Clint Eastwood, who looked at one of the most famous battles of World War II through the eyes of doomed Japanese soldiers in the 2006 film, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” is now lookng at Asian Americans and racism in an upcoming movie, “Gran Torino.”
Eastwood plays a racist Korean War veteran and retired Ford factory employee, Walt Kowalski, who’s been beaten down by life. The only two steadfast things in his life are his 1972 Gran Torino, an artifact from the glory days of Ford muscle, and his M-1 rifle, an artifact from the glory days of American muscle. Everything else around him is going to hell: his wife has recently died, he’s estranged from his grown kids, and to his dismay, his rundown neighborhood is becoming over-run by Asians.
The incoming foreigners are Hmong, not Korean. Eastwood’s character gets to know the Hmong family that moves in next door after their 16-year-old son tries to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. Predictably, Eastwood at first hates them but then grows close, and protects them against the gang.
The movie’s trailer shows some typical interactions between a cranky white man and black neighborhood punks and scary-looking Asian gang members. Knowing Eastwood, I bet the plot is more complicated than the predictable scenes in the trailer, though.
This is the first time a Hollywood movie has taken a deep dive into the Hmong community, so it’s an opportunity to teach Americans about their history and culture, and of the AAPI culture of second generation Hmong Americans.
Besides Eastwood, the movie stars a group of first-time actors, most if not all Hmong (no hiring of non-ethnically accurate actors just for the right “talent” or “star power” a la “Memoirs of a Geisha”), and the casting was featured in a series of interviews in a Hmong news site, Suab Hmong Radio: