How to Steal a Dog

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
How to Steal a Dog Movie Poster Image
Family comedy explores mature themes, homelessness.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 109 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Hardship can cause people to do bad things. Home can be wherever you park yourself. Sometimes good people are unlucky and bad things can happen to them. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A homeless girl steals a dog for a reward, then returns it. She later admits her wrong-doing and says she is sorry. An overwhelmed single woman struggles to raise her two children without a place to live. A girl lies to save face.

Violence & Scariness

A homeless young girl who wants to raise money to buy a house steals the dog of a rich person for a reward. A police car chases a motorcycle driver through city streets, endangering pedestrians. Kids ask a man if he ate a dog. Motivated by a desire for money, a man plots to euthanize a dog.

Sexy Stuff

"Up yours," "damn," "heck."


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that How to Steal a Dog is a 2014 film that features an 8-year-old narrator who lives in a van with her hapless mother and younger brother. Although played mostly for comedy, many difficult issues are raised. The sadness and embarrassment of homelessness, the stress poverty puts on families, and the difficulty kids face when abandoned by a parent are among them. A homeless young girl who wants to raise money to buy a house steals the dog of a rich person for a reward. Kids ask a man if he ate a dog. Motivated by a desire for money, a man plots to euthanize a dog. Language includes "up yours," "damn," and "heck." Despite the serious themes and the fact that the movie is in Korean with English subtitles, kids will be the most appropriate audience but adults will also appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity of the story. This is adapted from Barbara O'Connor's 2007 children's novel.

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What's the story?

HOW TO STEAL A DOG focuses on the troubles of Ji-so (Lee Re), an 8-year-old Korean girl living with her mother and younger brother in a van, waiting for the return of the father who abandoned them. Their desperation and embarrassment prompt Ji-so to come up with elaborate plans to raise money sufficient to buy a home. She settles on stealing a rich person's dog for a reward. She, a classmate, and her brother Ji-suk (Hong Eun-taek) target the dog of a fancy restaurant owner (Kim Hye-ja), an older woman who also has suffered a loss. A subplot involves real estate fraud and a greedy nephew hanging around to inherit from his unsuspecting aunt. Ji-so nabs the restaurant owner's dog and stashes it in an alley, where a cheerful homeless man with only three fingers on one hand befriends her and suggests that homelessness can also represent a kind of freedom from social expectations. Repeating humiliations pile on each other. At one point the mom pretends she's been given a rundown, cob-webbed place to stay for a month by an old friend who is away. When she and the kids return to the home the next day, the place has been locked by the landlord, who has left signs to discourage squatters and trespassers. All the subplots merge as the nephew's scheming is exposed and the girl's conscience presses her to return the dog and confess her crime to the owner. The mom starts her own business and the kids do their best to support her and make peace with the absence of their father.   

Is it any good?

This is a family movie that aspires to instill in kids empathy for those who struggle with hardships. Ji-so observes that people with homes probably don't appreciate how great it is to simply have a place to sleep at night. Kids are presented as observant and perceptive beings who may struggle to understand all things Grown Up, but they manage to comprehend certain universal truths about the difference between right and wrong and the importance of family. Lee Re and Hong Eun-suk are adorable as the homeless siblings and their sincerity and commitment carry the movie.  Director Kim Sung-ho handles comedy and pathos equally well and intermingles them seamlessly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how difficult homelessness can be on children. Do you think kids in the girl's class would have made fun of her in How to Steal a Dog had they known she was homeless? Is that why she kept her situation a secret?

  • Someone observes that hardship can cause people to do bad things. Do you think that what the girl did was forgivable given her circumstances? Why or why not?

  • Do you think people who are homeless have done something wrong to get that way, or do you think it's possible that they were just unlucky?

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