Our Twisted Hero Essay Examples

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Our Twisted Hero

Yi Munyol

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  • Korean title: 우리들의 일그러진 영웅
  • Translated by Kevin O'Rourke
  • Winner of the Yi sang Award

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine novella about the vicissitudes and complexities of youth, and the ease and dangers of succumbing to those that wield power

See our review for fuller assessment.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yi Munyol gelingt es, so differenziert und spannungsvoll aus der Sicht seiner Schülergestalten zu erzählen, dass statt eines platten politischen Lehrstücks ein passagenweise atemberaubendes Psychogramm entsteht." - Ludger Lütkehaus, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "In Our Twisted Hero, Yi's warnings center on the South's abuse of power and its need to preserve an image of contrast to the North. Yi's tale about a school that seems to be in order even though its own students and faculty know better is really about how sometimes, in the quest to keep totalitarianism at bay, democracy itself may be trampled and perverted." - Achy Obejas, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Our Twisted Hero is a short novella about schoolboy life in South Korea. The narrator, young Han Pyongt'ae, transfers from his prestigious Seoul elementary school to a provincial one after his father comes out on the losing end of an office dispute.
       Han Pyongt'ae is twelve at the time. He expects to excel at his new school, since he was already a star pupil at his far more rigorous big-city school. And he expects his new classmates to be impressed -- or at least interested in -- his big-city credentials. Instead, Han Pyongt'ae finds his class singularly unimpressed. Dominated by a single figure, the class monitor Om Sokdae, no one dares to show much interest in the newcomer.
       Older and bigger than the other students, Om Sokdae exerts complete control over the class, wielding more power than the teacher. He is not, however, your usual bully. Brute force rarely plays a role. He wields his power more carefully, and more insidiously. Han Pyongt'ae refuses to toe the line, and finds that such opposition comes at a high cost. Om Sokdae does practically nothing outright against Han Pyongt'ae, and still he manages to cause him much grief. Han Pyongt'ae's grades tumble and he constantly gets in trouble. Han Pyongt'ae is sure that Om Sokdae is behind it, but there is no direct proof.
       Eventually Han Pyongt'ae gives in, joining the rest of the class in acting for and on behalf of Om Sokdae. Life becomes easier and more pleasant. Submission pays.
       But Om Sokdae has a weak point. Han Pyongt'ae chooses not to exploit it when he discovers it, but it is eventually revealed and the tables are dramatically turned. Han Pyongt'ae remains ambivalent. Life goes on.
       Our Twisted Hero is, of course, more a political allegory than a tale of school-boy life, but it is successful as both. Yi Munyol describes school life with all its juvenile tribulations, concerns, fears, and obeisance very well. South Korean schools differ markedly from Western ones (notably in regard to official class hierarchies, student powers (and responsibilities), and, of course, the role of class monitors), but Yi conveys this clearly enough to make it readily understood. The same story could not happen here exactly as it happens in the book -- but, in the Lord of the Flies' sense, it could, of course, happen anywhere.
       The cult of personality that develops around Om Sokdae could almost be called unremarkable. He is a natural leader, and he has certain advantages -- notably because he is older and bigger than his classmates -- but he wields his power very carefully. The character and his actions are, on a different scale, exactly what one expects in descriptions of totalitarian dictators. And this must have been all the more obvious in Korea, where many also followed charismatic political (and religious) leaders, to the detriment of themselves and their country.
       Life under Om Sokdae is not hellish. It is, in fact, fairly pleasant. It is predictable. The cost, at least for Han Pyongt'ae, is not high. And so the book raises difficult questions: when to stand up and how to stand up to such forces. The answers are clear, but, as Yi shows, not easy.

       Nicely written, well presented. A strong little book, certainly recommended.

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Our Twisted Hero: Reviews: Other books by Yi Munyol under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Amélie Nothomb's Loving Sabotage tells of younger childhood conflicts, in a different totalitarian atmosphere
  • See Index of Korean literature

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About the Author:

       (South) Korean author Yi Mun Yol (이문열, Yi Munyol, Yi Mun-yol) was born in 1948. He has won numerous literary prizes, and his work has been translated into several foreign languages.

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© 2001-2015 the complete review

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AuthorYi Munyol
Original title우리들의 일그러진 영웅
CountrySouth Korea
  • World Literature (세계의 문학)
  • Mineumsa (민음사)

Publication date

June 1987
Media typeQuarterly magazine

Our Twisted Hero (Hangul: 우리들의 일그러진 영웅) is a South Korean novel written by Yi Munyol. It was first published by World Literature (세계의 문학) in June 1987. Yi Munyol was awarded the 1987 Yi Sang Literary Award for the novel.[1] This book was a big hit in South Korea and was later made into the 1992 film adaptation, Our Twisted Hero, directed by Park Jong-won.

It was translated into English by Kevin O'Rourke, and published by Hyperion East in 2001.


  • Han Pyongtae - protagonist
  • Om Sokdae - class monitor of the 5th grade
  • 5th grade
  • 6th grade
  • 8th grade teacher
  • Han's Wife


This story is told by a man named Han Byeong-tae (or Pyŏngt'ae), recalling his memories when he was in 5th grade and part of 6th grade.

Due to Byeong-tae's father failing in business, they move to a low town and go to Y Elementary School. There, he meets Eom Seokdae (or Ŏm Sŏkdae), a president of the 5th grade and one who holds everything in his grade, more than his teacher. However, Eom Seokdae forces students with threats and violence to follow him. Byeong-tae fights Soekdae's reign and tries everything in his power to overthrow the bully. However, every single student in their class supports Soekdae. Therefore, everything goes wrong for him; his parents misunderstand him, his grades go down and his power ranking also goes down. Hence he loses, gives up, and gives up under Seokdae's power.

After, Seokdae treats him specially, granting him more power and allowing him to gain popularity. First, he restores Byeong-tae's fighting rank to even higher than before. Second, he makes everyone hang out with Byeong-tae so he is not alone. Byeong-tae also gets his grades back up. At this point, the narrator begins to have mixed feelings for Seokdae, ranging from gratitude to fear. "I was thankful to Seokdae. But when I think it back, those things were the things I had lost to Seokdae. He had just given it back."

But when Byeong-tae goes to 6th grade, Seokdae's power breaks, because the new teacher has sensed the strange distribution of power among the classmates. After Seokdae's cheating and bullying have been outed by the teacher, he leaves school and is never heard from again.

The story turns back to the present. Byeong-tae, now grown up, ends up seeing a familiar man getting dragged down by the police in a station. As the man turns his face, Byeong-tae recognizes the distinctive features as Seokdae.


Han Byeong-tae and Eom Seokdae are the characters' names, and Han fights against om until he is left with nothing. Only then does he fight to get Eom's respect, which takes a very long time. Finally, when om does recognize him even as his right-hand man, a new teacher comes in and sees that Eom Seokdae is oppressing the boys. Only Han doesn't admit to om's wrongdoings, seemingly because he cannot understand giving up the power now that he has compromised all of his original beliefs of freedom.

Han sees Eom arrested for a petty crime by accident. He was not going to see, only musing over what had happened to him. Eom seems unchanged (still controlling people, or at least trying to)

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