December 2, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Blue Bayou: An adopted immigrant’s cruel fate

Written and directed by Justin Chon

Blue Bayou, written and directed by Justin Chon, is an angry, affecting film that indicts US immigration policy for its brutality and dramatizes the hell through which people are put when they fall into the clutches of the authorities in question. Chon’s film makes clear to all those with eyes and ears that the current anti-immigrant mania in official circles cuts across the most elementary needs and wants.

The work takes its title from the song written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson, and recorded by Orbison in 1961, which later became one of Linda Ronstadt’s signature numbers.

Blue Bayou opens with the camera on Antonio Leblanc (played by Chon) as he urgently tries to sell himself during a job interview. He is Korean-born, but was adopted by American parents in 1988 at the age of three. Confronting a callous interviewer clearly biased against Antonio’s ethnicity, the New Orleans tattoo artist, rebounding from a troubled criminal past, makes a desperate effort to find better-paying employment to support a growing family. Despite the fact that Antonio is a talented motorcycle mechanic, the interview and job search come to a disheartening dead end.

Antonio has a stable and loving marriage to Kathy (Alicia Vikander), a physical therapist pregnant with their child. (At one point, Vikander sings an impressive rendition of “Blue Bayou.”) He is also the doting stepfather to young Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), who was abandoned by her biological, police officer father, Ace (Mark O’Brien), now attempting to mend a relationship that the antagonistic girl rejects. The cop is not above wielding his badge to undermine Antonio.

Ace’s racist partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), utilizes a minor altercation to have Antonio arrested and placed in an ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center, where he learns he is actually undocumented in the US because two sets of adoptive parents never filed the requisite paperwork.

Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske and Justin Chon in Blue Bayou

In a meeting with expensive immigration attorney Barry Boucher (Vondie Curtis-Hall)—to pay for whose services Antonio resorts to motorcycle theft—Antonio and Kathy are informed that a judge has ordered Antonio’s deportation. Marriage to a US citizen notwithstanding, the failure of his adoptive parents to legalize his status, along with his criminal record, gives him only two options: to depart voluntarily and file for a change in status from South Korea, or to stay and appeal, and risk a loss in the case that would forever bar him from the US.

Antonio chooses to put everything on the line. This involves asking for help from his adoptive mother, who never defended him from the daily beatings administered by her now deceased husband. He is also hindered  by Kathy’s hostile mother. Furthermore, on the day of the court hearing, Emory brutalizes Antonio to prevent him from showing up. When all appears hopeless, Antonio considers suicide by drowning, an act that echoes his Korean mother’s attempt to drown the infant she could not afford to raise. Water is a recurring image.

A final, emotionally wrenching scene between Jessie and Antonio brings home the genuine inhumanity of the US immigration system.