Korean Language Blog

Korean Movie That Talks About Korean Woman’s Life in Korea Posted by on May 19, 2020 in Culture

I often talk to a group of friends that I’ve known and grown up with since middle school. Except for myself and one other friend, all of them are working moms. A couple of years ago, my friends were talking about a book called 82년생 김지영 (Kim Ji-young: Born 1982). They were raving about how well this book represented a bit of their lives as working moms in Korea.


82년생 김지영 (Kim Ji-young: Born 1982) is a bestseller written by Cho Nam-ju in Korean in 2016 and it is now translated into a bestseller in English as well. The book quickly became controversial because of the main perspectives of how the lives of Korean women are portrayed.


Image by Pixabay


I have not read the book yet, but I watched its movie. This movie talks about the life of an average Korean woman’s life in Korea. The name 김지영 (Kim Ji-young) is the one of the most common female names in Korea. She suppresses her feelings in life and conforms to the society. As she becomes the woman whom society wants, or expects her to be, she is slowly losing herself and, eventually, her sanity. The book is fiction, but the story describes rather typical milestones in life that Korean women might have been going through.

I can only speak from my personal experience. I cannot say that most Korean women are living the way the movie depicts. However, many similar cultural aspects that I encountered when I grew up in Korea make this movie distinctively personal to me.


남아선호사상 (nahm-ah-sun-ho-sah-sang: a notion of preferring a son to a daughter)

My grandmother’s generation must have thought that having a son was Somehow their duty. Most women of this generation voluntarily or involuntarily desired to have a son. The reasoning behind this notion was that daughters don’t matter once they marry. However, sons, who were expected to carry their bloodine, will take care of mothers even if they marry.

I only have a younger sister. I remember that my parents were trying to have a son when I was young. Frequent comments I often heard from my grandmother was that my parents should have a son before it became too late. My father didn’t say anything about wanting to have a son to us, but I knew he wanted to have a son because he probably believed what my grandmother believed. Nonetheless, my mother was satisfied with both girls.


Image by Pixabay


여자 팔자 두레박 팔자 (yeo-jah-pahl-jah-doo-rae-bak-pahl-jah: women’s destiny are decided by what kind of spouse they meet.)

I am not sure how many people would agree with the meaning of the idiom in the 21st centuries, but this idiom still exists in Korea. When I was in school, there were always pretty girls in my class. Some of them were pretty and smart, others were just pretty. I remember that I often heard from old people saying that girls did not need to excel in school if they were pretty because the ultimate happiness of women eventually depended on how successful their spouse would be in the future.

As a child, I was also told that girls as well as boys need to work hard to be in charge of their own destiny. My parents always encouraged me to work hard in life because they believed that conscientious effort will open more opportunities in my life. This will eventually make me an independent and strong person.


Image by Pixabay


기가 여자 vs. 능력있는 여자  (gi-gah-shen-yeo-jah vs. neung-nyeok-it-nun-yeo-jah: a woman with a strong inner energy vs. a successful woman)

Most of my friend’s mothers were homemakers as far as I remember. When I was in middle school, my eyes were opened wide by my friend’s mother. She was a divorcee and ran a successful company by herself. At first, I was shocked by this because I believed that most divorced women led lives of hardship. I was only a teenager and my notions about divorced women were probably made up by the media that I was exposed to.

I barely saw my friend’s mother since she was always busy, but I thought she was a superwoman. Although my friend was secretive about her mother’s divorce, since divorce was a cultural taboo in Korea back then. She once described her mother as a 기가 여자 (gi-gah-shen-yeo-jah : a woman with strong inner energy) which could be translated in completely opposite ways. In my opinion, 기가 쎈 여자 used to insinuate negative meanings. It was translated as an obstinate, strong-headed woman, who usually ends up living her life in unpleasant ways due to her doomed destiny. However, this phrase now seems to be describing a strong and independent woman, who is capable of driving her own life.


I was born in 1982. When I think about my childhood, I personally think I was in the cultural environment where the progressive and conservative thoughts coexisted.  After watching this movie, a lot of thoughts came to my mind. I hope more women can live their lives in the way how they desire because I believe one’s life depends on how they manage their own life.

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About the Author: Flying Oyster

Hi, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. H.J.


  1. Linda:

    I read the English translation of the book. Every culture has social norms. It was interesting to compare the social norms of my own country with those of Korea. The book describes the conflict experienced by women as a result of clashing traditional Korean values with modern Western values. I felt the same conflict 50 years ago when I was a young woman in the United States. Social norms have changed in the US since then. Not always in a good way. The most interesting aspect of the book to me was to discover that the narrator was a psychiatrist. While relating the story of the woman born in 1982 he was very objective and could see that the conflict between traditional values and expectations were the cause of the woman’s unhappiness and loss of sanity, but could see only a shadow of the unhappiness of his own wife and was completely blind to his own ‘old style’ prejudices about women.

    • FlyHighOyster:

      @Linda Hi Linda,

      I hope all of us are going to make better social norms in future. Thank you for sharing.