In the recent wake of political discourse, Justin Chon writes, directs and stars in his new feature, Blue Bayou that covers an overlooked problem that is the unfair treatment of immigrant adoptees and the flawed immigration system. The film follows Antonio, a Korean adoptee who is married to Kathy and slowly becoming a father to his step daughter, Jessie. But money is tight and Antonio is trying his best to maintain it all, but with his troubled past and lack of citizenship, he now faces potential deportation and the risk of separating from his family forever.
Taking on heavy subjects can be extremely challenging, and touching on the immigration system can be handled tastelessly but Justin Chon, director of (2017) Gook, (2019) Ms. Purple and starring in small roles such as in the critically unsung franchise Twilight walks the line wonderfully in Blue Bayou. Showcasing his writing skills, Chon writes with immense care, taking his time to introduce characters and create natural moments in order to produce a believable family during a time of hardship. These character moments would not thrive the way that they do if not for the absolutely sublime performances given throughout the entire film, and with a cast putting in their all, it pays off in such a beautiful way. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, and The Green Knight) plays Kathy, a mom looking to keep her family’s life stable and together, delivers a raw performance and never lets up for a second. Vikander is a natural actor, and coupled with Justin Chon’s execution of his role, the two talented individuals carry scenes and create a convincing bond between each other. The cast flowed together very well and even Sydney Kowalske, playing Antonio’s stepdaughter Jessie was a great choice, and her talent matches well with Vikander and Chon.
And the cinematography harmonizes with the performances as well, shot on 16mm, long and continuous takes are featured. During intense conflicts, the direction of the camera almost never cuts in order to display raw emotion and incredible talent. The poignant camera work compliments the story, with low hanging shots displaying regret, or panning from character to character to convey a sense of anxiety to slowly build up needed tension in some scenes. Its stunning camera work that’s able to capture what words sometimes cannot, raw human emotion. Combining the cinematography made possible by Matthew Chuang and Ante Cheng with the composed music from Roger Seun sway together gracefully.
Although filled to the brim with numerous elements, there still are a couple glaring flaws such as some character writing from the ensemble. There is one particular character who seems to be written in just as a way to kick our protagonist when he’s down, and given no depth whatsoever. It seems Chon wanted a face to go with an antagonist but it comes off as more of a distraction from the main conflict the story sets up from the beginning, slowing down progress. An antagonist does not always need a face, and in this case, the antagonist is the government itself which is all that is needed. Weird writing decisions are somewhat scattered throughout this film, featuring unessential scenes and characters that provide nothing to the soul of the film and much of what it does slows down the pacing of film.
There are small missteps like those here and there but you’ll find yourself forgiving the film as the main elements thrive, and take you for an emotionally downsloping story. Melodramatic moments appear but it serves the storytelling well, and as the film builds its relationships, you will feel completely attached to this struggling family desperately looking to stay together. It does a fantastic job at developing Antonio and his relationship with Jessie, incorporating seemingly improvised moments, seeing how exceptionally natural each moment they have together is. Chon shows he’s a talented writer with a potentially big future.
Blue Bayou is not afraid to pull on heartstrings, or tell a story about one of America’s biggest villains. It’s a film that sometimes loses its footing but regains focus, with an explosive climax that’ll be sure to convince you of Justin Chons talent as a writer and director. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a heavy hitting film with realistic performances. An artsy and benevolent story, for those looking for an eye-opening and quaint film.