I’ve written about my share of obscure indies in these essays, and Feel is as obscure as they come. It has a grand total of zero reviews by critics on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, it has no Wikipedia entry, and a Google search turns up virtually no mention of it, beyond a trailer for it on YouTube.
Then again, one piece of evidence against its obscurity is that it has a Baldwin in it (William).
Also, I’ve already written a piece about another film by the same director, Matt Mahurin: I Like Killing Flies, the not-quite-as-obscure documentary about disturbing, offensive, and somewhat entertainingly disturbing and offensive, New York restaurateur Kenny Shopsin.
Feel is about an Asian massage parlor in New York—one of those massage parlor/whorehouse places. (Is there any other kind, by the way? I know you can get a massage, like, from a physical therapist, but are there “massage parlors” per se that are really just for massages? Or is it one of those things like professional wrestling, where there’s the fake professional wrestlers with actors playing wrestlers pretending to hit each other and such, but there’s no actual professional wrestling?)
Working at the massage parlor is a madam/boss, and four masseuses/prostitutes, all Asian.
In my modest amount of experience in the world of strippers, sex workers, etc., I have never been in one of these establishments, by the way. Typically I don’t find professional sex and titillation practices in general (strip clubs, prostitution, etc.) particularly appealing; indeed, sometimes I find them vaguely depressing. Not so much for the politically correct reason that they exploit the women who work in these trades and all that—though maybe that’s a tiny factor—but more because about 95% of the appeal of sex to me is the connection and intimacy with another human being who desires me and is opening herself up to me, and that’s precisely what professional sex lacks. I mean, I won’t say it’s of zero interest to me—because, for one thing, naked women are still about the most beautiful, awesome thing ever invented—but mostly it’s too far from “real” sex to draw me in.
These Asian massage parlors are no exception. I never seriously considered patronizing one, and nothing in this movie made me more inclined to do so.
Besides the aforementioned more general reason that professionalized sex tends not to be very appealing to me, there’s also the factor that I never happened to develop the fetish or whatever you want to call it of craving the stereotypical sexualized Asian woman—the petite, submissive type, or whatever. Not that I’m knocking it—people are attracted to whatever they’re attracted to, and that’s cool—but the geisha or the “me love you long time” Vietnam War prostitute, or whatever it is that so many guys seem to go for just was never one of my main “types.”
Anyway, of the four gals working in this place, one is a complete dead fish who literally is asleep for half or more of her work shift, and might as well be the rest of the time. One is chubby and unattractive (not just my opinion—it’s actually part of the story that she’s regarded as not attractive) and is secretly doing some kind of academic research, maybe a college sociology project or something. One is decent looking and I suppose nice enough. Only one is truly hot, but her appeal is lessened by the fact that she is a completely superficial, materialistic airhead.
Their big dream, especially the hot one, is to marry the “rich American” who will whisk them away from this occupation and shower them with expensive possessions and baubles. But really when you have basically nothing to offer except looks (if that), what hope is there of that? I guess there are guys who would love to have a hot young Asian chick on their arm, even if there’s little going on in her brain beyond excitement about the latest piece of jewelry they bought her, but I’m thinking even in those cases it’s not a wife they’d end up being, but more likely a kept woman for a few years until their looks fade.
Corresponding to each of the four masseuses are four customers or potential customers: a widower, a husband, a fiancé, and a single guy. Three go through with a visit to the massage parlor, while one doesn’t get beyond fantasizing about it. One is a regular, while three I believe are first timers.
You could argue that all four are damaged to at least some degree, that they have some social or sexual dysfunction. The regular is the closest to normal I suppose; he has kind of found a niche for this activity in his life, and understands and accepts its limitations but has decided that on balance it’s worth continuing.
And the others aren’t particularly bad guys or pathetic guys. Like the old widower guy is actually a pretty sweet man. He’s nervous and unfailingly polite in making his way in this establishment that is so new to him, and ends up having a somewhat positive experience.
The only times the interactions felt appealing or at all genuinely erotic to me (and even then it was quite modest) were those occasions when there is a break in the phoniness, when two people become aware of each other’s humanity rather than seeing a woman as a sex object or a man as an ATM. Those moments are few in the film, yet almost certainly they occur far less frequently in real life.
At least I think so. It might actually have been more interesting to me if Feel had been a documentary, like The Great Happiness Space, about Japanese male prostitutes. I’d be curious just how often people in a professionalized sexual interaction transcend the artificial roles and manage any kind of genuine human connection.
Feel is mildly interesting. Even as flawed as they are, the characters are more sympathetic than not. They typically don’t get quite what they expected out of these transactions—neither the masseuses nor the customers—and mostly what they get is a bit better than what they expected rather than worse. And because they are sympathetic characters, it’s kind of nice when something good like that does happen to them.