“Blue Bayou” opens on a close-up of Antonio LeBlanc (played by the writer and director, Justin Chon) interviewing for a job. Born in South Korea and raised from a child by adoptive parents in Louisiana, Antonio needs to supplement his income as a tattoo artist to support his wife (Alicia Vikander), his stepdaughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), and an imminent new baby. It is immediately clear, though, that the unseen interviewer is less concerned with Antonio’s felony convictions than his origins.
In its unsubtle way, “Blue Bayou” strives to draw attention to the precarious limbo inhabited by foreign-born adoptees whose citizenship was never finalized. When an innocent argument in a supermarket lands Antonio on the wrong side of two police officers — one of whom (Mark O’Brien) is Jessie’s biological father and the other (Emory Cohen) no more than a bundle of boorish clichés — the incident heralds a series of escalating threats to a life that’s already far from secure.
These give the film a slow, sad drip of inevitability that’s lightened by the warmth and naturalism of Chon’s performance. Beautifully relaxed family scenes help us forgive the ponderous direction, as does a wonderfully low-key Linh-Dan Pham as an ailing Vietnamese American who befriends Antonio and tugs at his Asian identity. In these moments, we see a man with one foot on land and the other on water, his memory haunted by the image of his birth mother and a far-off lagoon. And as the faces and fates of real-life adoptees scroll past in a moving coda, Chon forces us to acknowledge how easily those who believe themselves settled can become in an instant displaced and dispossessed.
Rated R for racist language and violent law enforcement. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes. In theaters.