Eden Film Review (2012)

Based on the real life story of survivor-activist Chong Kim, Eden pulls no punches while following through with its dramatic premise of a young woman abducted and forced into prostitution. Jamie Chung plays Hyun-Jae, a first-generation Korean-American high school student looking to get into some innocent trouble. But she finds more than her share when she is abducted and sent to a sex slavery facility run by corrupt warden Bob Gault (Beau Bridges) along with his second-in-command, the vermin-esque Vaughan (Matt O’ Leary).

The film pivots not on Hyun-Jae’s trials and suffering, but rather on the relationship between the three leads. It’s an almost Shakespearean triangle: Bob is commanding, domineering, an absolutist with no conscience. Vaughan is power hungry, tired of being used, unstable. And Hyun-Jae is the survivor, biding her time with absolute ruthlessness until Bob and Vaughan let their guard down.

 

The brutality of her enslavement is presented in both sexual and moral contexts. Hyun-Jae is forced to act as an escort, donning a fake Asian accent and ridiculous pseudonym, “Eden,” in order to please her customers. But she is also forced to time and time again sacrifice the well-being of her fellow captors in order to grow closer to Vaughan, who adopts her as an assistant and gives her extra leeway. It’s when she is forced to make these choices that the film stands still and lets us soak in the depravity of her situation. Bridges and O’Leary both do wonderful jobs portraying despicable managing men, giving the audience a proper vent for the anxiousness that Hyun-Jae’s trials ably generate. But these characters are not shades of grey, and that gives the film an unfortunate theatrical slant that takes away from the impact of the story. Bob and Vaughan are both caricatures of evil, well-presented and entertaining to watch, but not real in any sense.

Chung is able to play well with others in this film, taking the script’s only three-dimensional character and showing incredible amounts of depth and emotion through exquisite silent shots and pained expressions. In a film tackling such
heavy subject matter as this, it is important for the main character to never break kayfabe, and Chung does an exquisite job of selling it whole-heartedly.

Director Megan Griffiths’ film The Off Hours was a deserved success of the last year’s SIFF, and it is a pleasure to see her tackle a completely different type of film with the same nuanced hand. She loves her characters, and it shows; not many filmmakers would choose to bring character dynamics to the forefront when the issue at hand (human trafficking) is so overbearing. Eden is an excellent next step for both Griffiths and Chung’s careers, and a solid film to boot.

SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SCREENINGS 2012
May 21st @ 4:30pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 29th @8:30pm, Everett Performing Arts Center

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