Scrutinizing Adultery in the East Asian milieu through East Asian films

Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
Essay type: Film Analysis
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The ThinkExist dictionary states that adultery means immorality or unchastity of thinking as well as demeanour, as outlawed by the seventh commandment. It is the “unfaithfulness of a married person to the marriage bed; sexual intercourse by a married man with another other than his wife, or voluntary sexual intercourse by a married woman with another other than her husband”.

It is regrettable that adultery is becoming extensive and out of control in the society of today. The fact that adultery is becoming widespread is perhaps due to the moral disposition of a particular country and its inhabitants or lack of appropriate implementation of the laws on adultery of a certain country.

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Astoundingly, adultery can be investigated in diverse contexts depending on the mores or background surrounding which adultery has been looked into. This write-up seeks to explore the concept of adultery in the East Asian context or perception by way of East Asian films or other creative or literary works for that matter.

In the article Adultery and Bigamy in China, Jeffrey Hays describes how adultery is being depicted in the book “Bound Feet and Western Dress” by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang. Hays pointed out that the Chinese author Pang-Mei Natasha Chang tells the story of her great aunt Yu-I through this book.

The book starts with the childhood days of Yu-I, her arranged marriage to Hsu Chih-Mo (her husband who was unfaithful to her), their divorce and the profession she later had. In this book, the author Pang-Mei Natasha Chang is told by her great aunt Yu-I, “You always ask me if I loved Hsu Chih-Mo, and you know I cannot answer this. It confuses me, this question, because everyone always tells me that I did so much for Hsu Chih-Mo, I must have loved him.

In my entire life, I have never said to anyone, 'I love you.' If caring for Hsu Chih-Mo and his family was love, then maybe I loved him”. Without a doubt, the book “Bound Feet and Western Dress” enlightens readers of the story of the earliest contemporary adultery in China.

The adultery committed by Hsu Chih-Mo, the husband of Yu-I, in the narrative was stimulated by the actuality that the characters in the story were involved in an arranged marriage which is common in China.

Arranged marriages can fuel or can cause adulterous acts to be perpetrated by either the husband or the wife with another woman or man correspondingly because of the fact that these types of marriages brings into the marital union two persons who are completely strangers to each other.

These strangers are compelled to treat each other as husband and wife without being given the opportunity to know each other well. Hence, it becomes inevitable for any of the spouses to seek extramarital affection through illicit affairs with someone other than their spouses the moment they discovered that they are not really in love with the person they have married.

Jeffrey Hays in the article Adultery and Bigamy in China laments that “simplified marriage procedures have led to a rise in bigamy”. In the past, according to Hays, it was ordinary for rich Chinese men to marry three or four women simultaneously. The wives had diverse responsibilities. They regularly had shared duties in the rearing and raising of their different children.

The Chinese authorities plan to make public the nationwide marriage registry online so that wives can investigate their spouses and be convinced that they are not married to other women. The scheme has been initiated in order to eradicate bigamy and other adulterous conduct especially among Chinese men.

The Chinese movie “In the Mood for Love” is another artistic work that depicts adultery in East Asian perspective. The director of the film is Wong Kar Wai. TKL, the assessor of the movie, states that regardless of all the hitches that occurred while the movie was being filmed, it turned out to be one of the best works of Wong Kar Wai.

The film, according to TKL, is a soppy work of art that tells the story of a “couple in love and of lost opportunities”. The central characters in the movie, namely Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) are both married to their respective spouses.

They, however, got acquainted with each other and soon traded glimpses and lovely salutations towards each other. An extramarital affair soon began between the two characters after they have determined that their respective spouses were having an illicit affair.

TKL continues his movie review by stating that Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow initially wanted to map out how the illicit affair of their respective spouses began “until they unknowingly fell in love with each other too”.

Mrs. Chan turned down the idea of fostering their extramarital relationship on account of her guilt feelings and on account of the fact that she did not want to be unfaithful like her husband and the wife of Mr. Chow. The film is clouded with romantic passions and unexpressed emotions.

TKL declares that there was absence of societal restriction and there was no genuine disapproval for adultery. “The movie carries such pessimistic views”, TKL continues. “There is no positive message about fighting for love, or overcoming obstacles for love or even that love conquers all”.

The movie mainly depicts the lives of those people who are not daring when it comes to love and prefer not to take the risks and spend the rest of their lives in disappointment and misery as a result. It shows how chances that once were lost could be lost perpetually.

This Chinese motion picture suggests a familiar view that happiness can be obtained through a prohibited relationship with another person and such bliss can be forever unachievable if one were to select the rightful path. The rightful path is the path that invites one to forget one’s feelings towards someone who is not his or her spouse and evade extramarital relationship.

South Korea is one more country besides China which is situated in East Asia. South Korean dramas or motion pictures have achieved prominence and intense popularity in the past years. South Korean actors and actresses themselves have achieved tremendous recognition not only in South Korea but also in other states particularly in Asia and in the countries in the West.

Cedric Collemine, in his article Adultery is Secret of Dramas’ Success, proclaims that when unfaithfulness is the main account of a new motion picture or a drama series in South Korea, spectators criticize and state that they have enough of the theme. Nevertheless, it was determined that these same spectators continue to be fastened to their television screens.

Spectators pass judgment on stories about adulterous affairs but they still get pleasure from watching them. “And the more infidelity a show has, the higher its TV ratings are”. Collemine continues his scrutiny by relating that SBS will show a fresh drama series entitled “The Other Woman” and to separate this drama series from the other drama series, it will illustrate several unsafe extramarital relationships.

To demonstrate uniqueness, Collemine states that the conception of the drama “The Other Woman” is “double infidelity”. A lady in the drama suffers extreme heartaches because of the illicit affairs committed by her spouse, but then she herself is committing adultery.

It is important to mention that the plot that one person suffered pain due to the adulterous relationship of his or her spouse and then later finds himself or herself to fall into another traitorous relationship is parallel to the movie ‘April Snow’, starring Bae Yong-joon and Son Ye-jin.

“My Rosy Life” is another South Korean drama series that is featured in the article Adultery is Secret of Dramas’ Success by Cedric Collemine. The story of “My Rosy Life” starts with a woman who “looks back into her own life after her marriage is in shambles after her husband committed adultery”. Jee-su, the central character in the narrative, is a staunch housewife for a decade.

Her other half, Jae-min suddenly makes a shocking announcement. The shocking announcement is that Jae-min, her husband, is in love with another woman. He demands a divorce from his wife whom he has been married for thirteen years in order to live with another woman whom he has been having an affair for only two months.

Jae-min tries every means in order to get a divorce from Jee-su his wife while Jee-su tries everything to alter the decision of her husband. The divorce came and after which, Jae-min asks his mistress to tie the knot with him but his mistress declines. For the time being, Jee-su lives alone and runs a business when she gets acquainted with a cable TV producer named Do-yeon whom she has fallen in love with.

Ironically, the wife of Do-yeon is the mistress of her husband Jae-min. “Jee-su, who was a victim to the infidelity of her husband, now becomes the afflicter, and the four people get entangled in complicated love relationships”. This narrative, according to the producers, will offer an occasion for fully grown people to bring to mind their lives after marriage.

Nevertheless, in contrast to “My Rosy Life”, which culminates with remorse and a recuperated marriage, “The Other Woman” inflames the audience with a lot of complex adulterous love affairs. It is safe to proclaim that up to date motion pictures and dramas have had triumph with traitorous themes.

Surprisingly, however, in contrast to the triumph that these South Korean dramas and films with adulterous content experience, adulterous relationships perpetrated in actuality are dealt with seriously by the South Korean government. In connection with this, Jack Kim in his write-up, Jail for Adultery Law Upheld, asserts that the highest court of South Korea has upheld an adultery law that is decades-old.

The said adultery law can imprison guilty persons due to the commission of illicit or adulterous love affairs. Some people, however, say that such fact pertaining to imprisonment due to defiance of the adultery law is “anachronistic and infringes on personal freedom”. According to Jack Kim in his write-up, the court declares that the lawful observation of the general public that “adultery is damaging to the social order and infringes on the rights of another continues to be effective”.

The legal battle began when the lawyers for actress Ok Bo-kyung made an appeal in January of 2008 in connection to the chaotic divorce arrangements that Ok Bo-kyung and her husband had entered into. Ok Bo-kyung disclosed that she indeed had an extramarital affair; nevertheless she accused her husband as an inadequate spouse.

"The adultery law ... has degenerated into a means of revenge by the spouse, rather than a means of saving a marriage," the petition of Ok Bo-kyung had said. The adultery law was passed by the South Korean government in 1953 for the purpose of protecting women. Kim further disclosed that “in this male-dominated society, women had little recourse against a husband who had an affair.

Back then, if a wife walked out of a marriage, she would often end up alone and penniless”. Currently, it is infrequent for unfaithful spouses to be imprisoned but such fact has not prevented lots of furious spouses from initiating criminal complaints every year. Indeed, it is clear by scrutinizing the circumstances at hand, that the adultery law of South Korea has a very righteous and noble objective which is that of safeguarding the marital rights of women and deferring unfaithful husbands from committing adultery.

It is also obvious however, that although the law has been utilized towards that end, it has also been utilized towards other aims such as seeking retribution and justice.

The diverse East Asian films and other creative efforts that were dealt with that contained betrayal and adulterous subject matters can be utilized to explore how these films and artistic works reflect the viewpoint of a particular country on adultery and more importantly the character of the people in a particular country.

To start with, it is relevant to point out the piece of writing entitled, Film View; What’s Adultery? A Little Sex, A Lot of Politics which is written by Caryn James. James, in her writing states that it is significant to examine what several film makers are doing for adultery at present. No less than eight movies from seven nations have provided a notion of betrayal around the globe in the past days.

James pointed out that it is a clearly identifiable indication of a tumultuous “social era”. The film “Ju Duo” which is set in China in the 1920’s has a familiar storyline which is that of an arranged marriage between an adolescent girl and an elder man.

The arranged marriage directs the adolescent woman to commit infidelity which unfortunately leads to murder. The Japanese film “The Sting of Death” on the other hand, illustrates a woman who realizes the adultery committed by her husband and goes crazy. James, in his writing cleverly pronounces that films like “Ju Duo”, “The Sting of Death” as well as the manuscript entitled, “Bound Feet and Western Dress” bring to the fore conjugal faithlessness to an imaginative and creative aspiration.

James said that “in all these films, adultery is more than a matter of love or passion”. These films use the account of the marriage and adultery of a person to unveil societal insincerity in order to examine and condemn “one of the most crucial standards by which any culture lives”.

“Most often, infidelity becomes a symbolic act of rebellion against the traditional social order”. Simply put, the diverse East Asian movies particularly those in China that has adultery as their main theme are utilized by filmmakers in order to demonstrate their condemnation and disapproval of the existence of arranged marriages as part of the culture and common practices in China.

Their disapproval on arranged marriages is being manifested in a subtle and imaginative fashion.

Every East Asia film on adultery has been dealt with in a manner attributable to the “cinematic style” of each country in order to portray exceptionality and to present an informative “cross-cultural view”. In movies such as “Ju Dou”, adulterous conduct is unequivocally illustrated as a brave opposition against obsolete and old-fashioned practices. James said that these movies enlighten viewers of zeal and aggression, but they are more concerned with societal commentary.

In the film “Ju Dou”, every ensuing behaviour of the main character named Ju Dou rebels the common practices of China that fastens her to an abusive spouse. “The affair and illegitimate son she has with Tian Qing are both symbolic and personal”. The abusive husband, so despicable that he attempts to kill the child, symbolizes the wicked traditions (and in addition the Chinese government dominion) that have held China back.

When the wicked husband dies, a family leader calls upon the prehistoric ideas and evicts Tian Qing. “Challenging such rigid social patterns is both heroic and tragic and in this context, the persistent love between Ju Dou and Tian Qing is as much a failed social rebellion as it is a private passion”. James further said that in films such as “Ju Dou, the movie producer feels sorry for seditious lovers, whose ardent opposition to tradition bears figurative credence.

The other personalities in the movie who contest the arranged marriage and the penalty for adultery are likewise tough characters. Nevertheless, the insurgence falls short, leading to a bereavement that functions as a powerful condemnation of obsolete common practices for its own sake. The film “The Sting of Death”, on the other end, is much more unequivocal in its utilization of adulterous theme as a ‘social metaphor’.

“The film uses the medium of the relationship of a husband and wife to graphically depict the character of the Japanese people in the post war era”.

The wife in this story married a soldier about to be sent to battle. This movie does not portray an arranged marriage but it is one that is “coloured by the exigencies of war and nationalism” and “when she discovers his infidelity after ten years of marriage and two children, the screen overflows with his guilt, her obsessive recriminations and mutual threats of suicide”.

Certainly, the various East Asia movies and creative works that were scrutinized in this composition reflect the objective of the movie producers in creating such films with adulterous subject matters. These movie producers want to make a virulent statement towards the government of the country where they inhabit.

These movie makers used artistic mechanisms to display their condemnation of a certain rigid societal pattern or to display their abhorrence or adoration to adultery itself and finally to demonstrate their deliberation on the quality of the people in a particular country specially those countries wherein which adulterous relationship is rampant.

Works Cited

Collemine, Cedric. “Adultery is Secret of Dramas’ Success”. December 2, 2005. <>.

Hays, Jeffrey. “Adultery and Bigamy in China”. April 2010. <>.

James, Caryn. “Film View; What’s Adultery? A Little Sex, A Lot of Politics”. October 14, 1990. < politics.html?pagewanted=1?pagewanted=1>.

Kim, Jack. “Jail for Adultery Law Upheld”. October 30, 2008. <>.

ThinkExist, “Meaning of Adultery”. 2010. <>

TKL, “In the Mood for Love”. 2008. <>.

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Scrutinizing Adultery in the East Asian milieu through East Asian films. (2016, Jun 18). Retrieved from

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