Blue Bayou (2021)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Justin Chon
Run Time
1 hour and 52 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.” But they refused to hearken, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears that they might not hear.

Zechariah 7:9-11
Kathy, Jessie & Antonio are looking forward to a baby. (c) Focus Features

Actor/director Justin Chon throws light on a little-known aspect of ICE and its ruthless practice of deportation in this highly dramatic story set around and in a bayou near New Orleans. Those concerned for justice will take to it and the cause of righting the hurtful policy of our overly zealous Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. But be for warned—have on hand a handkerchief for the emotionally wrought ending!

The story begins with Antonio LeBlanc (Chon) sitting across from an unsympathetic job interviewer as he tries to convince him that his skills as a motorcycle mechanic will benefit the man’s shop. Antonio’s main job as a tattoo artist is not bringing in enough to support his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske). Unfortunately, Antonio has a criminal record—he has been convicted twice for stealing motorcycles. The interviewer’s racism also is apparent when he asks him where he “is really from.” Antonio was born in Korea but adopted when he was three years old and brought to America. Thus, the theme of where a person belongs is introduced, with the rejection of those deemed different being a counterpoint. Antonio is the only father little Jessica has known because her birth father Ace (Mark O’Brien), a New Orleans policeman, had abandoned the mother and daughter.

The crisis in Antonio’s life is triggered when Ace’s racist partner Denny (Emory Cohen) unjustly abuses and arrests Antonio while the latter and his wife are in a grocery store. His past arrests are brought up, and this draws the interest of ICE. Although Antonio has lived in this country for thirty years, it is discovered that his foster mother, who had given him over to the foster care system, had not completely filled out the naturalization papers. The ICE has been using this loophole to deport thousands of foreign-born Americans, and it intends to do so with him, the couple learn when they visit an immigration lawyer Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall. He solemnly tells them that Antonio has the right to appeal his deportation, but if he fails, he will forever be banned from the country.

The ensuring events highlight not only the injustice of our government’s current treatment of the foreign born, what the Scriptures call “the sojourner,” but also the coming to an awareness of one’s ancestral culture. The latter theme is played out in Antonio’s relationship with a cancer patient he meets at the hospital where his new daughter is born. Parker Nguyen (Linh-Dan Pham) is an older Vietnamese American woman who befriends Antonio and invites him to a family party. Antonio meets Parker’s father, who says, ““Vietnam and Korea have a lot in common. We’ve both had wars. We have a lot of sad stories. But we’re here.” But there are differences—Asia is not one mega culture—as we see when a girl shows Antonio how to make a Vietnamese spring roll. Later as Parker and Antonio sit on a dock at nightfall, she remarks that the fleur-de-lis, which he had tattooed on her arm, is popular in both Vietnam and New Orleans. She loves the flower because “water lilies look like they have no roots, but they do.” Antonio’s Asian heritage is hinted at in the very opening shot of a bayou—the flowering trees have pinkish blossoms, giving it the appearance of a Japanese or Chinese painting.

The plot becomes complicated with Antonio raising money for the lawyer’s five thousand dollar retainer by dangerous, illegal means, and Kathy becoming so upset by his failure to be open with her and tell her that his foster mother is still alive that she leaves him and returns to the mother who has been so disapproving of her miscegenation marriage that she never says one word to her son-in-law. There is a beating by a racist cop which prevents Antonio from attending the hearing of the judge in his case, the possibility of suicide, and more.

A series of end notes summarize the real-life cases of other adopted unnaturalized immigrants either facing deportation or have been deported are shown, along with the estimates of immigrants who face similar circumstances by the Adoptee Rights Campaign. This film will linger in your memory for a long time, maybe even lead you to find out more about a great injustice.

This review will be in the October issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


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