December 9, 2023

A gripping new Netflix documentary about Sulli, the late K-pop star and actress who died at age 25 in 2019, sheds new light on the life of the Korean artist and the challenges she faced.

The two-part series called Persona: Sulli includes a short film starring Sulli, also known as Choi Jin-ri, as its first part, followed by an equally transfixing longer documentary film titled Dear Jinri as its second half. The second part features a revealing in-depth interview Sulli did in 2019.

The latest Netflix docuseries was released just days after Nahee, another Korean singer, was reported to have died at age 24, her record label Munhwain announced in an Instagram post six days ago.

Sulli at events in 2019 in Seoul.
Sulli at an event in September 2019 (left) and in July 2019 in Seoul, the South Korean capital (right). The late K-pop star died at age in October 2019.

Sulli was reportedly a victim of cyberbullying and previously spoke about the mental health problems she suffered after malicious comments and rumors circulated about her online. Her death shocked the Korean entertainment industry and was followed by the death of another K-pop star, 28-year-old Goo Hara, just over a month later.

The first part of the latest documentary is a special episode from the Netflix anthology series Persona. Sulli was cast as the lead for the second season of the fictional series just months before her death and was in the middle of shooting the second episode of the five-part series when she died, according to Korean media.

The captivating short film titled 4: Clean Island features striking visuals and an eerie dystopian vibe, while Dear Jinri also lends a cinematic feel, offering an intimate glimpse into the artist’s inner psyche and vulnerability in one of her final interviews before her death.

But perhaps the most telling aspects of the series lies in the hidden symbols dotted throughout the film. Here we unpack some of the intriguing, haunting elements of the late artist’s final work.


The title of the new documentary feels symbolic and is perhaps meant to set the tone and vision of the series. Sulli’s other name, Jin-ri, also means “truth” in Korean and the series’ title, Persona: Sulli, could perhaps be a play on “persona: truth,” indicating the documentary aims to reveal the artist’s true self and persona.

Still from Sulli in Netflix's "4:Clean Island".
A close-up of Sulli seen in “4:Clean Island,” a short film featured as the first part of the “Persona: Sulli” documentary series on Netflix.

The Number Four

In the short film, Sulli plays a mysterious character named “4” who works in a pig slaughterhouse and later in the film [spoiler alert] is believed to have been killed.

In Korean tradition, the number four is associated with death because of its spelling (사) being the same as the first half of the Korean word for death (사망). Therefore, four is considered an unlucky number, so much so that many elevators in South Korea use the letter F instead of the number four to indicate the fourth level of a building.

Black, white images of K-pop star Sulli
Stills from “Dear Jinri,” the second part of “Persona: Sulli,” the new Netflix documentary series about the late K-pop star Sulli.

The Color Red

Red features prominently throughout the short film, from the number four written in blood across the face of Sulli’s character to the blood-red dress, shoes and lipstick worn by her and the blood stains splattered around the pig slaughterhouse.

The color red is also associated with death in Korean culture and Koreans never write a person’s name in red. It’s considered a bad omen to do so because red lettering was used to write the names of the deceased. Writing someone’s name in red is believed to wish death (or even bring death) upon that person.

Stills from "Persona: Sulli" on Netflix.
Stills from “4:Clean Island,” a short film starring Sulli, which forms the first part of “Persona: Sulli,” the new Netflix docuseries about the late Korean singer/actress.


Sulli’s character works at a slaughterhouse that sees the death of countless, nameless pigs. One day, she comes across a pig that seems unique to her, after discovering the number 4 branded across the animal’s neck and she befriends the pig.

She later packs a suitcase, placing her new pig friend inside, to head for Clean Island, which is “the cleanest place in the world” where “you can erase all your guilt and pain.”

A voice on Clean Island is heard saying: “We only sell pork that passes our advanced cleaning system.”

Another voice says on the island says: “No matter what kind of environment the pigs were raised or slaughtered in, when they pass Clean Island’s state-of-the-art cleaning system, they become safe from any kind of germs and stressors.”

Pigs are considered symbols of wealth, abundance and good fortune in Korean tradition and other Asian cultures.

The pigs featured in the latest short film and the life they lead perhaps represent the life of K-pop stars, who are viewed as icons of wealth and success. The slaughtered pigs are sold as different products on Clean Island that have passed through an “advanced cleaning system,” perhaps a symbol of the manufacturing process that aspiring K-pop trainees undergo in a bid to become a star.

Sulli in "Persona: Sulli" on Netflix.
Still of Sulli in the short film “4: Clean Island” (left) and a still of the late K-pop star during an interview in 2019, both of which are featured in “Persona: Sulli” on Netflix.

Pigs in the latest film may also be associated with death, as 2019, the year that Sulli died, was also the Year of the Pig.

In Dear Jinri, the late actress speaks about feeling like “a product” in the industry.

Sulli began her career as a child actor in 2005 before debuting as part of the K-pop girl group f(x). She left the group in 2015 and continued her work as an actress and released her first solo music in June 2019, just months before her death in October 2019.

She said that the one thing she recalls being told the most when she first started in the entertainment business was: “You are a product. You need to exist as the finest, top-quality product.”

She said: “Even when they didn’t say I was a product, everyone treated me as one. I had to be what they wanted me to be. I had to fear losing my product value.”

Persona: Sulli is available to stream on Netflix.

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