One of the characters in the Korean TV drama Love Affairs in the Afternoon is a publisher planning to release a novel about women having affairs, which he explains is the most popular kind of novel among married women in their 30s and 40s.
The artist that he wants to illustrate his book thinks that the novel is trite, no matter how popular the subject matter. Yet almost every character in this Channel A drama, including the artist, will either have or think about having an affair. The artist thinks affairs are trite, until he has one and then it changes his life.
The conversation between the two characters, played by actors Choi Byung Mo and Jo Dong Hyuk, sums up one of the most appealing characteristics of Korean TV dramas—the ability to take a subject very seriously and at the same time wink knowingly at the audience. The characters might as well be talking about the drama’s storyline—likable characters longing for love, but bound by their unfortunate marital choices—and the demographic that will vicariously enjoy their fictional adultery.
The enduring fictional lure of adultery may have something to do with the instinctive longing for love and the fact that long-term relationships sometimes don’t live up to expectations. It’s easy to identify with a character wishing to reignite that too-often temporary magic, despite knowing that in real life people make practical choices.
At the opening of Love Affairs in the Afternoon Park Ha Sun’s character admires her new neighbor, played by Ye Ji Won, both for her confidence and charmed life, then looks down on her for indulging in affairs. She would never commit the same sins. Or so she thinks until she meets a teacher, played by Lee Sang Yeob, who helps her realize how miserably confining her married life has been. She’s as caged as the love birds her husband dotes on, but less loved. That realization allows her to empathize with her neighbor and understand that, despite her neighbor’s glamorous plumage and gilded cage, she’s also imprisoned in an unhappy marriage.
South Korea decriminalized adultery in 2015, ruling a 1953 anti-adultery law unconstitutional, but even when it was not legal, adultery happened, evidenced to only a small degree by the hundreds of citizens who wound up in jail every year.
Given that only a few years ago adultery was a crime, a recent South Korean survey found it surprisingly common. In the drama, the number of married men and women cheating is equal but the reality of Korean women having extramarital affairs is far from equal, at least according to the survey. As reported in the Korea Herald, a 2016 study compiled by Linea Research Korea, found that 50.8 percent of South Korean men admitted to cheating during marriage but only 9.3 percent of women. However, 40.3 percent of the men surveyed did not consider buying sex to be an act of infidelity, which could skew men’s statistics. According to the survey, men tended to cheat throughout a marriage, but women had affairs mostly when the marriage faced unsurmountable problems. That’s the motivation for the married women in Love Affairs in the Afternoon.
Love Affairs in the Afternoon is a remake of the 2014 Japanese drama, Hirugao: Love Affairs in the Afternoon, starring Aya Ueto and Takumi Saito, which prompted a nationwide conversation about female infidelity. Aspects of the same story were explored in a 2017 Japanese film of the same name. Yet, the artist’s affair in the Korean drama is also reminiscent of the 2002 American film Unfaithful, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, which is a remake of the 1969 Claude Chabrol film La Femme Infidele, which in turn owes some inspiration to the 1856 Gustave Flaubert novel Madame Bovary.
Which just proves the publisher character’s point. Infidelity is a popular and—whether legal or not—endlessly engrossing fictional topic. In the case of Love Affairs in the Afternoon, the appealing—if occasionally self-mocking—storyline is, as expected, sure to lure viewers in.
This story was originally published on forbes.com.