Gran Torino

Gran Torino Study Guide

Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (2008) is a drama film about Walt Kowalski, a widowed Korean War veteran who becomes an unlikely hero to his Hmong-American neighbors.

Set in Highland Park, Michigan, the film depicts the traumatized veteran and former autoworker's estrangement from his family and his changing neighborhood. When Walt's neighbor Thao becomes the victim of gang intimidation, Walt steps in to clear the gang from his lawn. Although initially reluctant to accept the gifts of food and plants the Hmong community lavishes on him, Walt develops a fondness for Thao and his sister Sue. But when Walt violently threatens the Hmong gangsters to leave his neighbors alone, the thugs retaliate by raping Sue and drive-by shooting Walt's neighbors' house. To atone for his mistake and protect Sue and Thao, Walt fools the gangsters into shooting him on their lawn when he is actually unarmed. In doing so, Walt ensures the gangsters will go to prison and be taken off the streets. In his will, Walt leaves Thao his prized possession: a mint-condition 1972 Ford Gran Torino.

Exploring themes of deindustrialization, racism, violence, masculinity, and hubris, Gran Torino was the first mainstream American film to prominently feature Hmong-American characters. Eastwood has been praised for casting actual Hmong Americans instead of filling the roles with Asian actors of different ethnic backgrounds. The film has also been the subject of criticism from members of the Hmong American community for cultural inaccuracies and exaggerations. Bee Vang, who played Thao, has been an outspoken critic of the film's near-constant use of anti-Asian slurs, among other culturally insensitive aspects.

When it was released, Gran Torino was a critical and financial success, grossing $270 million at the box office.