As a second-generation Australian, despite growing up with a slight disconnect from my mixed ethnicity, with internal struggles between Eastern and Western influences, and still feeling a bit sad that I can only speak English, I am very grateful that my Filipina mother and my Malaysian-Chinese father decided to immigrate to Australia. After watching Blue Bayou, I understand that not everyone has been so lucky.
Written, directed, co-produced, and starring Justin Chon in the leading role as Antonio LeBlanc, Blue Bayou tells the story of a Korean adoptee raised in a small town in the ‘bayou’ state of Louisiana, USA. Married to a Caucasian American woman, Antonio has his stepdaughter to take care of, as well as a baby on the way. Antonio has a job as a tattoo artist, but it is not enough to sustain his family and sadly due to his criminal record, he is unable to find any additional employment that will help him financially.
Justin Chon gives the performance of his life as Antonio. Chon’s portrayal of Antonio is so selfless, thoughtful, and powerful, you forget he’s also calling the shots as both the director and writer of the film. Chon’s phenomenal portrayal is accompanied by the solid performances of Alicia Vikander and Sydney Kowalske as Antonio’s wife and stepdaughter, Kathy, and Jessie. The emotional exchange between the three always feels real, raw, and their scenes, no matter the mood, effortlessly manages to tug violently at the heartstrings.
Linh Dan Pham is also captivating as Antonio’s unlikely friend, Parker. When Antonio is seen struggling with being around Parker’s family and friends on-screen, I felt I really could relate to his emotions of feeling out place. It reminded me of my many years in high school, growing up surrounded by Asian classmates who weren’t born in Australia, and the Caucasian classmates who were, but looked nothing like me.
Blue Bayou is also visually appealing with its beautiful cinematography by Matthew Chuang and Ante Chen. The film is so stunning, that together married with its moving story, left me in awe so much, to the point I found myself several times holding my breath.
Despite Blue Bayou being a clever, emotionally engaging, and gut-wrenching tale, the bigger story is the truth that the film is based on, highlighting the ugliness of the United States’ unjust and heartless immigration system. I hope that not only does Blue Bayou receive the recognition and accolades it so rightfully deserves, but that the political statements of the film help make some noise in America. It is clear there is a lot that needs to change and it hurts knowing that the film is inspired by true stories and real heartache.
Blue Bayou left me sobbing. I loved this film and despite my heart feeling like it was ripped out of my chest, I would see it again in a heartbeat. Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou is a masterpiece and is by far one of the best films of 2021.