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Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schramm / Montclair Film

Filmmaker Spotlight: Justin Chon

Cat Elliott

Focus Features will release Blue Bayou next month, a film that stars Alicia Vikander and Justin Chon, the latter of whom also happened to write and direct the feature. Twilight fans may know Chon best for his role as Eric in the onscreen iterations of Stephenie Meyers’ fantasy novels, but the multi-hyphenate holds an impressive list of credits from his work both in front of and behind the camera. How did Chon go from vampire movies to making and starring in a film that has already landed on Variety’s list of potential 2022 Oscar contenders? We thought you’d never ask.

Chon detailed in a recent interview with the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles (KCCLA) how his acting career started after a summer internship in Silicon Valley, which convinced him that attending the University of Southern California (USC) for business wasn’t the right fit. After taking some time away, Chon returned to USC but also enrolled in a two-year Meisner acting program. He started auditioning and eventually booked Disney and Nickelodeon projects, which helped him break into the business.

As his acting career progressed, though, Chon noticed that the roles he was offered were limited. “I always wanted to be like an Asian Sean Penn, but those opportunities weren’t available to me,” he recalled during the KCCLA interview. So as fellow actor Jamie Chung recently told ABC News, “Justin took control of his own narrative” and started “making a seat at his own damn table.” Chon starred in the first feature that he wrote and directed, Man Up, but it was a rocky start for the budding filmmaker. “I was really embarrassed of the film,” he shared during a Sundance Institute interview. “Since then, I’m not anymore because I feel like had I not gone through that experience, I would not have been able to make Gook.”

His sophomore feature endeavor, Gook, was met with an impressive reception at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival where it won the NEXT Audience Award. Chon starred in the film, which covers the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and explores race relations. The multi-hyphenate stayed behind the camera for his 2019 Sundance entry Ms. Purple, an emotional family drama that also takes place in the City of Angels. Chon moved away from Los Angeles, though, for his upcoming feature. Blue Bayou follows Antonio LeBlanc (Chon), a Korean adoptee raised in a small Louisiana town who faces the threat of deportation and losing the life he’s built in America with his wife (Vikander).

Variety’s list of early predictions has the film earning a nod for Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, as well as a Best Original Screenplay win for Chon. Time will tell, but the filmmaker won’t be slowing down in the interim. He’s directing and executively producing episodes of the upcoming Apple TV series Pachinko, an international drama series adapted from Min Jin Lee’s novel that will star recent Oscar-winner Yuh-Jung Youn. All things considered, the veteran actor and rising filmmaker has certainly earned his place in the spotlight.

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