One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking films we’ve seen this year has to be ‘Blue Bayou,’ a Cannes Film Festival selection from director Justin Chon, who also stars as in the lead role of Antonio Leblanc.
We spoke to Chon the week of the film’s release and he spoke about how he learned about the horrifying issue of legal international adoptees being deported BACK to the native lands they’d never known.
“I started working on this film five years ago,” Chon told Global Grind. “I have a lot of adopted friends. A lot of people don’t know that the idea of international adoption came from South Korea. After the Korean war, there was this family, the Holt family, who would find children on the streets and place them with nice Christian families and over the years it’s become a big business so there’s a lot of Korean-American adoptees so I know a lot. I started hearing through the community that this issue was happening a lot. Adoptees who were brought here as children were now being deported as adults, which makes zero sense.”
“It’s absolutely shocking and unjust,” Chon continued. “The government allowed them to be legally brought here and adopted. No loophole and paperwork should allow them to get kicked out of this country. That’s the issue at hand. It’s not just Koreans, it’s any international adoptions so if you’re adopted from South America, Africa, Russia, if you’re adopted before 2000, this could affect you.”
We asked Chon about doing triple duty as director, writer and lead actor and he admitted it wasn’t part of the initial plan but that eventually, it was what made the most sense.
“It wasn’t my intention to write it for me to act in it,” Chon told Global Grind. “I just knew it was going to be quite a heavy film. As I was writing it I was like ‘Whew this is a tough role.’ The thing is, I’m not adopted, I don’t know what it feels like to be adopted but over the course of the five years that it took to get it made, I kept writing and working with it and it became more personal to me. It’s not my experience but I felt a connection. In a best-case scenario, this film makes change. Maybe the right person sees it and something can come of it even in terms of legislation. It’s hard to ask an actor to continue to stay involved after a film is released. I’m willing to take on that responsibility, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission so that’s a big reason, but also I just wanted to make sure I did the adoptee experience justice and I could do right by them in representing their story.”
In addition to telling the story of Antonio LeBlanc, ‘Blue Bayou’ also offers a look at the life of Antonio’s mother back in South Korea right after his birth. The story also shares a look at Antonio’s newfound friendship with a Vietnamese woman named Parker Nguyen. We asked Justin Chon about his decision to give audiences multiple Asian experiences in one film.
“I think a lot of times when we talk about ethnic films, they can only be Korean or it’s just Chinese or it’s just Honduran or just Chicano,” Chon told Global Grind. “You rarely see a mix and that’s something I try to do in all my films. For ‘Gook’ I feel it was just as much an African-American story as it was a Korean-American story. In ‘Ms. Purple,’ there’s a whole Chicano element, she goes into that world and the film ends at a quinceañera. I’m just trying to showcase how we can co-exist in this freakin’ country.”
“With that, I rarely see two Asian ethnicities in a film, and why not? I feel there’s a lot to learn and a lot to commiserate and also relate to each with about our similarities and differences. For Antonio, it’s like a glimpse into what his life could be like through an adjacent Asian culture. It doesn’t have to be so obvious where he meets a Korean girl, that would be such a no-brainer. It just gives another layer of understanding to it when it’s another Asian background that has also been through a war and communism, and has had to pick themselves up. That’s something I really wanted to do.”
So much of the film is about Antonio’s home in New Orleans, a place that Chon also revealed is quite special to him.
“I love Louisiana,” Chon told Global Grind. “I love everything about it. I almost married a girl from Louisiana. Part of my heart will always be there. It’s like no other place in the United States. It’s diverse in a different way than New York and L.A. are. It’s resilient — they go through so much and are somehow able to keep this spirit and carry on and still stay beautiful souls and I felt that represented who Antonio was. Rough around the edges, and still trying to make ends meet and still have some positive outlook. Also if we’re talking about the ethnic part of it, there’s a huge Vietnamese enclave in New Orleans and we tried to shoot in all of those places, New Orleans East, the West Bank. This story is not about that other part of New Orleans on the other side of the river on Magazine Street or Bourbon, it’s about, in my feelings that other, real-life New Orleans. I love that place. Also, when have you seen an Asian-American have a Louisianan accent in a film?”
You can watch the full interview below: