Sulli’s Mother And Girls’ Generation’s Tiffany Talk About The Late Star In New MBC Documentary
Warning: discussions of self-harm and suicide.
On September 10, MBC released a documentary titled “Why Were You Uncomfortable With Sulli?” For the first time, Sulli’s mother spoke in-depth about Sulli’s childhood, how she was casted, their severed mother-daughter relationship following her relationship with Choiza, and how she felt when she got the news of her daughter’s passing.
Sulli’s mother shared, “I got a divorce when [Sulli] was 7 years old and I had to get a job. With the money to send Sulli to kindergarten, I thought that I should just send her to an academy. I went to an acting academy in Busan and the director liked her so much. I thought, ‘She’ll do well in Seoul too,’ so we went to Seoul.”
She continued, “After about six months of attending, we were almost out of fees and the expenses were so costly that I wanted to quit, but Sulli said while crying, ‘I want to learn more.’ After almost being unable to endure the month after, she was cast in the drama ‘Ballad of Seodong.’ The director of ‘Ballad of Seodong,’ Lee Byung Hoon had said, ‘Sulli acted well. She’s confident, bright, and her face lights up like a princess.'”
While she was appearing on “Ballad of Seodong,” it was because of a reporter’s suggestion that she began promoting under the name Sulli as opposed to her birth name Choi Jin Ri. Her mother added, “After seeing a news article, SM Entertainment contacted us. They said, ‘We will raise her to be SM’s franchise star celebrity,’ so she began living in a dorm from a young age.”
Sulli’s former SM Entertainment labelmate Girls’ Generation Tiffany shared her experience meeting Sulli and their time together as trainees. She shared, “I first met Sulli when she was doing ‘Ballad of Seodong.’ At SM, she was already a famous child acting star.”
Tiffany also talked about when she appeared on a variety show in 2011 with Sulli. On the program, Sulli explained that she had begun living in a dorm in only fifth grade and tearfully thanked Girls’ Generation’s Tiffany and Taeyeon for taking care of her then. After rewatching the clip, Tiffany commented, “Seeing this video, it looks like we all just needed help. Including me.”
Tiffany added, “In order to survive, I think Sulli was extremely wary of those around her.” Her mom continued, “The child who always used to say her unnies would go on the scale and get into lots of trouble one day began living attached to the scale herself. After she graduated elementary school, she suddenly grew to over 172 centimetres (approximately 5 foot 6 inches) and had a hard time with her subsequent weight gain.”
Sulli’s mother added, “At first, we did not sign a contract with SM as a singer. She was only signed as an actress. However, her status as a child actress became ambiguous with her sudden tall height, so [SM Entertainment] said, ‘What does our agency do best? Let’s go the idol route.'”
In 2015, SM Entertainment confirmed that Sulli was in a relationship with Dynamic Duo’s Choiza. Despite their 14-year age gap and the accompanying public scrutiny, the couple dated for about two years and seven months. Regarding their relationship, Sulli’s mother shared, “Our whole family was happy before news of Sulli’s relationship broke. Even after seeing photos [of the two], I didn’t believe it. I thought it was an overblown and exaggerated article. I called Sulli right away to ask and she said, ‘Mom, it’s true.'”
Her mother explained why she disapproved of the relationship, sharing, “To suddenly have a boyfriend 14 years older than you means that you move up too many steps without having that middle ground. Everything changes, like how you play, drinking culture, and your conversation patterns.”
She revealed that Sulli had been upset by her disapproval and told her, “‘I think I’ve worked hard until now to earn this money, so please recognize that.’ Starting with her next payment, she said that she would personally receive money from her agency and that I had to write a detailed statement [of my expenses] for compensation. Since I also have a fiery personality, we settled everything then. After that, we spoke occasionally but essentially never saw each other.”
News reporters explained that Sulli and Choiza’s relationship sparked an astronomical amount of hate comments, of which Tiffany commented, “Wherever you go, online comments are made and pictures are taken. To be honest, they had just gone to enjoy a very normal date, but if that suddenly blows up, I think it’d be very hard. Sulli was probably only 20 years old then, but I think all the comments sound like they’re really talking about you, so you feel guilty.”
Her mother shared that in 2016, she had received a call from the agency saying that Sulli had hurt herself. She continued, “Since she had gone to the emergency room, news articles would soon be released, so they called to make sure I wasn’t surprised. They said everything was under control. I told them I’d go to the hospital myself but they said that articles were stating that she had gotten hurt after slipping in the bathroom and that it couldn’t be covered [if I went]. Since I couldn’t even go to the hospital, I cried at home for a week.”
This incident was soon after Sulli and Choiza had broken up after nearly three years together. Her mom tearfully continued, “This was possibly a last ditch effort for her. I think everything felt unsure to her. The man she loves had left and her mom was not by her side. It must’ve been hard for her to deal with all of these things. I also think that she didn’t have anyone to speak truthfully to her.”
In an old interview, Sulli had spoken about this hospitalization as she explained, “I used to hide behind those close to me and try to stay strong together, but there were times when people I was close to, and even just people around me had all left. Since those people were also having a hard time, I think they were busy protecting themselves. I did reach out my hand to ask for help, but people did not grab onto my hand. That’s why I felt defeated then, because I had no one to talk to.”
In the years following, Sulli continued to be the target of malicious comments, regarding the way she freely posted on social media. In particular, Sulli explained her decision not to wear bras, commenting, “To me, I thought of bras as accessories. I wanted to break that frame of prejudice and judgement.”
The star was also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, having once shared, “I use cotton menstrual pads. I believe that when women are menstruating, they deserve to use good things,” later donating 500 million won (approximately $421,100) worth of menstrual pads to youth from underprivileged families.
Tiffany commented, “In the tempo and environment of a celebrity’s life, the one place you could freely express yourself was social media. To be honest, the space was so relaxing. I always applauded Sulli’s courage and desire to express herself and be free. It is allowed for people like you to exist. She kept asking the world questions, and the world kept telling her ‘No.'”
In another interview, Sulli had explained, “Since I worked from a young age, everyone thinks I’m very mature. Even if I say I’m having a hard time, there wasn’t anyone who listened to me.”
Following Sulli’s passing in October 2019, her mother revealed that she found many bags of medicine at her home. She explained, “At Sulli’s house, there were so many bags of medicine. The amount was more than you could digest. Standing on stage as a singer was so haunting for her that she developed panic disorder and depression. I can’t imagine how lonely she felt. I regret only knowing that now.”
Her mother also spoke about when she first got the news of Sulli’s death. She revealed, “I got a call saying Sulli had taken her life. She always lived alone in that house but I couldn’t give permission to let her leave the last time by herself. I said that I would bring her out holding her hand and went to Sulli’s house. She was by herself in a room on the second floor. I touched her hands, and her face, and sat there for an hour. I wish I had touched her from head to toe. I still feel regretful thinking that I wasn’t able to say goodbye properly one last time. That I’m sorry for being so late. I think about wanting to go back to all the times I missed.”
Tiffany commented, “Rather than think about why Sulli had to leave, I think about myself first. Why couldn’t I have approached her first one more time? I feel apologetic that I couldn’t share a deep conversation with her by her side. If you think about it, including myself, doesn’t everyone need help? I want to tell her, ‘Thank you for spending your time in a brave, bright, and amazing way.'”
Born in 1994, Sulli made her debut as a child actress in 2005. In 2009, she debuted as a member of f(x), before leaving the group in August 2015 to focus on acting. Sulli passed away on October 14, 2019.
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