Justin Chon’s performance swims, while his direction sinks in the bayou.
“Blue Bayou,” written and directed by and starring Justin Chon, has a wise concept regarding an Asian character raised in America and threatened with deportation. The trailers and poster make it look and feel promising, and I was really looking forward to it the moment we get to that point in the story.
But the problem with the overall film is it lacks direction. There are situations regarding the main protagonist forced to go back to his way to make money and trying to overcome his past, but they’re not handled in the most interfering ways. You’re able to see the empathy in a few of the characters, portrayed very well, but they need structure within themselves.
Chon plays Antonio, an ex-con, a tattoo artist, and a Korean immigrant raised in New Orleans by his adoptive white family (Susan McPhail as his foster mother). As an adult, he has an American wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander), her little girl Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), and a new baby on the way. Because of his criminal record, however, he has trouble finding another job. To make matters worse, he ends up in trouble with Kathy’s cop ex (Mark O’Brien) and his racist partner (Emory Cohen), and threatened with deportation.
Antonio was taken to America by his parents, and he may have been adopted and lived here for 30 years, but they still don’t make him an American citizen. Their lawyer (Vondie Curtis-Hall) gives him the option of deporting voluntarily or going to appeal in court. Either way, he refuses to leave his family, which is why he has to bend a few rules in order to pay to open the case.
On the side, Antonio befriends a Vietnamese refugee named Parker (Linh Dan Pham), who is dying of cancer, while Kathy has to deal with her ex, who is trying to see his daughter. The former asks Antonio to give her tattoos every time they cross each other’s paths, while the latter threatens to file for custody of his little girl if he gets deported.
Chon does a good job in front of the camera when he portrays an immigrant adapting to life in the bayou, and trying to make things right for his character’a family. And I admired the supporting performances from Vikander, who’s has spirit, and Pham, who has her perspectives of life. As the writer/director of “Blue Bayou,” he does photograph scenes very well with some motorcycle rides (because Antonio is a motorcyclist) and his character’s arrest, but he lacks the depth and nature of what sounds like a riveting and emotionally complex story.
At times, it is emotional, at times, it lags, and at other times, it deals with Asian racism. The movie also shows us a scene when Antonio gets beaten by the racist cop and his boys. You’ve heard the little saying “Stop Asian Hate,” well, it’s true. The movie should have given us the kind challenges that “Loving” had with the real story of the white man marrying his African-American wife in the 50s. I’m not a racist, so I disapprove of what’s going on in our world.
Half of “Blue Bayou” has its truth and heart, but the other half has its downsides, and it’s a mixed bag for me.