Justin Chon on Finding the Tragedy in Blue Bayou Image

After his strong showing with his last film, Ms. Purple, writer/director Justin Chon found inspiration for Blue Bayou from stories of adoptees from South Korea being deported from the United States after having lived their entire lives in the country. I spoke with Justin about the tricky nature of writing tragedy, finding Alicia Vikander and funding, and the extensive research process to tell this story right.


Congratulations on a Blue Bayou. We first met on your first film, Man Up. since then, five, six years later, is this where you thought you would be?
Justin Chon: Oh f**k. No, not even close. That film was so fun to make. I had a great time but would never have imagined, from that project, being capable or even able to wrap my head around doing this now. That’s a fact.

What were some challenges you didn’t anticipate getting to this point?
Well, films of this nature with issues at hand are quite hard to get made. I don’t know…It seems like it’s a hard sell for companies. Also, finding the right casting and getting the proper budget, just so many business factors go into making a film. It’s an expensive art form. So, things need to make sense in order for it all to happen.

Is there a breakthrough moment with this project that was like, “Yes, we’re finally going to make it!”
I’d say the moment Alicia Vikander stepped on. It makes things much easier. So I would absolutely have to say that.

(L to R) Sydney Kowalske as “Jessie”, Justin Chon as “Antonio” and Alicia Vikander as “Kathy” in BLUE BAYOU, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

“It’s an expensive art form. So, things need to make sense in order for it all to happen.”

And what was it about the story that attracted her to the project?
Well, I think she understood, watching my previous films, what I was about and that I make films about human relationships. So those are the things that matter to me tremendously. And also, the role for her, I think, is something that she’d never been given the opportunity to play, which is a blue-collar, sort of salt of the earth, American woman. So I think that was a huge deciding factor for her as well, to play the role.

Let me ask you about the idea of the story. I saw it with a fellow critic, and we kind of battled over the story’s tragedy. And then he found that it went too far while I felt like, “Well, this is a story of tragedy.” So, where did the story come from, and how do you battle over the lengths to which you “punish” your character?
I love that the critic said that because he’s a critic. His job is to critique the art form, and I understand that. But one must also take into consideration what the intention of the piece is? I think that we can all aspire to make perfect art, but that’s not why I make art. I make art for people to feel. I make art for people to build empathy. And this is about an actual issue that’s happening; about adoptees who are being deported, who were brought here by US citizens, and the US government acknowledged their adoptions. So, if I’m trying to bring empathy to somebody who’s going through this, and the true maximum sort of effect of how that feels.

If you talk to an adoptee going through it now, I did not go too far. And I was not too heavy-handed emotionally. If you talk to Christopher Larson or any people at the end of this film, they will immediately tell you that it’s absolutely within reason. So I think sometimes that stuff comes from a sort of a standpoint of privileged. On the other hand, I think that if you’re not the one dealing with it, it can be quite heavy-handed. So the story I think, I feel it is important in that way, is that I’m just trying to bring empathy towards this community and people dealing with this issue.

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