It’s a nightmare every undocumented citizen dreads. Being found out and asked to vacate a country you have called home. In some instances being sent back to one’s origin country can have dire consequences – even death. But what happens when you have been living your life for decades believed to be a citizen only to find out you are indeed one of the undocumented.
New Orleans tattoo artist Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon) is a devoted family man, looking to build a better life for pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and step-daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). But for an ex-con with a questionable past, opportunities are rough and meaning money is always tight, especially when expecting a brand new baby. If that weren’t enough, Kathy’s ex Ace (Mark O’Brien), a Louisiana cop wants to be re-connected in Jessie’s life after having abandoned her and Kathy.
When a family disagreement in a grocery store results in a confrontation with Ace and his racist partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), Antonio is arrested and taken into custody from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department. Having been brought to America as a Korean-American adoptee, Antonio is faced with deportation from the only country he’s ever known as home. Trapped in a waking nightmare, Antonio and Kathy seek legal assistance only to discover they have little hope of keeping their family together.
Written, directed produced and starring Justin Chon, Blue Bayou is a powerful statement on how flawed the adoption and immigration systems are in America. Chon has been a true champion of telling Asian screen narratives with dignity, heart and honesty. Needless to say, this project is no different and will shatter your heart into pieces.
Roger Suen’s music infused at times with a haunting bass violin places you right into is the pain of Antonio’s flashbacks with a mother who would rather see her child drown than have him suffer. Yet, suffering seems to be a continuous journey ranging from a mother’s eternal love of leaving him to Antonio’s untimely departure from those he loves. One of the most powerful scenes is a shot after driving his motorcycle into a body of water and watching his mother hugging him underwater is heartbreaking under a blue tint.
It’s not lost on me the particular attention paid to how police officers continuously abuse and take advantage of the law for their own selfish agendas regardless of consequences.
Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander are perfectly imperfect while inhabiting these characters with every bit of complexity, fun and miscommunication that comes along with marital life. Chon’s scenes with the young Sydney Kowalske are precious. Their final scene will leave you in a a puddle of tears for sure. However, it’s the moments shared with Vietnamese-American Parker (Linh-Dan Pham), who also struggling to come to terms with a difficult truth that resonates far beyond their dialogue.
Blue Bayou is a refreshingly unique spin on a familiar story that will enlighten, educate and break your heart while watching a final montage of just a few dozens of Asian Americans whose citizenship status is still in limbo. Produced by Focus Features, it opens only in theatres in September 17th.