To get to the center, take line 4 to the Sungshin Women’s University Entrance (성신여자대학교입구) stop. Go out exit 4 and a building with a traditional Korean roof (hanok) will be in front of you. Go into the building and up to the second floor. Please note the center is very close to exit 4, and not on the University’s campus.

For more information, email, visit the Facebook event page, or contact Shannon at 010-4534-1553.

Korean Gender Reader

(Source; edited)

As Hello Korea! aptly describes the above program, “after years spent learning to groom yourself into a living doll, you can then strive to be a Stepford wife.”

Meanwhile, for those very few readers unaware, MBC recently screened a blatantly sexist and racist report titled “The Shocking Reality of Relationships with Foreigners.” For more information and perspective on it, here are some of the longer blog posts about it I’ve been able to find, in chronological order:

A tasty xenophobic morsel (Gusts of Popular Feeling)

Racist MBC Video: Some Perspective and Marching Orders (Roboseyo)

The Shocking Reality of Korea’s Racist Yellow Journalism (Expat Hell)

More Korean Media Ignorance: The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners (The Unlikely Expat)

Exclusive: Does MBC Deserve the Pulitzer? (Busan Haps)

The Shocking Truth About Sexist/Racist MBC Programming (And What We’re Doing About It) (Gord Sellar)

Also, now there’s now an over 7000-strong Facebook group coordinating a response. And thanks very much to the reader who emailed me the following about how to make an official complaint:

I found the government office, where you can complain about the program officially. It is the Press Arbitration Commission (언론중재위원회). It don’t look like the English site has all the forms, unlike the Korean link, but there is a call number at the bottom of the website.



Update — Unfortunately, it turns out that the PAC can’t do anything, but the Korean Broadcast Commission can:

We had a friend in Korea try the PAC office and she said that the PAC can only take complaints from those who were filmed. PAC redirected her to the Korean Broadcast Commission (방송통신위환회) at 02-750-1114 …press 2 for English. They will take your complaint in English :-). She was told KBC takes & follows-up on all other complaints about broadcasts.

And now for the regular categories. To make things easier to find, I’ll be putting them in alphabetical order from now on:

Body Image/Health

Insatiable craving for getting thinner (The Korea Times)

Lee Hyori admits her pictorials are photoshopped (Allkpop)

IU reveals her true height and weight on ‘Strong Heart’ (Omona)


Lawyer Calls Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-il ‘Sons of Bitches’ (Korea Bang)

Netizen Also Calls President a ‘Son of a Bitch’, Gets Indicted (Korea Bang)

Banned! 7 Music Videos That Can Only Air After 10PM (MTVK)


The sad reality of Korea’s most infamous export: sex workers (Korea Law Today)

Arrest warrant for Ko is rejected (Korea Joongang Daily)

Dog food company Ko endorses covers his face with sticker on packaging (Allkpop)

Men sentenced to 5, 10 years for raping teen (The Korea Times)

Treating the ‘home-made’ criminal (Korea Joongang Daily)

South Korea: Support for Castration of Repeat Child Rapists (Global Voices)


Ask the Yangxifu: The Guy Who Changed Her Mind About Dating Chinese Men (Speaking of China)

Economics of Dating in South Korea: Netizens Tell Us How (Korea Bang)

Brokered Marriages: Matchmaking or Exploitation? (Asia Society)

In response to Roboseyo: On dipshit spaces (I’m No Picasso)

More adults in 30s and 40s live with parents (The Korea Times)

Foreigners Push Korea’s Population Above 50 Million (The Chosun Ilbo)

The English Spectrum Series at Gusts of Popular Feeling:

Part 28: U.S. Embassy warns Americans of threats near colleges

Part 29: Internet real name system debated


Female companionship at gold mines (The Korea Times)

Haenyeo: The Last Mermaids (10 Confessions)

Pin-up Girls as Korean-War Propaganda (The American Psyop Organization During the Korean War; scroll to about half-way down)


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Being Queer in Korea (Chincha?!)

New Jeju Sex Park Worries Authorities (The Chosun llbo)

Queer young South Koreans getting on the march (The Hankyoreh)

Korean Artist Kim Hyun-hwa “shows what Asian girls want from boys”? (Microcosm; maybe NSFW)

Response to Homosexuals Joining Police Sparks Controversy (Korea Bang)


Military Draft Quandary (Ask a Korean!)


Childish Employers (Gord Sellar)

Young and Global Need Not Apply in Japan (The New York Times)

Getting Tough: Korean Smokers Passed Over for Job Promotions (Busan Haps; Idle Worship)

Pop Culture:

Double Standards: When Gender Politics Meets K-pop (Seoulbeats)

K-pop and the male gaze — or the absence thereof (Frank Kogan)

Lim Sang-Soo: foreigners can’t understand my very korean movie, that’s why I failed at Cannes (Omona)

Im Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money: Great Sets and Sexism (Moviefone)

North Korean ‘Girls Generation’ Used as Army Morale Booster (Korea Bang)

What About Sex? (Seoulbeats)

T-ara’s ninth member, Dani, is 12-years-old … alrighty then (Asian Junkie)

Why do Koreans Take on Black Music? (Ask a Korean!)


SK Takes New Step To Prevent Kidnappings (Korea Realtime)

Students Make Teacher Kneel and Apologise to Class (Korea Bang)

Sungmisan School in Seoul: A remarkable Approach to education (Korea: Circles and Squares)

All of the terribly important things I’ve learned about being a mom (Shotgun Adventures)

SKorea: A different approach to student rights in Gyeongsangnam-do (Asian Correspondent)

“I think you are very strong” (Hello Korea!)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)