Review: Super Junior: The Last Man Standing Looks Back At the Band’s Tumultuous 18-Year History

The two-part documentary chronicles Super Junior’s journey from junior trainees to superstars. 
Photo: Disney+

Nichkhun of 2PM, Minho of SHINee, Wheein of Mamamoo, and Hoshi of Seventeen all have something in common – they’re all superfans of the South Korean boy band Super Junior. There is no denying the band’s popularity and impact they’ve had on the wider K-pop industry, and Super Junior: The Last Man Standing, the new documentary on Disney+ chronicles their trek to the upper echelons of K-pop.

Before BTS, Super Junior was everyone’s oppas (a Korean term for “elder brother”). That doesn’t mean that they are no longer our oppas – they have just been upgraded to iconic ahjussis (a respectful way to address middle-aged men). This comes as no surprise as they have long since been helmed as one of the pioneers of the Hallyu wave (or K-wave) worldwide, and their addictive hits such as ‘Sorry Sorry’, ‘Mr Simple’, and even mellower songs like ‘It’s You’, are staples in the karaoke room. 

In Disney+’s Super Junior: The Last Man Standing, we get to see the formative and transformative periods of the long-standing idol group, including several exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. Interviews were also done with the nine active members of Super Junior – Leeteuk, Heechul, Yesung, Shindong, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Siwon, Ryeowook, Kyuhyun, who shared their thoughts and feelings regarding the various events and milestones in their journey. However, it’s not all roses and sunshine throughout, so fans may want to have some tissues on standby as the documentary takes them through the tumultuous highs and lows of their 18-year career. 

Photo: Disney+

Super Junior: The Last Man Standing is split into two episodes and presented in a chronological order, so we get to see the humble beginnings of the members, as well as the struggles they had to overcome to even debut as Super Junior. 

The documentary revealed that even before the conceptualisation of Super Junior, leader Leeteuk, and member Donghae were slated to debut under a 5-members group called Smile. However, all that came to a naught when the higher-ups decided to scrap the plan without further explanation. Subsequently, the plan to debut Super Junior, a 12-member group, started, and hopefuls, including Leeteuk and Donghae, had to prove their appeal to retain their position in the group. 

Unlike these days, where groups with 10 or more members no longer turn heads, debuting a 12-member group then was a huge deal. Yet, not meeting up to expectations, the possibility of someone new taking your spot were some of the more pressing concerns the members had, which also led to tensions among the Super Junior members (then trainees).

Even after debuting, success did not come easy. Their earlier songs were moderate successes, but the members found themselves feeling inadequate, without that massive hit song they had been craving for. However, they soon found their thirst satiated with ‘Sorry, Sorry’.  Had it not been for the track, which is still widely-regarded as SuJu’s biggest hit to date, we might not have been able to see Super Junior, or even K-pop itself, become so huge, so fast.

‘Sorry, Sorry’ was an unprecedented success for Super Junior, and achieving first place at Music Bank (a South korean music program) right after their comeback saw all the members crying on stage as they gave their speeches – a triumphant moment showcased in the documentary. The popularity of the song exploded globally, and even inmates in the Philippines were doing dance covers to the song. In a time where smartphones were not commonplace, the virality of ‘Sorry, Sorry’ marked a watershed moment in K-pop, and set the stage for future global hits like ‘Gangnam Style’. 

The documentary also features moments of grief, anxiety, and helplessness that the members faced. This includes Heechul and Kyuhyun who were involved in serious car accidents on two separate occasions, and the passing of Donghae’s and Leeteuk’s family members. Yet in those times of darkness, the members had shown to always be there for each other.  And as per the law in Korea, men have to undergo mandatory military training. The absence of their leader Leeteuk brought about new challenges and highlighted the importance of his role in the team. This was one of the most refreshing perspectives that really dove deep into the internal workings of Super Junior as a group and their support system for each other.

While the documentary has undoubtedly given us insight to the backstories of the many milestones of Super Junior’s history, it would have been nice for the documentary to delve more into the departure of former members (Kibum, Hangeng, and Kangin). Kangin was briefly mentioned, but the documentary did not spend much time on the issue beyond that. Of course, this was a very controversial topic that even the members themselves could not speak out on freely in the past. However, it was still an important chapter of the Super Junior story, and its inclusion would have brought more depth to the documentary. One can only take comfort in the fact that at least the former members were shown and mentioned fondly by the active members in this documentary.

As the title suggests (their celebrated peers have since retired or dropped off the map entirely), there are no signs of Super Junior tapping out of the entertainment industry any time soon, with nine members going on strong. Even though they are no longer at the peak of their musical career, each member has branched out to doing various solo activities such as acting and emceeing, and their legacy of cementing the Hallyu wave will remain. 

Catch Super Junior: The Last Man Standing exclusively on Disney+