Director: Justin Chon
Writer: Justin Chon
Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Cutris-Hall, Emory Cohen
There’s a generation of internationally adopted people in America who may not hold citizenship and could face deportation, even if they came to the country when they were very young and have stayed there since. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 attempted to fix this, by granting citizenship to any child who is adopted from overseas. This didn’t cover adoptees who had already turned 18 at the time the law was passed and there are still adoptees in America today who may not even realise they don’t hold citizenship.
Writer and director Justin Chon explores this loophole in the law and the horrific situations it has caused in his latest film, Blue Bayou. After the films initial release back in September it was met with a polarised response from the adoptee community in America. The story closely resembles that of Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee who was deported in 2016. At one point Chon reached out to Crapser, but they didn’t communicate properly, and Crapser has criticised the film for profiteering from his story. It’s caused controversy that have overshadowed the film. Chon has responded by saying that the story isn’t based on any one individual and that he worked with several adoptees to create an authentic story. It’s a messy story that mists up a powerful story and one that will hopefully bring a lot more attention to the importance of the actual situation.
Justin Chon stars as Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean adoptee who is struggling to make enough money to support his family and has another child on the way. His wife’s ex, Ace (Mark O’Brien), is causing issues, trying to see his daughter, thinking that Antonio is getting in the way. After an altercation between Antonio, Ace and Ace’s police partner in a store, Antonio is facing deportation back to Korea despite having lived in the country for over thirty years, since his adoptive parents didn’t register his citizenship.
Blue Bayou is not subtle in its message. Straight from the opening scene where Antonio is in a job interview and his heritage and run in with the law become a sticking point instantly, right through to the callous bureaucracy that he faces when trying to appeal his deportation. Antonio is an incredibly unlucky person whose entire life has been drenched in horrific events. The family that adopted him when he was barely a toddler, abandoned him six months later, leaving him to move from foster home to foster home, until a family take him in only to abuse him. He’s had run ins with the law, when he was younger stealing bikes, and can’t put the mistake behind him. His mother-in-law clearly doesn’t like him and doesn’t shy away from showing it. The cards are stacked up against him.
The film is designed to pull at your emotions. Justin Chon has brilliantly crafted, through a production of over four years, a story that will hopefully bring awareness to a massive injustice in America. It’s a heart-breaking story and while it does go to any length necessary to get an emotional reaction from the audience, it doesn’t feel overbaked. Mainly because the central family drama between Antonio, his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske). Their story is emotional, and it does really hit you.
There’s a scene early on, before things really get going, where Jesse and Antonio spend a day together, with Jesse skipping school. She’s worried that Antonio won’t love her as much now that he has a real daughter on the way, he responds by taking her on a day out bonding and showing her his secret spot that he loves so much. It’s a really touching sequence, where Chon and Kowalske really shine. Their relationship is the heart and soul of the film.
Blue Bayou does feel contrived at points, and the real-life controversy is very conflicting, but the story still resonates when you watch it. It’s a powerful and heart-wrenching story that really hits. It doesn’t shy away from being brutal right up to incredibly heart-breaking ending. It hits your emotional heart like a truck and then as the film ends, shows you pictures and facts about the adoptees that inspired the story and helped Chon while he was developing the script and final film. The ending is emotionally powerful and leaves you really feeling the weight of the reality for so many people. It’s an important topic and the film will hopefully help provide attention to it.
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