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.”

The Male Gaze and the Korean Mass Media (Or: Ways of Seeing Son Ye-jin as Fat…)

(Sources: left, right)

Another week, another group of perfectly healthy women fat-shamed on Korean television. Yes, even Son Ye-jin too, no matter how disarmingly attractive she looks above.

It was such a pleasant surprise then, to see the following denouncement from Entermedia reproduced in the entertainment and celebrity sections of Daum and Yahoo! Korea too. The first time I’ve ever comes across a lengthy critique about the male gaze and impossible body ideals alongside, well, numerous examples of exactly those, the optimist in me hopes that this represents some kind of turning-point. Or, at the very least, a consensus that the offending programs clearly overstepped a line, even by the Korean media’s standards!

손예진 몸매 논란, 무엇이 문제일까 / Controversy About Son Ye-jin’s body; What is the Problem?

by Bae Guk-nam, Entermedia, July 2 2012

– 손예진이 통통하면 이득보는 사람들 / There are people that profit from Son Ye-jin being fat
– 미디어, 이 땅의 여성들 말라깽이 강박증 환자로 내몰아 / The media encourages Korean women to be obsessed with thinness

처음 제 귀를 의심했습니다. 다음에는 설마 그럴까라는 생각을 했습니다. 그리고 파급 효과가 엄청나다는 인식에 이르렀습니다. 바로 여성 몸매를 제시한 세 개의 방송 프로그램을 보면서 느낀 제 반응과 생각입니다. 그리고 세 개의 프로그램을 보면서 여성 몸매에 대한 매스미디어와 일부 남성의 편견에 찬 시선의 현주소를 알 수 있었지요. 그러한 시선은 이 땅의 수많은 여성들로 하여금 몸에 대해 과도한 집착을 하게 할 뿐만 아니라 육체에 대한 불만과 취약성, 결핍을 끊임없이 느끼게 만들어 지극히 정상적인 자신의 몸에 대해 비정상으로 바라보게 만드는 병폐를 심화시키는 문제를 야기 시키고 있다는 것도 절감하게 됐습니다.

At first, I doubted what I was I really seeing. Then I thought “Really? OMG”, and realized how much of a controversy would be raised. That was my reaction when I saw three recent programs about women’s bodies.

While watching, I got to know the reality of the deep prejudice with which the mass media and some men viewed women’s bodies. I realized that through this, Korean women don’t just get excessively attached to their body image, but are also disempowered through continuously feeling frustrated with their bodies, and coming to feel that theirs are abnormal .

여성의 몸에 대한 미디어와 남성의 시선, 그리고 그 병폐를 적나라하게 노출시킨 방송이 바로 지난 6월23일 방송된 MBC < 세바퀴 > 입니다. 이날 방송에서’남자들이 통통한 여자를 좋아한다는 말이 사실인가?’라는 설문에 대한 이야기를 나누던 중 이혁재는”출연진 중에서는 안선영과 안문숙 정도가 통통한 것 같다. 이경애는 통통한 게 아니고 고도비만이다”라고 말해 충격을 주더니 지상렬은 통통의 기준이 되는 연예인이 “손예진이다”라고 답해 출연자 뿐만 아니라 시청자들을 경악하게 만들었습니다. 헬스 트레이너 숀리는 여기에서 더 나아가 “조여정, 송혜교를 통통하다고 하는데, 저는 예전부터 그런 몸을 좋아했다”라며 안방 시청자의 몸매에 대한 인식에 대한 생각을 다시 한번 하게 만들었지요.

The problems of this media and male gaze were very evident in the June 23rd episode of World-Changing Quiz Show, broadcast on MBC [James — see here and here for Part 1 and 2]. On that show, the discussion topic for the panel was “Is it true that men like fat women?”, and comedian Lee Hyeok-jae (male) not only remarked that two female members of the panel — comedians Ahn Sun-young and Ahn Moon-sook — were fat (literally, he said “Fat like them you mean?)” , but that a third—  Lee Kyong-ae — was extremely so, shocking other panel members and the audience. Then comedian Ji Sang-ryul (male) opined that among women in the entertainment industry, Son Ye-jin was the standard [James – upper limit?], further adding to everyone’s astonishment. Finally, health trainer Sean Lee mentioned that people say that Jo Yeo-jung and Song Hye-gyo are fat, but that he has liked such body types for a long time, again making viewers at home dwell on the subject of fatness.

6월25일 방송된 KBS < 안녕하세요 > 에선 46Kg의 몸무게를 유지하라는 남편 때문에 고민이라는 한 여성이 출연했습니다. 남편이 연애시절부터 마른 여자를 좋아해 75Kg체중을 46Kg으로 만들어 결혼했다는 황은미씨는 “결혼한 지금도 46kg의 체중을 유지하라는 남편의 감시를 받고 있다. 매일 배가 어느 정도 나왔는지 남편에게 검사를 받는다”며 몸무게 대한 남편의 기준을 완화해 달라고 부탁을 했고 이에 황씨 남편은 “(애프터스쿨) 유이씨 정도면 좋겠다. 나이가 좀 있으니까 양보해서 48kg 유지해라”라고 답했습니다.

Then on the 25th, a woman called Hwang Un-mi appeared on Hello! on KBS, describing the suffering she’s endured because of her husband demanding she stay at a weight of 46kg. He’s liked thin women ever since they started dating, so she went from 75kg to 46kg before she they got married, and she said that “Since then, he still insists I stay at 46kg, and checks my belly thickness every day to make sure.” When she asked her husband on the show for some relaxing of his standards, he replied “I like a body like that of Uee’s from After School. But seeing as you’re older, I’ll let you go up to 48kg.”

6월19일 방송된 tvN’화성인 바이러스’에는 압박붕대로 얼굴에서 발끝까지 온몸을 감으면서 생활하는 일명 ‘미라녀’김유정씨가 출연했지요. 압박붕대로 체중 10kg 감량에 성공했다는 김유정씨는 “3~4년간 계속 압박붕대를 감다 보니까 요령을 터득하게 됐다. 살 많은 곳을 세게 감을수록 (다이어트)효과가 좋다”며 다이어트를 위해 몸에 사용하는 압박붕대는 복부 4개를 비롯해 23개에 달한다는 충격적인 설명을 태연스럽게 했습니다.

이 세 개의 프로그램은 여성의 몸에 대한 남성의 시각과 그리고 미디어의 행태, 그 결과의 양태를 단적으로 보여준 것입니다.

And earlier, on the 19th, “Human Mummy” Kim Yu-jeong appeared on Martian Virus on TvN [James — this show highlights strange and unusual people], who wraps herself in pressure bandages from head to toe in order to lose weight. She matter-of-factly explained “I’ve successfully lost 10kg this way, and have figured it out while I’ve been doing it over the last 3-4 years. It’s very effective if you have a lot of weight to lose,” and that she applied 4 pressure bandages to her abdomen each time, and 23 on her body overall.

These three programs clearly showed the male gaze on women’s bodies, and the media’s views on them too.

대상을 바라보는 방식은 우리가 알고 있는 그리고 우리가 인식하고 있는 것과 깊은 관련이 있습니다. 여성의 몸매에 대한 것도 마찬가지입니다. 안선영 안문숙 손예진 조여정 송혜교등이 통통하다고 바라보는 이혁재 지상렬 그리고 숀리의 언급은 상당수 남성들의 여성의 몸에 대해 바라보는 방식을 드러냈다고 봅니다. 이상적인 여성의 몸매마저 통통하다고 인식하는 이러한 남성들의 여성의 몸에 대한 문제 있는 시선은 방송, 신문, 인터넷 등 매스미디어를 통해 확대재생산되고 수많은 사람들에게 여성의 몸매를 바라보는 인식의 토대를 마련해줍니다.

The way we see things is deeply related to what we already know and what we recognize. And it’s same with women’s bodies.Through the mass media, the problematic viewpoints of these male entertainers, who believe even those women with ideal bodies are fat, has spread extensively. This has laid the groundwork for how many people view women’s bodies (source, above).

매스미디어와 상당수 남성들은 끊임없이 여자 연예인으로 대변되는 몸매의 이상형을 제시하며 수많은 여성들에게 몸매에 대한 채워지지 않는 욕망을 자극시키고 있습니다. 이혁재 지상렬로 대변되는 일부 남성들과 매스미디어는 현실에서 좀처럼 존재할 수 없는 완벽한 이상형의 여성 몸매 제시를 통해 여성의 정상적인 몸매 더 나아가 손예진 송혜교 등으로 대변되는 이상화된 몸매마저도 비정상으로 치부하고 있습니다. 이 때문에 수많은 여성들은 정도의 차이는 있지만 자신의 몸매에 대해 부족과 결핍을 느끼게 만듭니다.

Through female entertainers, the mass media and many men present women’s ideal body types, and this creates a lot of anxiety and anguish for women about their own bodies. Men like Lee Hyeok-jae and Ji Sang-ryul consider ideal women’s bodies like those of Son Ye-jin’s and Song Hye-gyo’s as abnormal, while at the same time presenting as ideals body types and shapes that are impossible in real life. And while some women will be closer to those ideals than others, all will still inadequate and lacking.


여성의 몸에 대한 상당수 남성들의 시선과 매스미디어의 응시 방식은 수많은 이땅의 여성들의 몸에 대한 인식에 크나 큰 영향을 줍니다.’여성은 그녀 자신의 모든 것을 관찰해야만하고 또 그녀가 무엇을 할 수 있는가를 생각해야만 한다. 왜냐하면 스스로가 다른 사람에게 궁극적으로는 남성에게 어떻게 비춰질 것인가 하는 문제가 여성의 삶의 성공 여부를 결정짓는 가장 중요한 관건이기 때문이다. 여성 자신의 스스로 존재에 대한 느낌은 다른 사람에 의해 내려지는 그녀에 대한 평가에 의해 보완되어져야만 하는 것이다’라고 존 버거가 ‘Ways of Seeing’ 에서 설파한 것처럼 여성의 몸에 대한 남성의 시선은 몸매에 대한 여성의 인식과 태도에 지대한 영향을 미칩니다.

The way most men look at women’s bodies, and the way the mass media presents them, has a big influences on the way women themselves view them. Like John Berger said in Ways of Seeing [James — on the second page of Chapter 3 {p. 46} in my 1972 Penguin edition]:

She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.

(James — Ways of Seeing was originally a documentary, which is now available online; see here and especially here for more information. It’s the second episode that is most relevant here)

매스미디어의 여성의 이상적 몸매의 강요에 가까운 현실는 남성의 여성에 대한 왜곡된 몸매의 시선을 강화시키고 그 결과 수많은 이 땅의 여성들을 자신의 육체와의 비정상적인 전쟁으로 내몰리고 있습니다. 물론 이 전쟁의 진정한(?) 승자는 여성도 남성도 아닌 여성의 몸에 대한 끊임없는 결핍의 이데올로기를 설파해 막대한 이윤을 창출하는 뷰티산업, 성형외과, 광고, 매스미디어 등이지요.

This reality of the mass media promoting [impossible] ideals of women’s body shapes distorts how men view women’s bodies, and in turn this encourages women to fight against their own bodies. The real winners in this war are not men, nor women, but rather the beauty, cosmetic surgery, advertising and mass media industries that make vast profits from propagating an ideology of an unceasing dissatisfaction with oneself.

여성 몸매의 이상형이라고 할수 있는 손예진 송혜교 마저 통통하다고 말하는 지상렬 등으로 대변되는 여성의 몸매에 대한 남성의 시선과 매스미디어의 응시 방식은 아내의 46Kg의 몸매 유지를 요구하고 애프터스쿨의 유이의 몸매를 이상적 몸매로 꼽아 아내마저 제2의 유이로 만들려는 남성들을 더욱 더 확대재생산합니다. 그리고 이 때문에 정상 체중인데도 아침엔 다이어트용 시리얼에 저지방우유, 점심엔 채소와 밥 반공기, 저녁엔 아무것도 먹지 않고 운동 2시간을 하는 주부들과 압박붕대 20여개로 감싼 기괴한 모습으로 다이어트를 하는 20대 여성들이 양산되고 있습니다.


[It is the callous environment in which entertainers can describe female celebrities like Son Ye-jin and Song Hye-gyo as fat that is at least partially responsible for the husband that demanded his wife have a body like Uee’s]. And it’s also because of that that both housewives and women in their 20s, all of healthy weights, will only diet cereal with low fat milk for breakfast, for lunch just vegetables and half a bowl of rice,  and nothing for dinner, yet exercise for 2 hours. Some will even also go the extremes of wrapping themselves with 20 pressure bandages.

여성 몸매에 대한 남성의 문제 있는 시선과 여성들의 완벽한 몸매를 지속적으로 강요하는 방송 등 매스미디어의 행태는 이 땅의 수많은 여성들을 이상화된 몸에 대한 과도한 집착을 초래하고 자신의 몸에 대한 끊임없는 불만과 결핍을 불러옵니다. 그리고 급기야 정체성과 자기실현을 왜곡된 방향으로 유도하며 정신없는(mindless) 몸매(body)만을 만드는 육체와의 전쟁터로 내 몰고 있습니다. 이제 여성의 몸매에 대한 문제 있는 미디어의 행태와 남성의 시선은 교정돼야합니다.

손예진씨, 당신은 결코 통통하지 않습니다!

Men’s problematic gaze of women’s bodies, and the mass media’s encouragement of women to desire impossible perfect body types, only leads to unhealthy obsessions and unceasing dissatisfaction. Furthermore, they induce a distortion of women’s identity and self-realization,  and creates a war in which women only fight to have a good body, not a good mind or spirit. This problematic men’s gaze and mass media’s attitude needs to be corrected.

Son Ye-jin, you will never be fat!

(Thanks to Daheefanel for passing on the story!)