“Our Twisted Hero” is a terrific movie with perhaps the worst subtitles of all modern cinema. It’s perplexing why the producers/distributors did such a shoddy job with the translation, as such a ridiculously poor effort would seem to indicate an attempt at self-sabotage. We’re not talking about a movie made in the dark ages of cinema here, but rather a movie produced in 1992 in a country with plenty of English translators. So why wasn’t the effort made to make better subtitles? It boggles the mind.
But I digress.
Despite the awful subtitles, “Our Twisted Hero” remains a powerful film, one that uses a school classroom in rural South Korea as an allegory for democratic changes taking place in South Korea during the movie’s setting — the 1960s. The movie concerns Han, a 6th grader from Seoul who is transplanted to the countryside when his father, a government official, is demoted. In this new environment, the formerly active and thriving Han discovers that he’s no longer popular, and worst, he’s in a classroom dominated by one student — the 15-year old Um, who treats the class like his own personal domain.
“Our Twisted Hero” serves both as a familiar coming of age tale and an allegory for South Korea’s burgeoning democracy. The character of Han immediately rebels against Um’s authority in various ways, but eventually realizes that he has neither the will nor the skills to challenge Um’s rule, and eventually gives in. Han becomes a conformist in order to survive, because fighting has not yielded results, just punishment. Taken in parallel with the politics of the time, Han is the embodiment of the student democracy movement attempting to break the stranglehold on the country by its military rulers.
Like most South Korean films that make allegories to the student movement that would eventually lead to the fall of tyrannical rule in the country, “Our Twisted Hero” has little use for subtlety. I guess when you’ve been pushed down for so long, trusting the audience to “see” what you’re trying to get at is not worth the risk.
“Our Twisted Hero” is nevertheless an interesting film, with fine performances by all the young actors. It’s never completely morbid, and never really depressing, and the ending leaves open questions, but the film’s intent is never in doubt. Although to be honest how the film ends isn’t really a concern, because it’s everything that’s come before that matters.
Chong-won Park (director) / Mun-yeol Lee (screenplay)