Although we are now in the fourth generation of K-pop, you will definitely have heard of the name ‘Super Junior’ whether you’re an avid fan or a casual listener of music from the East Asian country. Even in Malaysia, Super Junior displayed their lasting star power last October, as almost 10,000 ELFs (as their fandom is known), flooded the Axiata Arena.

Now into their 18th year anniversary, members Lee Teuk, Hee Chul, Ye Sung, Shin Dong, Eun Hyuk, Dong Hae, Si Won, Ryeo Wook, and Kyu Hyun have paved their own paths in the industry whether it's through solo albums, drama series, or variety shows.

However, each member is fiercely loyal to the fact that they are first and foremost part of a group that has previously achieved the feat of being the best-selling K-pop artist for four years in a row.

Being one of the ‘Big 3’ companies of the K-pop industry, SM Entertainment, the idols have never been able to escape the limelight whether for good or bad reasons. This two-episode documentary (of approximately 50 minutes each) includes never-before-seen clips of the group members tracing back their storied career from their debut to their unshakeable status as veterans in the world of K-pop.

This is no ordinary documentary but it features downright expose-level interviews with each of the members getting raw and real, even letting out censored expletives (that ELFs won’t be surprised to know came from Heechul) that tell the story of how they grew up from being boys to men and receiving the title of the ‘King of Hallyu Wave’.

Spoilers ahead for 'Super Junor: The Last Man Standing'

Episode 1

Achieving this title did not come easy; the documentary opens with how the members each struggled to debut. In some ways, Super Junior have been competing since they joined the highly competitive industry. The systematic training of artists is known to include everything from learning how to sing and dance, and other skills like learning foreign languages which is notoriously tough on aspiring stars, some of whom join in their early teens.

Through this system, trainees are expected to shine in virtually every category before debuting on a public stage and those who don’t make the cut are weeded out. Siwon shared, “We were all very desperate to debut.”

Fans will also be treated to a nostalgic look at old clips such as those from their first debut showcase and their first introduction to a screaming crowd back when fans would wave blue balloons instead of light sticks that are used nowadays.

In an industry where idols are usually stick-thin and expected to conform to certain beauty standards, Shindong also shared his story of being an overweight singer.

The success that SuJu has enjoyed is also shared by Tak Young-jun who was once the group’s manager even before their debut and has risen through the ranks to become SM Entertainment’s COO. The show includes commentary by Tak who shared how the group has not only topped charts with their various hits but has also revolutionised K-pop throughout the years.

Once a 13-member group, there were no other groups with that many members at the time but as many unconventional formulas from SM have proven –– it worked. This included some tweaks along the way as there was supposed to be an admission and graduation system before their label founder Lee Soo-man decided to make their members permanent. It is also interesting to note that the idea of having sub-units in a single group started with SJ through Super Junior-K.R.Y.

Being the confident and boisterous group of men they are now, it is also amusing to see how they were shy in front of the camera through videos of their first jacket shoot. One of their endearing charms is that they aren’t afraid of appearing silly to the public and the show captures that side of them as well.

Being in the public eye, SJ is used to having their personal struggles making public headlines and ELFs will be familiar with many of these stories. But it is one thing to read through an article and another to hear it from the member’s own perspective.

In the documentary, the members also recount painful incidents such as Heechul’s car accident which fractured his left leg that has caused him to contribute to the group mostly as a singer since. Expect to pack some tissues for the show as the members recount their horrifying car accident where four members were injured including Kyuhyun’s near-death experience.

Episode 2

This episode touched on how SJ first found their own sound with global hits such as the 2009 hit ‘Sorry, Sorry’. As Ryeowook comments, without the song, “Super Junior wouldn’t exist right now.”

SM Entertainment is known for sweeping their groups’ issues under the carpet, but the members also address how the leaving of their three members Hangeng, Kangin, and Kibum affected them –– although only Kangin is named specifically. However, there was no mention of Sungmin, who has been inactive since 2015.

At the start Yesung shares, “When we debuted, people said idols don’t last more than five years,” but they’ve managed to prove everyone wrong. Whether you’re a hardcore ELF or a K-pop fan, this documentary is a fascinating look at their struggles and success in the industry and how they have helped to shape the history of K-pop. As Leeteuk said they want to keep on doing this till they are old and grey and to even, “Get ready for our tour in paradise,” because as this documentary shows, Super Junior is far from being done yet.

Stream the two episodes of ‘Super Junior: The Last Man Standing’ on Disney+ Hotstar on 18 January 2023.

Image credit: @disneyplus@sjofficial