BUSAN, South Korea – A new documentary featuring a late K-pop star’s final interview reveals complex truths about South Korea’s notoriously brutal music industry while highlighting its resistance to pressure to conform to societal norms.
“Dear Jinri,” which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, centers on singer Sulli’s latest Netflix project, an unfinished film that includes an in-depth interview.
Sulli, born Choi Jin-ri, took her own life in 2019 at the age of 25, after a long battle against online bullying. The interview in the film – raw, powerful and heartbreaking – has never been seen before.
What Sulli shares in that conversation raises “many critical issues in our society,” director Jung Yoon-suk said Saturday evening after the film’s BIFF screening.
“These can be seen as issues relating to women, but they can also be issues affecting the vulnerable in our society, or relating to issues of equality,” he said.
Sulli, who started her career as a child actress at the age of 11, made her debut in 2009 with f(x), which quickly became one of K-pop’s top girl groups.
She was known for behavior that was considered controversial in South Korea (including refusing to wear a bra in public). She faced relentless online bullying and was often the target of sexually offensive comments.
The film also explores the singer’s lonely childhood and struggles with self-image as a woman in a world that can be intensely focused on appearance.
“Since you were born a beautiful woman, you don’t need to know anything,” Sulli says she was told.
But she adds: “It’s unpleasant to say that your life was difficult because you are a beautiful woman.”
The well-documented pressures of the K-pop world are also spotlighted, with Sulli explaining how she was told her goal was to be “a product of the highest quality.”
She compares her experience to that of the main character in Luc Besson’s 1990 ‘La Femme Nikita’, who undergoes rigorous and brutal training to become a programmed assassin, completely cut off from the outside world.
It seemed like people “couldn’t recognize that we were human beings,” Sulli says in the film.
The interview is punctuated by frequent pauses as the camera lingers on the subject, the pain and sadness palpable on her face.
Audible gasps could be heard from the audience throughout the screening.
A self-confident artist
Suicide is the leading cause of death among South Koreans aged 10 to 39 and is occurring at an unusually high rate, official figures show.
Several other young K-pop stars have died of suspected suicide in recent years, including Goo Hara, Jonghyun and Moonbin. The incidents have led to calls for more mental health support for young people in the sector.
Sulli’s response to director Jung’s question about the online bullying she has endured – specifically her decision to grant legal forgiveness to one of the perpetrators – is perhaps one of the most poignant and revealing scenes in the movie.
She also candidly discusses feminism – a topic that remains controversial in socially conservative South Korea – saying she “supported women who spoke out” even when their views did not align with hers.
Ultimately, the film paints a portrait of a contemplative, resilient figure who, in the ways she could, resisted the pressure to conform, and instead strove to further her own understanding of the world and her place in it. to develop.
The film’s title is derived from Sulli’s legal name, Jin-ri, which means truth in Korean.
“It was incredibly important to see this person not just as a celebrity or an idol, but as someone who has self-awareness as an artist,” Jung said.
“It seemed that the film would have meaning as the truth itself, just as (her) name implies.” /ra