Antonio LeBlanc, as played by Justin Chon is a Korean American who has only ever known life in the Louisiana Bayou. Yet working as a tattoo artist with a second child on the way, there are no second chances or even second incomes for a man already convicted as a motorcycle thief.
So when he’s later framed by a racist policeman, his summary deportation seems unassailable. In fact, as a refugee who was brought to the US long before there were laws to protect his US citizenship, it turns out that Antonio was an easy target waiting to be plucked. So, whilst he can appeal against his deportation, if it fails, he will never be allowed back to America ever again…
Blue Bayou is a slow burner that pulls you apart one piece at a time...
Written and directed by Justin Chon, Blue Bayou is a slow burner that pulls you apart one piece at a time. You see, Antonio is a man who always seems to be caught between two worlds. Whether it be right or wrong or being American yet not American enough for those around him, there’s no shortage of people expecting him to trip or help to do so.
That said, Justin Chon still manages to lace Blue Bayou with an interesting assortment of characters that will subvert your expectations. From the gregarious ICE officer at the tattoo parlour to an enigmatic Vietnamese woman called Parker, everyone holds the key to an unspoken hurt that Antonio can’t let go of. Later, when he is invited by Parker to attend her birthday, he gets blindsided by the cultural shock of seeing of an Asian family – not only living – but seemingly thriving on the American dream. However, not everything is exactly what it seems and the bitterness of a life skewed by bad choices and an even worse childhood threatens both his composure and his fate.
In acting as well as directing Justin Chon finds a strong inner balance for his performance as Antonio. In a story of an ex-con trying to stay on the right path, Alica Vikander soulfully supports him as a wayward, trackside mother and Mark O’Brien as Vikander’s ex does a decent job of an affronted father trying to push his way back into her life. Yet, for me, Linh Dan Pham in her supporting role as Parker steals the film. Drifting in and out of Antonio’s life like a ghost weighed down by a secret she is struggling to share, she is the twin heart of the movie. Add to this an excellent Sydney Kowalske, who as Antonio’s step-daughter Jessie, openly questions whether Antonio’ll still love her when his baby comes, and you have the first of many hammer blows to fall.
In the end, the past and the future collide in a series of revelations and recriminations, where, in a film of increasingly impossible choices, you should be prepared to swallow big, gulping floods of tears.
When it comes, you’ll know that Blue Bayou has properly got its hooks into you.