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September/October 2021

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ctor-turned-filmmaker Justin Chon is at the front of the new wave of Asian-American filmmakers. The Twilight Saga star took the Sundance Film Festival by storm in 2017 with his second film, the startling black-and-white LA riots drama Gook, which won the Next Audience Award and the Kiehl's Someone to Watch Award at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards. His 2019 follow-up, Ms. Purple, premiered at Sundance. His latest film is Blue Bayou, which he wrote, directed and stars in oppo- site Oscar winner Alicia Vikander. The moving and timely story of a uniquely- American family fighting for their future, it centers around New Orleans tattoo artist Antonio LeBlanc (Chon), a devot- ed family man looking to build a better life for pregnant wife Kathy (Vikander) and precocious step-daughter Jessie (Sydney Kowalske). But for an ex-con with a checkered past, life can be hard. Complicating matters is Kathy's ex Ace (Mark O'Brien), a Louisiana cop who wants to play a larger role in Jessie's life — despite having abandoned the girl and her mother years earlier. When a family spat unexpectedly leads to a grocery store confrontation with Ace and his racist partner, Denny (Emory Cohen), Antonio is arrested and trans- ferred into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Despite hav- ing been brought to America at the age of three, the Korean-American adoptee — who is married to an American citizen — suddenly faces deportation from the only country he's ever known as home. Trapped in a waking nightmare, Antonio and Kathy seek out legal assistance to help fight the deportation order, only to discover that they have precious little hope of keeping their family together. With Antonio facing an uncertain future, he finds an unlikely ally and source of support in a Vietnamese-American wom- an named Parker (Linh-Dan Pham). Behind the scenes, Chon assembled a creative team that included editor Reynolds Barney, production designer Bo Koung Shin, and cinematographers Ante Cheng and Matthew Chuang. Here, in an exclusive interview for Post, I spoke with Chon about the challenges of making and posting the film. What sort of film did you set out to make, given that the American-Asian experience has largely been ignored by Hollywood? "The films that I make, I'm trying to bring awareness of communities — and specif- ically the Asian-American one, and all the different experiences and stories that exist in this country. And it includes the adop- tion community, and I wanted to shine a light on this whole issue of immigration. I grew up in Southern California and I was friends with a lot of Korean-American adoptees, and I always felt their experience was so different to mine in terms of being an American and how they felt about it, and when I read some news stories about people being deported, although they'd been here since they were kids, and lived their entire lives in the country, it was just so emotional and heart-breaking. It just seemed so unjust, that they could be adopted and then 30 years later they don't deserve to be able to stay here, and that's what inspired this story." Actors-turned-directors, like George Clooney, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood, often direct themselves, but they've all told me "it's never easy." You've also starred in your previous films. How tough is it? "I never intended to also star in this film, and it is very difficult because you always come last when it comes down to your performance. Your responsibility as a director is to make sure everyone else is comfortable and able to give their best performance, so mine was last in line. Even my own team and all the crew sometimes forgot that I also needed to give a good performance. So it's far eas- ier to just focus on one job like directing, but I just couldn't cast someone else as Antonio — I was just too close to the character, and I'd lived with him for too long. So in the end, I just felt I had to do it, and that if anyone was going to mess it up, I'd rather it was me. That's what I signed up for, and I just made sure I did a lot of prep and rehearsal." Ante Cheng and Matthew Chuang are both credited as DPs. Why did you shoot with two DPs? "Ante has been a longtime collaborator. We've done several projects together, but movies never work out exactly the way you plan them. So he took a few jobs while we were waiting, and we suddenly got a green light, and he was unavailable. And I really wanted a DP that was Asian, but not from the US, and I got to talking to Matthew, who's brilliant and from Australia, and he agreed to shoot the film. But then Ante suddenly became available. So I went to Matt and suggested that we all three collaborate, like a brain trust, and everyone could bring their skill sets and different per- spectives, and it'd be very beneficial for the film — especially as I also had to act, and we didn't have the budget for a 2nd unit. But with two DPs, I could send one off to grab other material, and also keep the quality and vision. So that's what happened, and it worked out great." The film has an almost documentary look and feel to it. Talk about the look you and your DPs went for. "I'm glad you noticed that, as the whole idea was to shoot in all practical locations in New Orleans, and to embrace every- thing, from the weather to the culture. I'm a huge fan of John Cassavetes and I wanted that same look — real and grounded, yet sort of timeless, so we shot BLUE BAYOU DIRECTOR JUSTIN CHON BY IAIN BLAIR THIS NEW FILM BRINGS AWARENESS OF THE ASIAN- AMERICAN EXPERIENCE A DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 12 POST SEPT/OCT 2021 Chon wrote, directed and stars in the feature.

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