Writer/director Justin Chon also stars in his new, timely film BLUE BAYOU. An Asian-American himself, born in Southern California, Chon was struck by articles he had read a few years ago about the plight of adults, particularly of Asian descent, in the U.S. Many who had been adopted as young children, were now being deported because the adults in their lives never petitioned for their citizenship.
Immigration issues have long plagued this country and Chon does a national service by bringing these horrendously unfair practices to the foreground in his story of Antonio Le Blanc, the character he plays in BLUE BAYOU. Antonio was three when he was brought to the U.S. from Korea, and originally adopted in Louisiana. His birth mother (Sage Kim Gray) is shown only in his dreams/flashbacks where she flirts with the idea of drowning her infant but is unable to follow through.
Surviving a series of foster homes, and then an overly abusive adoptive father, Antonio is now married to Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and father to her seven-year-old daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), from a previous marriage. Kathy is pregnant with their child and though money is tight --- Antonio is a tattoo artist in New Orleans --- the three of them are very happy.
The problems of police brutality and their abuse of power also has a part in BLUE BAYOU. Kathy’s ex-husband, Ace (Mark O’Brien), who is Jessie’s dad, is a cop. His partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), is a hothead and dangerous. Following an encounter in a grocery store, Denny arrests Antonio, and manages to get him transported over to I.C.E., which in turn sets him up for deportation.
It’s unfathomable that in 2021 we are still subjecting people to this treatment in the U.S. During Antonio and Kathy’s struggle to attempt to prevent his deportation, they learn from their attorney, Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall), that a bill was passed in 2000, which grants citizenship to children who were adopted. Unfortunately, Antonio arrived in the U.S. in 1991, so even though he’s married to an American citizen, he’s still not considered one.
Family separation is a nasty, dirty crime being perpetrated on individuals of all ethnicities in this country. Chon’s narrative helps bring all these hateful policies to light. Though his screenplay is far from perfect, it does manage to focus on particular issues of which most people in the U.S. are unaware.
Chon and Vikander share a very warm on-screen chemistry. She even does a lovely version of Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou”, hence the film’s title. But it is Kowalske who steals the movie. She was six when she first met with Chon for the role of Jessie, and they spent a lot of time together to achieve that father/daughter bond --- and it shows. They are quite adorable together, which make the final scene all the more believable --- and unbearable.
Scored by composer Roger Suen, BLUE BAYOU’s music is simple, yet beautifully haunting. It adds just the right touch to this important tale of injustice, shame and heartbreak.
Opinion: Wait for VOD
BLUE BAYOU is as pertinent a movie as any film in recent memory. It emphasizes the great injustices this country has inflicted on people brought into the U.S. by adoptive parents who may have not followed the letter of the law or filed the correct paperwork to ensure their adopted children were on the legitimate path to citizenship.
Indeed, during the credits there are real-life examples of director Justin Chon’s character, Antonio Le Blanc, and others who have been deported. BLUE BAYOU suggests that most if not all these cases rest on a technicality and the decision of a court. Whether they are allowed to stay or not --- in many cases after decades of living, working and raising families of their own in the U.S. --- could depend solely on the whim of the judge hearing the case.
Chon’s name is all over this movie. In addition to directing and portraying the male lead, he wrote and produced. Initially he was not going to place himself in the role of Antonio but decided that it was too close to his heart and believed he would be the best choice to do it. His script tells us that Antonio was a mere three-year-old when brought into the U.S. from his native Korea which, of course, heightens his dilemma as a now 37-year-old and faced with forcibly leaving the only country he has ever known.
Swedish international film star Alicia Vikander plays Antonio’s wife Kathy. Making her film debut as their seven-year-old daughter Jessie is Sydney Kowalske. The two ladies render formidable performances, and one of the movie’s great highlights has Vikander singing the Linda Ronstadt favorite, ”Blue Bayou”. It’s a very emotional scene and one that Vikander was extremely nervous to do, but she succeeds beautifully.
Chon’s character has a meaningful relationship with Parker (Linh-Dan Pham), a Vietnamese hospital worker who takes a liking to him. She even submits to getting a tattoo from him. When Antonio is threatened with deportation himself for the reasons mentioned earlier, he realizes he is in a far better situation than his friend Parker who has serious health issues.
BLUE BAYOU also delves into police abuse. Kathy’s ex husband Ace (Mark O’Brien) is mostly estranged from Jessie, creating obvious strife. But Ace is not as bad a guy as we initially perceive. His partner Denny (Emory Cohen) is another story. Denny’s strong-handed tactics arresting Antonio seem a bit over-the-top until one considers recent real-life stories of similar ghastly police behavior.
The final cast member of note is the well-meaning but by-the-book attorney Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Curtis-Hall’s character doesn’t give Antonio and Kathy much hope for overturning the deportation order, but that’s the way he sees it. In a smaller role, Chris Bosarge plays a sympathetic I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent, one of Antonio’s friends who actually tries to help him.
BLUE BAYOU concludes with a heart-rending airport scene that is difficult to fathom for those of us born into privilege. While the subject matter may be unpleasant, the engaging performances, plus the film’s relevance, are more than enough to recommend it.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!