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‘Blue Bayou’ director aims to spotlight US policies on adoptees

“Blue Bayou” director Justin Chon speaks at an online press conference during the 26th Busan International Film Festival on Tuesday. (BIFF)
“Blue Bayou” director Justin Chon speaks at an online press conference during the 26th Busan International Film Festival on Tuesday. (BIFF)
Director Justin Chon says he created his new film, “Blue Bayou,” to bring attention to “unfair” policies regarding adoptees in the US.

“I saw an issue that was happening in the United States that I felt was very unfair,” Chon said at an online press conference held as part of the 26th Busan International Film Festival on Tuesday.

As well as directing, Chon appears in the film as protagonist Antonio LeBlanc, an ethnic Korean adoptee raised in a small town in the Louisiana bayou.

In the film, Antonio, a part-time tattoo artist, is desperate to find a new job that will bring in more money because he is expecting a baby. He is married to the love of his life, Kathy (Alicia Vikander), who is pregnant with their child. Antonio is also the stepdad to their daughter, Jessie. However, because he has two felony convictions, it is not easy for him to find a new job. To make matters worse, he is put in a situation where he could be deported from the only country he has ever called home.

During the press conference, Chon talked in detail about the policies that he thought were unfair, which are also reflected in his new movie.

“The fact is that American citizens would adopt children not just from Korea but all over the world. And for them to be adopted, the government legally allows a child to be brought in. Money is exchanged. I just don’t see how (it is) ethical or humane. And after 20 to 30 years, (the policy) says that you’re not an American because some loophole in paperwork decided that you’re no longer American,” Chon said.

As to why the film spends quite a lot of its running time showing the interaction between Antonio and Vietnamese American Parker Nguyen (Linh Dan Pham), the director explained it was intentional for Asian American representation.

“I think in American cinema, you usually only have one Asian ethnicity. As we saw in films like ‘Minari’ it’s either just Korean American or a Japanese American or Vietnamese American or Chinese American. You never get to see Asian Americans interact with each other on screen,” Chon said. “So that aspect of it came from me watching films and being like ‘Why is that not allowed?’ and ‘Why is that not possible?’”

The setting was also intentionally directed for the same reason, he said.

“Being from Los Angeles in California, I always wondered why we don’t see ourselves represented in all areas of the country. We exist. There are Korean people in New Orleans. There are Korean adoptees in New Orleans and yet why only white people are shown as southerners, people from the South. As an Asian American, I was curious to see that and portrayed that in a way that wasn’t weird,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Chon also expressed respect for Oscar-winning Korean actor Youn Yuh-jung, with whom he worked in “Pachinko,” an upcoming TV series. The production is an adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same title by Korean American author Lee Min-jin. It will be available exclusively via Apple TV+.

“I love Youn Yuh-jung. She is the best,” Chon said. “I think she is a true artist and you can tell that by the way she works. If she feels that something is not right on set she will tell you right away. And I really appreciate that because she is not willing to compromise on what she thinks is right. But also Youn Yuh-jung, inside, she is so kind and open and big-hearted. She is such a loving person.”
 
“Blue Bayou” director Justin Chon speaks at an online press conference during the 26th Busan International Film Festival on Tuesday. (BIFF)
“Blue Bayou” director Justin Chon speaks at an online press conference during the 26th Busan International Film Festival on Tuesday. (BIFF)
Chon began to be recognized with “Gook,” a film about two Korean American brothers, which won the Next Audience Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. He also starred in the film’s protagonist Eli.

Chon won the jury award at the 13th Dallas Film Festival for “Ms. Purple,” which also centers on Asian Americans. The film earlier premiered in the US drama competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“Blue Bayou“ hits local theaters Wednesday.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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