SXSW Film: Eden

I went into Eden without knowing much about the film other than the synopsis, one image, and the main cast members.  There is no trailer for the film and that can be a crucial part of getting a feel for what type of film it could be.  Eden is about sex trafficking in the United States and is based on the true story of one woman, Chong Kim, who experienced more cruelty than one could imagine.

Jamie Chung stars as Hyun Jae, a girl about to graduate high school.  In 1994, she meets a guy in a bar who is not what he seems to be.  Hyun Jae is kidnapped and taken to a bunker of sorts in the middle of nowhere.  She unwillingly becomes part of sex trafficking ring involves many young girls and is renamed Eden.  Beau Bridges plays the head of the ring, Bob Gault, who is also a law enforcement Marshall.  This man is meticulous on how he runs his operation.  There is on-site medical care.  Each girl takes a pregnancy test daily and has a once-over from the resident nurse (played by Legends of the Fall’s Tantoo Cardinal).  Each girl also wears an ankle bracelet that contains a chip that is used to track them if they ever escape.  Bob Gault has a very convincing façade of being an upstanding member of law enforcement while he is running this sex ring full of kidnapped young girls.  Matt O’Leary plays Vaughan, Bob’s head assistant.  Vaughan is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the sex ring, collecting money and taking the girls places.

After the initial shock of what day to day life will be like for Eden, a scene opens with the text “One Year Later.”  It is unfathomable that Eden has been in the situation for so long, along with all of the other girls.  It has been long enough that Eden begins to present her skills as a bookkeeper to Vaughan.  Eventually, she wins his trust and things get better for her.

The fact that this is based on a true story does not seem possible.  All of the real people this film is based on have had their names changed, but the characters are rooted in truth.  This is what happened to Chong Kim.  This is what she endured for about three years.  There is a part of a person that will rise up and make a person do whatever they can to survive, even horrible acts that would be wrong or immoral.

Jamie Chung has not been the main character of a feature film thus far in her career.  She is on screen almost the whole time in Eden and goes to such dark places for this role.  She is brilliant in the role of Eden.  Never for one moment did I doubt her acting abilities as she became totally immersed in the role.  Not every actress out there could take on such a troubling role that is based on a real person.

Matt O’Leary also goes to an equally dark place to play Vaughan.  Matt went from playing a happier, more comedic role in Fat Kid Rules the World to playing a despicable human being in Eden.  The film reveals some of the background for Vaughan, but it nothing so terrible that it would push someone to become an abuser of women.  This role gives Matt the chance to show what he is capable of on the darker spectrum of dramatic roles.  He is a capable, powerful actor who is demonstrating that he will be seen in films for many, many years to come.

This is an important film because it brings to the forefront of people’s minds that sex trafficking does not just occur in other countries.  It is occurring right here in the United States in many states.  From this film, you can see that it is possible to kidnap a girl and put them into the sex trafficking ring very easily.  These rings are organized, involve many different people and elements, and operate under the radar of law enforcement.  In Eden’s case, it even involved a well-respected law enforcement officer.

Director Megan Griffiths did a fantastic job with Eden.  It is a powerful film, and its full impact did not register with me emotionally until after the final scene.  It was then that I said out loud, “Wow.”  I cannot imagine the very real travesties and abuse that Chong Kim experienced.  This is a raw, emotional journey that the audience takes with Eden/Hyun Jae.  I hope that Eden is acquired by a large distributor because it deserves a wider audience both because of the subject matter and the great performances by all of the actors.

I give Eden 5Destiny Rescue USA logos” out of 5.


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