Who Is Soon-Yi Previn? The True Story Behind Her Controversial Marriage To Woody Allen

Published June 9, 2024

Soon-Yi Previn was 21 years old when she first shared a kiss with filmmaker Woody Allen, who was then 56 and the long-time boyfriend of Soon-Yi's adoptive mother, Mia Farrow.

Soon-Yi Previn

dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock PhotoSoon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in 2016.

When Soon-Yi Previn recounts how she met her husband, she tells the story like any happy wife might. They came together for a movie one night. A passionate discussion turned into a passionate kiss. Soon-Yi was a “goner” and quickly fell in love. But her relationship with her husband, the director Woody Allen and the ex-boyfriend of her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow, would be anything but simple.

Soon after Farrow found out about the relationship — infamously by finding nude photos of Soon-Yi at Allen’s place — their family was torn apart. Soon-Yi claims that Farrow threw her out of their apartment and told a friend that Allen was “satanic.” Worst of all, allegations that Allen had sexually abused the young daughter he had adopted with Farrow came to light.

In the years since, Allen’s oeuvre of films has been put under scrutiny. He’s been “canceled.” Documentaries have come out examining the allegations against him, and his daughter Dylan has unfalteringly maintained that he inappropriately touched her when she was just seven years old.

In all this, Soon-Yi’s story is often skimmed over. In some tellings, she’s a victim. In others, she’s akin to a homewrecker. So, who is she?

This is the true story of Soon-Yi Previn, the wife of Woody Allen.

From South Korea To Surrey, England

Soon-Yi’s birthdate on her adoption forms is listed as Oct. 8, 1970, but very little is known about her early childhood. As Soon-Yi told Vulture in 2018, she ran away from her home in South Korea around the age of five in 1975. She has few memories of her biological family, aside from them being poor.

After living on the streets, the future wife of Woody Allen was put into an orphanage and adopted by the actress Mia Farrow and her then-husband, André Previn, in 1977. Soon-Yi joined an already large family — Previn and Farrow had twin boys Matthew and Sascha in 1970, adopted their daughter Lark in 1973, had their son Fletcher in 1974, and adopted their daughter Daisy that same year.

Mia Farrow In 1980

Public DomainMia Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn’s adoptive mother, in 1980.

The family lived in a beautiful home in Surrey, England, where Soon-Yi and her siblings were entertained by a menagerie of pets. But as Soon-Yi tells it, hers was an unhappy childhood. Soon-Yi told Vulture that Farrow played favorites and could be impatient and demanding. Farrow, for her part, noted in the HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow (2021) that Soon-Yi joined the family at an older age than her other children and “wasn’t ready to bond with me.”

In 1979, Farrow and Previn divorced — and Soon-Yi moved to the United States with her mother, Lark, Fletcher, and Daisy. There, she claims that Farrow’s mistreatment continued. Soon-Yi told Vulture that her adoptive mother saw her as dim-witted, called her “stupid” and “moronic,” and once threw a porcelain rabbit at her, which missed and shattered.

Soon-Yi And Siblings

Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock PhotoSoon-Yi Previn and some of her siblings in 1988.

Then, when Soon-Yi was 10 years old, Mia Farrow introduced the family to her new boyfriend: the comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen.

The Beginning Of Soon-Yi Previn’s Relationship With Woody Allen

Soon-Yi Previn never imagined she would be Woody Allen’s wife. In her telling, she didn’t like Allen at first. She told Vulture that she “hated him” because he was with her mother, and she didn’t understand why anyone would want to be with such “a nasty, mean person.” But she says that Allen didn’t cast much of a shadow over her childhood.

“He was never any kind of father figure to me,” Soon-Yi said in a 1992 statement to Newsweek, shortly after their relationship became public.

She continued: “I never had any dealings with him. He rarely came to our apartment before his own children were born. Even then, he never spoke and the truth is I never cared that much for him. He was always preoccupied with work and never talked to me. Not really to any of us.”

Woody Allen And Diane Keaton

Public DomainWoody Allen and the actress Diane Keaton in 1969.

But things started to shift between them when Soon-Yi broke her ankle while playing soccer in the 11th grade. Soon-Yi’s relationship with her mother had purportedly deteriorated to a point where she didn’t call Farrow for help, but when Allen saw her limping, he insisted that she go to the doctor. Then, when Soon-Yi started using crutches, he offered to take her to school.

In Soon-Yi’s telling, this small act of kindness changed her mind about Allen. And they began to grow closer when they — at Farrow’s suggestion — started to attend Knicks games together.

“I did take her to a game,” Allen wrote in his 2020 autobiography, Apropos of Nothing. “As we chatted at the game, I found that I was enjoying her company more than I should have.”

But things didn’t intensify between them until 1991. That December, around the same time that Allen adopted two children that Farrow had previously adopted, Dylan and Moses, Soon-Yi and Allen met up to watch a movie.

“I screen The Seventh Seal,” Allen wrote in his autobiography. “Bergman’s film ends and we’re alone in my screening room, and quite smoothly, if I do say so myself, I lean in and kiss her.”

Soon-Yi told a similar story to Vulture. “We chatted about [the movie], and I must have been impressive because he kissed me and I think that started it,” she recalled. “We were like two magnets, very attracted to each other.”

Woody Allen With Mia Farrow And Family

HBOWoody Allen, Mia Farrow, and their family. Allen is holding Dylan; Soon-Yi stands next to her mother.

She and Allen maintain that things between Allen and Farrow were all but over at that point; Farrow has long insisted that they were still together. (Farrow also claims in the HBO docuseries that Allen and Soon-Yi’s relationship began while Soon-Yi was still in high school.)

Though neither imagined that their “fling” would last, Soon-Yi knew that Farrow would be outraged if she found out. The affair was “a huge betrayal on both our parts, a terrible thing to do, a terrible shock to inflict on her.”

Then, Farrow did find out.

The Abuse Allegations Against Woody Allen

In January 1992, Mia Farrow went to Woody Allen’s apartment to wait for their son, Satchel (who goes by his middle name, Ronan, today), to finish a psychotherapy appointment. While there, she discovered a number of nude Polaroids that Allen had taken of Soon-Yi Previn.

Soon-Yi And Woody Allen

HBOFrom left to right: Moses Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn, Dylan Farrow, and Woody Allen, in an undated family photo.

Farrow was indeed outraged. In her autobiography, What Falls Away (1997), Farrow writes that she told her children: “An atrocity has been committed against our family.” She also purportedly kicked Soon-Yi out of their Central Park apartment, told Allen that Soon-Yi was suicidal (she wasn’t), and allegedly told Allen’s sister: “He took my daughter, I’m going to take his.”

On Aug. 1, 1992 — as the affair continued — Farrow also called a psychologist who’d been helping the family. She described Allen as “satanic” and “evil” and begged her to “find a way to stop him.”

Then, the story took a sinister turn. Just three days later, on Aug. 4, seven-year-old Dylan Farrow was purportedly molested by Allen at Farrow’s Connecticut home. In an interview with CBS in 2018, Dylan said:

“[Allen] instructed me to lay down on my stomach and play with my brother’s toy train that was set up. And he sat behind me in the doorway, and as I played with the toy train, I was sexually assaulted… As a seven-year-old I would say, I would have said he touched my private parts… As a 32-year-old, he touched my labia and my vulva with his finger.”

Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, however, maintain that Dylan was manipulated into the accusation by her mother.

Dylan Farrow On Cbs

CBSDylan Farrow detailed the allegations against her adoptive father in 2018.

In the aftermath, things between Allen and Farrow swiftly deteriorated. On Aug. 13, Allen sued Farrow for custody of Ronan, Dylan, and Moses Farrow, claiming that they were unsafe in her care and that she would turn the children against him. On Aug. 17, Allen released a statement confirming that the rumors about him and Soon-Yi were “happily all true.” He also said for the first time — publicly or privately — that he loved her.

“I only knew that he loved me when he gave the press conference and said it publicly,” Soon-Yi told Vulture. “Even then, I wasn’t sure if he meant it. We had never said those words to each other.”

That same day, the Connecticut State Police announced that they’d started investigating Dylan Farrow’s allegations against her adoptive father.

In the end, a seven-month investigation cleared Allen, as did a separate investigation by New York State child welfare. However, a judge later found that Allen had been “aggressively affectionate” with Dylan and denied his custody request. Allen’s appeal was also denied.

Meanwhile, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi’s relationship continued. In 1997, Soon-Yi Previn became Woody Allen’s wife. She was 27; he was 62.

Soon-Yi Previn’s Life As Woody Allen’s Wife

Several decades after they first shared a kiss, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi are still together. They have two daughters, Bechet and Manzie, whom they adopted as infants. By most accounts, the family lives a fairly normal life, and Soon-Yi and Allen’s relationship appears strong.

Woody Allen's Wife And Daughters

Kristina Afanasyeva / Alamy Stock PhotoWoody Allen, Soon-Yi, and their daughters at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in 2023.

“[W]e’ve never spent a night apart since we married,” Soon-Yi told Vulture.

That said, they still live their lives under the shadow of Dylan’s accusation. The #MeToo movement demanded a new examination of Allen’s career and personal life, and many of his fans and colleagues distanced themselves from him. As Vulture notes, people also seem unsure what to make of Soon-Yi in light of the accusations — is she a victim or Allen’s accomplice?

Soon-Yi, in the few times she’s spoken publicly, presents herself as neither. Rather, she comes across as Woody Allen’s spouse, partner, and defender.

When HBO released the docuseries Allen v. Farrow in 2021, the couple released a statement calling it a “shoddy hit piece.” And to Vulture, Soon-Yi stated: “What’s happened to Woody is so upsetting, so unjust. [Mia Farrow] has taken advantage of the #MeToo movement and paraded Dylan as a victim. And a whole new generation is hearing about it when they shouldn’t.”

Ultimately, no one can know what happens behind closed doors. Dylan, Mia, and their supporters are sticking to their story; Allen, Soon-Yi, and their supporters are sticking to theirs.

After reading about Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen’s wife and the daughter of his ex-girlfriend, discover the stories behind some of Old Hollywood’s biggest scandals. Or, learn about Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s daughter who killed her mother’s boyfriend.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Who Is Soon-Yi Previn? The True Story Behind Her Controversial Marriage To Woody Allen." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 9, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/soon-yi-previn. Accessed June 22, 2024.