'Blue Bayou' Exposes the Cruelty of American Deportation Law Directed by Justin Chon
Starring Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O'Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske
Published Sep 21, 2021In the last 4 years, director and writer Justin Chon has created films that shine a spotlight on the darker, grittier side of the Asian-American experience. His stunning 2017 film Gook told the story of the 1992 Los Angeles riots through the eyes of Korean-American shopkeepers; in Ms. Purple, he brought to light the harsh reality karaoke hostesses face. And his latest film, Blue Bayou, tackles the impact of an American legislation, Child Citizenship Act of 2000, on adoptees.
The Child Citizenship Act created a loophole making Americans who were adopted into the country as children vulnerable to deportation. Chon plays Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean-American who was adopted by an American couple as a baby in the 1980s. After an altercation with the police, Antonio finds himself facing deportation because his adopted parents failed to file the appropriate paperwork pursuant to the new legislation. Blue Bayou follows Antonio's fight and its impact on his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske).
Newcomer Kowalske does an excellent job as young Jesse, playing up her wide-eyed innocence well. She's impressive in the deeply emotional climax and has a wonderful chemistry with Chon in particular. Canadian Mark O'Brien stars as Kathy's former partner and Jesse's father. O'Brien is afforded the richest character arc and he turns in a solid performance that induces simultaneous sympathy and anger.
Chon shoots the film guerilla-style to heighten the anxiety-inducing tone, balancing these scenes with the calming landscape of Louisiana. And as with Gook and Ms. Purple, Chon delivers a raw and visceral world for audiences to live in. However, Blue Bayou could have benefitted from a shortened cut, and there are moments when the film's drama becomes a bit heavy handed. The "I choose you" exchange is particularly cloying and takes away from an otherwise very touching moment. But these faults can be easily overlooked in favour of a gripping and heartbreaking story.
The film's epilogue shows real-life cases of people adopted into the US as children who have been deported or are facing deportation. The year that they entered the States is included, some dating all the way back to the 1960s, emphasizing how unjust and inhumane the Child Citizenship Act is.
Blue Bayou is moving, poignant and brings awareness to an issue that many may not know of, and the true beauty of the film is the voice it gives to a group held hostage by a senseless piece of law. Blue Bayou is an important film to watch — if not for some great performances, then to educate yourself on an unfair reality many currently face. (Deep Focus)