Gran Torino


BF and I watched this one this week. Clint Eastwood stars (and directs) as Walter Kowalski, a rather acrid Korea veteran who develops a relationship with his neighbours, a family of Hmong immigrants (the Hmong are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia, present notably in Vietnam). He takes the son of the family, Thao, under his wing, and tries to protect them from the depredation of a local gang.

The first two thirds of this are rather good: Walter is a pretty unpleasant character, bitter and casually racist, and the movie depicts rather well the culture clashes that follow as he attempts to cohabit with his neighbours. There’s some nice set pieces, with everyone acting pretty well, and you learn to know both Walt and the Asian family next door.

Where the movie falls apart, though, is in the last third. The “war” with the gangs comes to a head when Thao’s sister Sue (who initially introduced him to the family) is beaten up and raped on her way home, and things go downhill there. Walter concocts a weird revenge plan which basically amounts to getting killed in front of witnesses so the gang can be arrested by the police. What’s really annoying about that is that the movie seems to take it as a given that the police won’t arrest anyone unless a white veteran gets killed. By doing so, it dismisses Sue’s testimony as basically worthless, which is bewilderingly racist or misogynistic, or both. I know accusations of rape are a bit iffy sometimes, but when the victim has been beaten black-and-blue beforehand, I don’t think there should be much of a problem as to material evidence.
And, to cap it all, the last shot of the movie is Thao driving the titutar car along a stretch of beach–without his sister or his girlfriend–giving the viewers a very clear message as to what this movie really is: it’s about Man with a capital M, and virility and general chest-thumping, gorilla-style. The women are just accessories no one gives a darn about. They exist to be protected, to cook and to chatter in the kitchen, to be sisters and girlfriends and facilitators–and to be raped, when the script requires it. Even before the rape, Sue had completely vanished: as soon as she had performed her designated role of introducing Thao to Walter, she becomes insignificant, part of the background–and the rape is just the confirmation of that.

I’m sorry, are we in the 21st Century, or is this still the Wild West?


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