Blue Bayou: Justin Chon's Journey To Tell A Personal Story (Exclusive)

Justin Chon is a name known to main stream audience from an introduction through the Twilight saga. Since those films, Chon has earned himself an opportunity to tell stories of his own, often more grounded in reality. The actor and director has leaned into his Korean heritage and experience to shine lights on stories that others aren't telling, like his Gook movie from 2017, for example. Gook won Chon the "Best of Next" award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and told story of a Korean family running a shoe store in the midst of LA riots from 1992 following the Rodney King verdict. While the stories are about fictional characters, Chon puts them in very real situations, just as he does again in a film releasing in theaters this weekend with Blue Bayou.

Blue Bayou, which is written and directed by Chon and stars him alongside Alicia Vikander, tells the story of Chon's Antonio. Antonio is a Korean-born adoptee living in the United States who is facing deportation despite spending his life in the States and having a family of his own. It wasn't an easy story to tell, not only because of its viscerally real nature and the emotions which come with it, but also because Asian filmmakers don't get such opportunities to tell such stories very often out of Hollywood. 

"His reality has been and I followed him and he's an incredible actor," Vikander tells of Chon. "I saw his first film Gook coming out of Sundance a few years back, and I thought it was a beautiful piece of work. And I mean, then after I chatted to him, obviously the reality was, too, you know, he is an American actor who's proven themselves, and yet he had a very hard time getting work because he has Korean parents. And, you know, he kind of took it to his self and then he wrote and directed his first film and has now this was his third film. And obviously, that itself is proof that we need to do more work to make sure that film in general is more including."

Despite Blue Bayou being Chon's third effort as a director, it was not an overnight process to get the movie made (though, no movie really is). "It was four or five year process," Chon says. "After my film Gook, I realized I really wanted to tell the story and bring shine a light on this issue of adoptees being deported." He then dove head first into research, landing on real stories which he makes note of as the credits begin to roll at the end of Blue Bayou. Having immersed Blue Bayou's audience in an emotional and intimate perspective of a deportation issue which many of its viewers will not have previously experienced or imagined, Chon spotlights real people who are facing deportation from the United States or have recently been sent away.

"I brought it to MACRO and they commissioned a script," Chon recalls of the process to get Blue Bayou made. "It's just such a long process because the script was ready for a while and I was waiting around. So, I made another film in between, Ms. Purple, and I just was constantly pushing, you know, and it's just that's what it requires for any film to get made."

Still, Chon had the support system and believers to help him get Blue Bayou made, with Vikander being a massive part of the push. "Specifically, like a film like this is incredibly hard to get made, you know, and it takes people like Alicia [Vikander] taking on a role like this," Chon says. "And, you know taking a pay cut and and making a small film, you know, so that we can make a beautiful story. She is such a team player and she immensely talented. So like you need support of juggernauts and giants in order to get these kind of films made."

(Photo: Blue Bayou / Focus Features)

When Blue Bayou did get moving, Chon got to flex a bit more of his filmmaking muscles than he has in previous efforts. While the film is not an action film or comedy, it does call for some stunt work and moments of hearty timing from its cast. "I had a tiny bit more money," Chon says with a smile (you can see the interview in the video above). "I love riding motorcycles, so like that was cool. I got to do most of the stuff myself. I didn't wheelie or any of that really dangerous stuff. But I get to I got to do most of my own riding. That was so much fun, you know, to do that, to do that kind of work. And then, you know, like driving a motorcycle into a bayou, a little mini action sequence where they're robbing the motorcycle store, all that stuff is it's just very exciting."

While Chon was having fun, he felt the added tones that came with such elements of production were necessary to help amplify his message through a movie. "I felt like it was important that this film also wasn't just just dramatic and down," Chon says. "I felt like it was important that these these sort of lifts happen so that I could get this film out to just more than just like... I don't just preach the choir. You know, I want a Trojan horse film. I think that those kind of scenes are enjoyable for me as well, just as I just want to like have fun as well."

Blue Bayou opens in theaters on Friday.