THE SHORT VERDICT:
One of the original trendies that helped to start it all, Feelings is as much of a nostalgic treat for seasoned viewers, as it is a novel peek into Hallyu’s beginnings for newer viewers.
An easy breezy story with a timeless appeal, Feelings follows a group of young people as they navigate the journey to adulthood, wrestling with classic questions of evolving identity and purpose. Of course, youthful impulsiveness, angst & good ol’ hormones intensify and amplify their emotions to a distracting degree. Because honestly, at that age, isn’t it really all about feeeelings?
The show’s 20-year vintage shows; the drama’s production values, writing and acting all veer on the side of earnest and a little clumsy. But the retro awesome, from early 90s hair and fashion, to the novelty of seeing established stars in their early years, makes up for it all.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Since Feelings is widely referred to as one of the Original Trendies of Hallyu, long before Hallyu even really became a Thing, I consider it a real treat that I got to check out this retro gem.
It’s been 20 years since Feelings first aired, and when compared with its newer, shinier, more polished.. er, cousins? grandchildren? descendants?? it does have a sort of dated and ungainly quality about it. Production values are decidedly poor, video quality is a touch grainy, and the sound quality isn’t even all that consistent.
Still, Show’s got enough stuff going for it to make it a fun watch, even by today’s standards.
WHAT MAKES THIS FUN
1. Retro is Real
It’s Really 1994
Unlike recent tributes to the past like Answer Me, 1997 and Answer Me, 1994, where painstaking efforts were made to realistically recreate the hair, fashion and general setting of the 90s, Feelings really is 1994. It’s not a reconstruction of 1994; it’s the Real Deal.
Part of the fun of watching Feelings is the ugly fashion nostalgia, where we see our leads – and everyone else onscreen, really – strut their stuff in awesomely retrolicious outfits. The high-waisted baggy pants; the acid-washes; the color-blocking. Lipstick is thick, sculpted and dark; practically everyone’s hair is long and floppy. It’s awesomely, breathtakingly bad.
I randomly pulled some screenshots to show you guys. Here, see for yourself:
Special shout-out to the floppy silver chain-belt that Lee Jung Jae’s wearing with 2 of his outfits. Can you spot it? (I actually remember seeing those belts around in the 90s! Cringe.)
Actors Then and Now
Another big draw is the novelty of seeing established stars in their younger days.
Exhibit A: Lee Jung Jae
The fact that Lee Jung Jae’s a big dignified movie star now just ups the tickle factor, coz in Feelings, his character Joon is the opposite-of-dignified. He’s the impulsive, hot-headed, slightly dumb jock of the group who’s always getting drunk and getting into fights.
Also, isn’t it amazing that 20 years later, Lee Jung Jae doesn’t even look all that different?
Exhibit B: Kim Min Jong
Having first encountered Kim Min Jong as one of the F44 ahjusshis in A Gentleman’s Dignity, I was particularly amused to see him as a fresh-faced idol actor. I mean, he even sings on the drama’s soundtrack and everything. If you clicked “play” up above, you might even be listening to his voice right this second. How cute is that?
Like Lee Jung Jae, Kim Min Jong doesn’t seem to have aged much either, in 20 years. And neither has his taste in clothes seemed to have changed much; I’m super tickled that he’s basically wearing the same outfit in both of these pix!
Exhibit C: Woo Hee Jin
I first came across Woo Hee Jin in the lovely, lovely family drama Life Is Beautiful, and was a little startled to realize that she’s in fact the actress playing Yuri in Feelings.
On closer inspection, I actually think Woo Hee Jin looks even more beautiful now than in 1994. Which is amazing.
Of course, besides the central characters, there are a couple of supporting characters that the seasoned drama viewer is likely to recognize too. And just being able to see them in their younger years is a pretty cool thing.
Witnessing Hallyu Beginnings
Compared to newer dramas, Feelings strikes me as being much more.. organic, in a manner of speaking.
Everything is less polished, and therefore automatically feels less manufactured. Characters smoke, have tans, uneven skin and even the occasional zit. Everything feels more organic and natural and less touched-up in this drama versus the newer dramas that we’ve been consuming where everything – and almost everyone – has been touched up to some degree.
Scenes also generally feel less orchestrated than what I’ve become accustomed to, in the sense that people aren’t “randomly” color coordinated, and there isn’t a Ad Nauseam Meaningful Ballad on the OST.
On a related note, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on the pacing of the show throughout my watch, most probably because it doesn’t follow the rhythm of the 16-episoders that we’ve come to know. I couldn’t predict story milestones the way I am able to with newer trendies, and that definitely helped to maintain a sense of freshness in the show.
All in all, I found it really interesting to see what was different – and also what was similar – in a show of this vintage, compared to dramaland’s current norms.
2. Easy Breezy Fun
Basically, Feelings is nostalgic wholesomeness in a breezy, easy-to-like package.
The OST is light and fun, the university campus setting feels youthful without crossing over into juvenile territory, and everything feels simple and uncomplicated in this world.
The 3 brothers are very different personalities, but bring a good amount of bickering, horsing-around fun when they are onscreen together.
We get regular bright spots of cheer peppered throughout the show, as the writers insert random scenes of water-sports, picnics and spontaneous motorbike rides to punctuate our story.
And sometimes, we even get campy, cringe-worthy comedy to mix it up a little too.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
Like this completely random scene in episode 2, where a newly arrived Yuri (Woo Hee Jin) leaves her clothes on the bed, and Joon (Lee Jung Jae) comes into the room and chances on them. Joon picks up a midriff tank top off the pile and holds it up against himself in front of the mirror, snickering at how tiny it is.
Which is all fine and good, until he decides that the tank top is small enough to be his underwear.. And proceeds to stick his legs into the arm holes to try it on. Which is exactly when Yuri walks in on him. O.M.G.
On the one hand, I found this scene really hard to watch. I was all, “Ack. SO MUCH SECOND HAND EMBARRASSMENT. Make it stop… MAKE IT STAHP! STOP PUTTING ON HER CLOTHES AS UNDERWEAR!!! Cringe cringe cringe.” >.<
On the other hand, I have to admit, it really is ridiculously funny. I mean, when else would you get to see Lee Jung Jae trying on a ladies’ midriff tank top as underwear, right??
Generally speaking, Feelings serves up a simple story in a simple world. There’s honestly nothing groundbreaking in much of the narrative, but it manages to remain mildly amusing and therefore pretty easy to watch all the way through.
WHAT MAKES THIS LESS FUN
1. Loose, Meandering, Sometimes Clumsy Narrative
The downside of Feelings having a simple story, is that very often, it feels like not a lot happens in this world.
Basically, the story set-up revolves around the fact that Pretty Yuri joins the boys’ family. It feels like the writers plant a pretty girl there just so that we can see the brothers falling over themselves and making fools of themselves over her. While this was generally amusing, there were also times when it felt a little old.
Character and relationship development – for main as well as supporting characters – is also handled with broad, awkward, often two-dimensional strokes.
Not gonna lie; sometimes this show felt really slow. Everybody just inexplicably loves Yuri, and narrative arcs for entire episodes revolve around this one single thing.
Despite the storyline feeling rather scattered as a result, the show manages to remain engaging in a laid-back, breezy sort of way. It feels very.. youth-y. Breezing through the show with the characters feels a lot like how you’d breeze through life at that age, not really taking too much notice of how much happens in life as you go.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
As an example of how clumsy the writing can be, there is one detail that amuses me a great deal.
Kim Min Jong’s character Hyun is the smart brother, which is probably why he’s written as being a computer science undergrad in the first half of the show, before the time skip. We consistently see him working on computers and reading nerdy books and just being really smart in general.
Time skip later, after everyone’s done with school, we see Hyun working as a borderline genius trader on the stock market. I had to laugh at that. I know the writers wanted to make Hyun super smart and therefore have a super cool-looking job, but in what way is computer science related to trading on the stock market? I mean, I know they use computers to trade, but that’s really besides the point, isn’t it? XD
[END MINOR SPOILER]
[MAJOR SPOILER ALERT]
2. The Question of Oppa
The Big Birth Secret introduced at the end of episode 4 is a bit of a curve ball in that suddenly, we learn that one of the brothers is related to Yuri. For 5 episodes, Hyun assumes that he is the one who’s related to Yuri, before we find out in episode 9 that it might not be him after all.
While I can appreciate the dramatic tension that the birth secret introduces to our otherwise scattered narrative, I did have 2 problems with it.
A. The writers are totally playing us
For one thing, the question of “Who’s The Oppa?” is dragged out for too long. Not only is it dragged out for too long, it feels like the writers are toying with the audience by withholding this bit of information. Remember how many of us got aggravated with AM1997 and AM1994 and the games they played with us over “Who’s The Hubs?” SAME THING.
If there ever was any doubt as to whether the writers were taking a sadistic pleasure in toying with us, I present the end of episode 15 and the beginning of episode 16 as evidence.
At the end of episode 15, the boys finally confront Mom and ask for the truth, and we start to hear her long and detailed story about how her close friend had died in an accident, and how she and another friend had decided to take in one of her kids each. The other friend had taken the girl (Yuri), while Mom had taken in the son. Mom finally starts to say, “That son is…” and that’s when the episode ends. Gah.
Then in episode 16, we open on a completely different scene, and the 3 boys go to Yuri’s apartment to answer her tortured question (and ours too), “Who exactly is my real brother?”
Bin (Son Ji Chang) drops the bombshell, “It’s me.”
And then, as Yuri tries to process it all, Joon jumps in. “Seriously, why are you joking at a time like this? It’s me.”
…Which is when Hyun interrupts, “There’s a time and place to joke around. It’s me.”
Then Bin smiles and says, “We’re all your oppas, remember?”
AND THEN THE SCENE CUTS AWAY. TO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. ARGH.
If you couldn’t already tell, I was extremely aggravated by this. Coz not only did the writers drag out the question of “Who’s The Oppa?” for wayyy too long, they really seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in dangling that piece of information j-u-s-t out of the audience’s reach. Bah.
B. The Squick Factor
As early as episode 9, things started to feel squicky, coz that’s the point at which we realize that everyone’s had a crush on someone & that means, somewhere along the line, a blood-related sibling has had a crush on his/her sister/brother. Ack.
What makes it even squickier, is that Joon – the one who’s nursed the biggest, hugest crush on Yuri all series long – turns out to be the Oppa. The writers try to find a way to smooth that over, but honestly, it’s hard to buy what they’re selling (more on that in a bit).
Bottom-line: it was still squicky. This is probably the grand-daddy where fauxcest shows like That Winter get their inspiration from.
MY FAVE BROTHER
When I first started watching the show, I’d happened to mention it in passing to Grace from Musings and she’d asked me to later guess who her favorite brother was. Which is how I ended up watching this with a very conscious question in my mind, of who my favorite brother of the 3 was.
At first, I didn’t prefer any of the brothers over the others.
I found Lee Jung Jae easy on the eyes (check out that shirtless scene! This probably helped to start the shirtless trend, didn’t it? Lol), but found Joon the character too much of a brash dumb jock. I found Hyun too much of a stiff square. And I felt Bin was a bit of a player, since he nursed feelings for Yuri while keeping a sort-of-maybe girlfriend on the side. I really didn’t think that was very cool.
As I progressed through the episodes, I eventually started to have a soft spot for Hyun.
In episode 4, I decided that he was more appealing than his brothers, if only for the fact that he didn’t appear to have a crush on Yuri. Since everyone else – including Joon’s friend – was mooning over her, this made him different, and in a sense, cooler.
By episode 6, I began to find his introspective pensive quietness quite appealing. Possibly because it was so different from the rest of the kids who were mostly horsing around having fun. I also felt sorry for him coz he was the one struggling with the birth secret, all on his own.
After the time skip, I also found Hyun’s cold-edged, focused, quasi-genius trader disconcertingly charismatic, never mind the incredibly baggy oversized suits.
Bottom line: I pick Hyun as my favorite, and I rooted for him to get the girl.
[Grace, my guess is that you picked Hyun too? I think his smarts would appeal to you, is why 😉 ]
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
MY THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Y’know, it’s a good thing that I didn’t take this show very seriously at all, coz I think otherwise I would’ve been pretty annoyed at the ending. With my light-hearted lens on, I found the ending warm and happy enough. But when I think about it just a little harder, there’re actually a number of things that I didn’t like so much about the ending.
- Bin and Hye Rin (Lee Bon) get a happy ending. We get wedding bells and kisses.
- Everyone’s cheerful and happy and drinking champagne.
Um, that’s it, really.
Not Good Stuff
- Pre-reconciliation, Bin chasing down Hye Rin at the airport, and tearing up her passport, with a smile. I just COULD NOT believe that he tore up her passport. That is so annoying. Worse, I think this was supposed to be romantic.
- The writers toyed with me, AGAIN. When Annoying Plot Device Ju Hee (Lee Ji Eun) says her goodbye to Hyun and reaches out to shake his hand, Hyun dramatically pulls her in for a hug. And as I’m going, “OMG NOOOO. Don’t date herrrr,” Show proceeds to serve up the Super Extended highlight reel of every interaction Hyun and Ju Hee have had over the course of the show. Gah. I was on tenterhooks the whole time, until Show revealed that this was actually a good-bye hug. Argh. And, phew.
- I was bummed that we didn’t get closure with Hyun and Yuri, despite another time skip. We get (very minor) hints that they do like each other, but that’s it. It made me wonder if this was the writers’ way of leaving room for a sequel. But we know that never happened.
- The writers attempt to resolve the squick from Joon crushing on his biological sister all series long, and it didn’t really work, at least for me. At the post-wedding party, Joon walks away from the crowd, and as he surveys them thoughtfully, we hear him in voiceover:
“A new beginning is upon us… Yuri, the image of your back and the remains of myself, the time spent with you. I wished for time to stop at each of those moments. If that was the only way I could stay with you. But now, I have no reason to try so hard to win you. From the time we were born, you and I were one. I’m not sending you away. You’re already with me.”
To me, those are not words of a brother to his sister, but of a man in futile love with a woman. So nope, that didn’t work so well for me. I was still rather squicked out.
Honestly, I suspect the writers went Hyun-light and Joon-heavy with the ending coz of Lee Jung Jae’s popularity. I’ve heard how lots of fangirls swooned over him in this show, and found him super hot. Seen in that light, I can see why the writers decided on this ending, to appease fans.
Which means how much you like the ending of this show really depends on who you picked as your favorite brother. If you loved Lee Jung Jae, then you’d probably feel moderately mollified, that even though he didn’t get his girl, that he got the spotlight, and he seemed content.
In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter who you picked as your favorite brother and which potential couple you rooted for.
Feelings is less about who marries whom, and more about growing up and sorting through your identity and – you guessed it – your feeeelings.
So watch this with a breezy, casual sort of lens, and you’ll probably enjoy the ride quite well. Coz it’s that kind of breezy, casual show.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Imperfect and not very elegant, but engaging enough in its own right. Worth it for the retro awesome alone.
FINAL GRADE: B