Back to 1989 (Series Review)

Time traveling is not all fun and games.



  • Marcus Chang as Chen Che
  • Ivy Shao as Ye Zhen Zhen
  • Mini Tsai as Chen Ya Juan
  • Yorke Sun as Li Jin Qin


  • Taiwanese
  • 21 episodes
  • Original run: January 22 – June 3, 2016

Quick Rundown:

After arguing with his mother about the secret identity of the father he’s never known, Chen Che gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in 1989. There, he befriends Ye Zhen Zhen, who turns out to be his mother’s best friend. He later meets the 22 year-old version of his own mother and all the potential men who could be his father. Without knowing the exact purpose for his time-travel, Chen Che must decide whether to intervene with the past and possibly even change his future existence in 2016.


Our Takes

Anna: Alas, yet another Taiwanese drama that starts out promisingly enough and devolves into an illogical mess. I had relatively high hopes for Back to 1989 to recapture some of that classic heartwarming silliness that OG twdramas were so famous for. And it certainly started off that way with some slapstick humor and fun situations. That, however, quickly went away, and the joy and playfulness never returned to this drama. It honestly just became a chore to watch past episode five.

My biggest problem with Back to 1989 was definitely the characters. With perhaps the exception of Ya Juan, the mom, every single one of them was simply unbearable. The main culprits being #notmyOTP, Chen Che and Zhen Zhen. I hated his fake humility and insistence on doing the “right thing” even though he probably knew it didn’t make a difference. If he was actually that concerned with affecting the past, he should have spent a little more time with his mom and less time goofing around with Zhen Zhen. And speaking of her, she’s the worst representation of a female that I’ve seen in a drama in awhile. She’s the classic non-feminist who’s willing to sacrifice everything(!) to be with a man. And the fact that their relationship became the focal point of this drama made the watching experience even worse.


The ending could have slightly redeemed the largely terrible plot, but of course that didn’t happen. The writers appeared to have just defied all common sense and reasoning to force a happy ending. It really bothers me that even though Chen Che now knows who his biological father is, nothing has really changed. His mom was forced to suffer for years on her own, and is basically still kept in the dark about what really happened 20+ years ago! Therefore, what was the point in him even time traveling? (Meeting Zhen Zhen is not an acceptable answer.) Just don’t watch Back to 1989, unless bad acting, illogical plotlines, and infuriating characters are your thing.

Estelle: Oh how deeply I regret agreeing to recap this drama as our second tag team project! We just have the worst luck with these, but I guess at least I didn’t have to do the whole thing by myself. Needless to say I actively disliked this drama and pretty much everything beyond episode 5 is horrible. By the time it got to middle of the series I was just hoping for the day it ends, and boy did it drag.


Where do I even start with the various flaws of this drama? From the ridiculous plot that devolves into a forced love story, to the nonsensical behaviors of the characters, to the bad acting there are plenty of reasons to throw this one away, but all that pale in comparison to how annoying Zhen Zhen is. Every time she is on screen is just like the Zhen Zhen show where she is throwing a personal pity party. There is zero chemistry between the OTP – I feel like Chen Che is actively trying to push Zhen Zhen away the entire time but she is just completely relentless in her pursuit that he has no choice. How can I root for their happiness when this is how I perceive their love story? And because this who’s-my-daddy drama turns into a time-travel romance all the attention is on Zhen Zhen whom I rather fall into the time vortex with no hopes of crawling out. I mean the dude is actually trying to figure out his birth secret, but she is just getting in his way at every corner! Like, girl get a hold of yourself please!

This drama is a complete let down. Save yourself the pain and skip it. Don’t believe us? Read our recaps and feel how we loathe this drama through the words.

Catch up on the episodes of Back to 1989 with the recaps!


This & That:

  • Marcus Chang was in the 2015 twdrama, To the Dearest Intruder. He had his acting debut in the popular 2014 film, Cafe.Waiting.Love.
  • Ivy Chen was in the 2015 twdrama, When I See You Again, that starred Jasper Liu as the main lead actor.
  • The ending theme, “Two People/兩個人,” is performed by Alien Huang, one of the hosts of the Taiwanese variety show, 100% Entertainment.

Watch all the episodes of Back to 1989 on Viki now!


5 thoughts on “Back to 1989 (Series Review)

  1. CNH says:

    Thank you for this review. I am just starting to get to know Taiwanese dramas, as well as the comparison and contrasts of the styles between Asian dramas. I would like to go over a couple of things if you all do not mind.

    I thought that this show did “okay” considering how bad dramas could be (but “okay” is not a good thing either). There was a bit of potential (thematic, not the plot-wise), but they blew it. I thought the real-time paradox of the series (Chen Zhe saving Zhen Zhen) was quite clever and they could have used this expand on the metaphysics of time travel AND romantic love (as well as creating what could have been an interesting pairing between Chen Zhe and Zhen Zhen), but they turned the primary pairing into a typical pop drama one. With that, Zhen Zhen could have been an interesting character, but of course the developers of this show botched that. The firefly motif was also cool but late (and they should have done a better job linking it to the time traveling mechanism or geared Zhen Zhen’s development to it), but it unfortunately becomes an afterthought.

    I agree that the lack of interactions between Chen Zhe and Chen Ya-juan was another miss. It was a shame that, after the butterfly affected world when Chen Zhe returns, that their relationship did not turn into a continuation that the Chens had in the 1989. It was kind of a kick to the balls to Chen Zhe that his mother forgot about the “sixth” member of the Golden Five Team, said that the Chen Zhe in 1989 would never be replaced, was deemed a godparent(?) along with Zhen Zhen, and named her “son” after 1989 Chen Zhe. This may sound bad, but what was the whole point of giving birth in the first place (because they used that as a plot device)? Perhaps it was, as you all said, a force of happy endings for both couples. I did NOT like the Jin Qin and Chen Ya-juan coupling because it eliminated the whole point of Chen Zhe watching out for his mother in the first place (and when you REALLY think about it, the development was not really there… it was more like something that got embedded). I get making the mother happy, but now the development is highly questionable with the mother still in the dark of her rapist and 20+ years of hell (at least in the original timeline). It was probably a “it is not too late to love” type of moment (cringe). It would have been better if Chen Zhe was the “last man standing” and being the only thing that Chen Ya-juan had/has (with the other three male supporters being pulp, Jin Qin, or petty, Zhong-en, and Xiaolong.

    So yeah, these are some of my little pieces of analysis for this series. There are definitely dramas that are much worse. Although now that I typed this much, perhaps the “potential” for this show was just wishful thinking.


  2. Lol despite your bad reviews, I actually thought this drama is okay, just that the time travel rules they set is really weak:

    1. Chen Che’s grandpa seemed to know what exactly will happen.
    > Chen Che’s grandpa predicted that if Ya Juan aborted the baby, Chen Che won’t exists – and then Chen Che started hurting when Ya Juan showed signs of miscarriage. Such an ambiguous thing like time travel – how did Chen Che’s grandpa manage to guess correctly what will happen?

    Also, the part where Chen Che disappeared when he was born – Grandpa said he will disappear right away, and that really happened. That’s way too forced – it’s like the drama is trying to convince the audience. “See? this is how our time travel theories works”

    2. Theory that there cannot be 2 Chen Che’s in the world
    > There are 2 Chen Ches when Ya Juan got pregnant. This really bug me.

    3. Everyone forgot about Chen Che except for Zhen Zhen and Grandpa
    > Really? So convenient ain’t it?

    4. Chen Che disappeared right after he’s born
    > No. there’s no logic at all in this, seriously.

    5. Zhen Zhen re-appeared at the most convenient time magically with no explanation whatsoever.
    > lol. they are desperate for a happy ending

    In my opinion, the drama could have tried to develop the time travel theories better.


  3. K K says:

    Hi! Thanks for this review. I saw this and started watching because of the whole time-travelling thing. But I could barely get past ep 1.. Everything felt so tiring the moment Zhen Zhen started screaming.. So I started searching for reviews and I’m really glad I found this. So perfectly explained and I just ended up reading everything and forgot about the drama lol

    Anyway, thanks for this. Sorry you guys had to sit through it all, but thanks for saving me the time! Will check out your other reviews to see the ones you recommend watching. Thanks again!


  4. SK says:

    Thanks for the review although my comment is a few years late, lol.

    I actually enjoyed this show. Yes, there are some terrible plotlines, and some results defy logic however if you take it as what it is – a show meant to entertain, I didn’t really mind it at all.

    As for Chen Che disappearing when his counterpart is born, I wasn’t quite sure about that, because I feel like there was a scene after where he was shown in the tunnel. I could be wrong about that.

    The ending with Zhen Zhen appearing out of the blue… I thought it over a bit. She was supposed to be dead in the other timeline which means she wasn’t really supposed to exist in Chen Che’s 2016. The fact that she survived due to Chen Che’s appearance in 1989 gives her the ability to time travel to 2016 (which it seems she did) and exist without being negated by another her. So that part didn’t seem to illogical to me. Also consider the fact that she simply disappeared after getting hit by the oncoming vehicle. This is all purely guesswork and imagination, but it’s possible that meant that since she never really was supposed to exist at that point in 1993, she was sent time traveling to a different year. It seems as though she had already been in 2016 for awhile, and Chen Che apologized for being late. She couldn’t have been waiting for too long in 2016 since in the clips from the credits you can see that she’s still surprised by technology and things from 2016 that Chen Che is introducing not to mention that she hadn’t aged much. However I digress.

    I didn’t mind any of it. Rather than take it so seriously I just enjoyed the antics of the characters, and I wanted to see the couple make it somehow. As for his mom, he was successful in what he wanted to do which was to see her be happy back in his timeline, and to not have her life be as difficult and terrible. She wasn’t getting by off difficult jobs (I believe that she was a manager or director instead) and he was able to address the other part of her sadness by finally successfully setting her up with her soulmate.

    Anyway, I only watched this show because I’d seen another one with Ivy Shao and was curious to see her other work. Funny that she actually dated this lead actor in RL for some time.

    So yes, maybe not perfect acting, the storyline might be a little crazy but if you’re just looking to get entertained this wasn’t bad at all IMO. I’ve seen far worse. ✌️


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