One of the best movies I saw during the entire HIFF Film Festival by far was the movie “Eden”. The movie hooked you from the beginning and leaves you wanting more at the end with a few unanswered questions.
The movie “Eden” was written by Richard B. Phillips and co written and directed by Megan Griffith. The film takes place in the 1994 when a young Korean-American woman named, Hyun Jae, after sneaking into a bar is tricked by a man pretending to be a Fireman, that is actually a wrangler for a sex trafficking ring. She is smuggled across the country in dirty semi trucks and trunks of cars to a warehouse, where she is kept with other young girls that will be sold for sex against their will. Her captures immediately change her name from Hyun Jae to Eden.
The first thing you notice when the movie begins are the words, “Based on a true story”. This disturbing movie is based on the life of a woman named Chong Kim, a survivor of sex trafficking. She spent her adult teenage years trapped in a warehouse being sold for sex from 1995-1997. Her “boyfriend” at the time told her that he was taking her to Florida to meet his parents, but instead she ended up in Oklahoma handcuffed to a doorknob waiting for sex traffickers to come and pick her up. She is a courageous woman who after a year of thinking that she was going to die as a sex slave watching other girls and herself be tortured, sodomized, and raped. She decided she was going to manipulate her captors make them think that she was on their side that she was loyal and cared for them to eventually get out.
Jamie Chung plays Hyun Jae , a character based on Chong Kim, in the movie. From the beginning your heart breaks for Hyum Jae. An obviously naive girl who has been trapped in a terrifying situation, but who is still strong and defiant and fights against the her captors to get out. But after a year of being held against her will this movie does something that most movies, especially movies about a subject like this, don’t do. It makes you think twice about the victim, the lead character, the girl you have watched being tortured. Hyun Jae must make certain ethical decisions to secure her own high ranking among the sex traffickers and securing that she will one day be able to go home. At first they make you furious with her. “How could she do that?!” “How could she sell those girls out who are in the same position as her after what she has gone through?!” But then you realize that it is easy for you to be angry with her and say this from your comfortable air conditioned room, in your comfy movie chair, and snacking on tasty popcorn; but this is a girl who has been raped everyday and ice bath punishments for trying to find a way out of her horror. Much like Chong Kim, Hyun Jae realized the only way out of this torturous life and the only way to make sure she didn’t die here was to align herself (or at least pretend to) with these men and manipulate and pretend she was loyal to them. Chong Kim explained it best in an interview she did with “The Ithaca” when she said, ” I had to manipulate my way to carve out their power, to make them think that I was on their side to free myself. I will always be there for you. I will be the girl that’s there for you. I will die for you. If the cops came in, I would say I did it all just to cover you. It’s all about loyalty. It’s about letting them know that as long as I’m loyal to you, they don’t have to worry about me snitching on you. I played that role to them. I made them think that I was loyal to them, [and] then I was safe.”
Another interesting part of the film was the story of Vaughn. First presented as a tyrant and a horrible person, he is one of the men involved in the sex trafficking ring. He is the man that watches the girls and takes them to their “dates”. His story is an interesting one because as the story develops you learn more about him, but like the man you are still kept at a distance. You don’t know everything about Vaughn, but you do find out he is ex-army and has a problem with substance abuse. There is an intersting dynamic though, between Hyun Jae and Vaughn, especially in one scene in the car after Vaughn has gotten Hyun Jae high and she tries to perform a sex act that is usually reserved for her customers on Vaughn. However Vaughn pushes her away exclaiming that he is, “not like those fucking people”.
I am so happy that I was able to see this movie and I recommend it to anyone that gets a chance to. It is a great movie not only because it informs people that the world of sex trafficking isn’t confined to Thailand or Europe. It shows people that watch this movie that this can and does happen in the United States. It is also a good movie though because it makes you think. It shows you of course the point of view of the sex slave, but also a little insight into the world of someone who is a sex trafficker.