“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Eden

btisltn_edenIf you trust me to say “Go watch this intense crime drama, I thought it was excellent” without needing me to tell you anything else about it, then go do that. I’m awarding EDEN my controversial The Best Thing I’ve Seen Lately medal to encourage you. It came out on the DVD last week under the title ABDUCTION OF EDEN, but the title on screen and when it was playing film festivals was just EDEN. (I hear they had to change the cover and name for Redbox – artistic decisions now determined by vending machines. Today’s cinematic art must have the same wide appeal as Doritos or Chips Ahoy.)

Because of the new title we know there’s an abduction of some kind, and the movie opens with a girl crying, tied up in the trunk of a car (as crappily photoshopped on the generic DTV-looking cover). If you insist on knowing more than that then read on.

Jamie Chung plays Hyun Jae, a Korean-American teen in Arizona. She’s a smart girl, works at her parents’ shop, gets along with them well, does chores, also likes to sneak out with her friends, use fake IDs to get into bars. For most teens this would be harmless troublemaking, but this girl has bad fuckin luck. The guy who buys her drinks at the bar is a kidnapper.

Is this guy a psycho torturer? A ransomer? I thought this might be like THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED. No one will tell her what’s going on, and he brings her to a corrugated metal shed, like a cattle ranch or something, where a dozen or two other girls are penned up. There’s a doctor there with a questionable medical setup, there are hulking security guys and overseers, an operation that must’ve been going on for some time. They don’t really bother to explain to her that she’s a sex slave.

mp_eden
Take your pick which you like best I guess. Left: theatrical poster. Right: dvd cover.

I hear the words “sex slave” and “white slavery,” I don’t really equate it to our nation’s shameful history of slavery. But this is kinda like that, she’s stolen from her family, locked up in a shed, forced to do horrible things all day against her will. They even give her a slave name, Eden.

Since her dad isn’t Liam Neeson she’s on her own. This is a survival story. She learns the ropes. She tries to escape. She suffers. She makes friends and enemies even though she’s not supposed to talk. The guy running the place, assistant to the big boss, is a young junkie with a droll indifference to their suffering. He looked familiar, and then I realized he was Matt O’Leary, who played a slightly more charming junkie in FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. (I didn’t realize it but I’d also seen him in MOTHER’S DAY, SORORITY ROW, DEATH SENTENCE, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, BRICK, SPY KIDS 2 and FRAILTY.) The character’s name is Vaughan, and it’s a great performance because he’s such a scumbag but I found myself laughing at him. The movie put me into a Stockholm Syndrome mentality. As she tries to impress him and get responsibilities in the organization in order to save herself I started feeling like I kinda felt sorry for the guy. I think she feels the same, so I loved the part where she’s snooping at his photos and seeing him in normal situations seems to humanize him, until she comes across one where he’s laughing with his arm around a buddy… and it’s the guy that abducted her.

Similarly, the movie made me share her resentment toward the boss’s pet snitch Svetlana (Naama Kates). But of course Svetlana is just a victim too, and Eden’s kinda taking her place at the boss’s side, aren’t they just as bad as each other? When (SPOILER) Svetlana’s bundled in a bed sheet you feel both Eden’s guilt and the necessity of being cold about it, not letting it get to her. She turns into a robot. She’s willing to turn on her sisters to help herself. And you understand it.

It’s a movie full of harrowing moments. One of the best comes early on, when she’s brought to a john’s house out in the suburbs. You get a nice glimpse of a framed family portrait on the wall, everybody smiling like dad’s not paying the mob to have sex slaves brought over. Vaughan waits in the other room, and next thing you know the john is screaming in terror and Eden is making a run for it with blood dripping down her chin. Vaughan has to make up a story to explain to the neighbors why he’s dragging away a bloody girl who’s screaming for them to help her. It’s that thing I like so much, the explosion of nightmarish mayhem in the middle of polite society. They got a look at what’s really going on but it was too terrifying for them to comprehend it or do anything about it.

It’s almost triumphant in its monstrous depiction of defiance against these horrible people. You lock me up, I bite your dick off. You cannot contain me. Except they can, and you know it, because this is much too early in the movie for her to get away.

Part of the genius of the movie is how it shows this world of atrocity intersecting with various seemingly not-as-bad crimes, like drug trafficking, etc. In one scene Eden and some girls are brought to a frat party. We don’t see what they have to do there – it’s probly more than just as strippers, but even so I’m sure these sleazy frat brothers don’t know they paid for kids that were kidnapped and locked in a barn. And probly wouldn’t like that.

There are a bunch of haunting performances and characters here. I’m particularly creeped out by “the Nurse” (Tantoo Cardinal), who seems to offer Eden something like kindness, but what the fuck lady, have you noticed what your job is? Does she really think she cares for these girls, or is it a put on to make her job easier? How did she get into this? Did she start out as one of them, maybe? Or somebody’s girlfriend or sister who got in too deep?

And Jamie Chung is outstanding. I didn’t actually realize it was her, because I only knew her from small, cartoonish roles. Here she seems like just a teenager, not a movie star. Unfortunately, being a young Asian actress this is not the first time she’s played a sex worker. As Amber in SUCKER PUNCH she was trapped in some sort of brothel, forced to dance for sleazy men, a PG-13 metaphor for something worse. As Lady Silk in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS she worked in another brothel, and although it’s a unique situation where the whores turn the tables on the johns it’s still a miserable life she’s trying to escape from. Even in the upcoming SIN CITY 2 she’ll be taking over Devon Aoki’s role as Miho, a ninja in a part of town run by prostitutes. All three movies side with the women, yet they show a colorful fantasy version of the sex trade. EDEN is about as far in the opposite direction as you could go. No glamour of any kind. No fun. No sexiness. And Chung comes alive as an actress. She runs through the gamut: terrified, terrorized, smart, strong, determined, cold, mean, angry, manipulative. A fascinating, three-dimensional portrait, that’s why I didn’t recognize her as Lady Silk.

Who knew Chung had it in her? I didn’t know she was that kind of actress (and I didn’t even know she started out on The Real World until I looked her up).

The director, Megan Griffiths, lives in Seattle, and it turns out this was shot around Washington state. But I promise you that doesn’t factor into my praise on this one. Griffiths’ earlier, more noticeably Seattle-based movie, THE OFF HOURS (co-starring a pre-ARGO and KILLING THEM SOFTLY Scoot McNairy) is well regarded around here, but I personally couldn’t get into it. I was more impressed when I found out she was first assistant director on WRONG TURN AT TAHOE.

I like that the score by Jeramy Koepping and Joshua Morrison is the type of spare guitar music that you would expect from a Seattle indie director. It’s a smart way to make such in-your-face horrors feel understated. Otherwise, nothing about this feels local to me.

There’s one thing I’m hesitant to bring up, but I feel like I should: the credits say this is based on the true story of a woman named Chong Kim, but in trying to find out how loosely or closely it’s based on the real story I could find no information other than what she has said in speaking engagements and interviews. Of course it’s fictionalized anyway but part of the movie’s shock value comes from this idea that here in America girls are being snatched out of bars and shackled in barns, also farmed for babies and maybe executed when they get older. If you read comments about it online you’ll see alot of people blown away by having their eyes opened to what’s going on right here in America. So you want to read about what happened when this missing girl was reunited with her parents years later, if she was able to lead the authorities to where they were keeping the others, if she gave them any information on the various murders that were depicted, if they ever exposed this beloved marshal that was running the operation (an FBI consultant in real life, Kim says). As far as I’ve been able to find there was none of that, she says this happened to her years ago and she didn’t tell anybody until much later. So whatever the real story is, it’s not documented.

Jesus man, they are selling babies in this movie. It’s pretty over-the-top. If you’re telling me that’s a true story you better give the cops everything you know on the location of the baby-selling. You better do more than just raise awareness at colleges.

I’ll go ahead and self-declare as an asshole for saying it. That would be shitty to accuse someone who went through any of that of being a liar, and even if they were it would just be more sadness. I wouldn’t feel the need to try to expose them. Also, that several people on the IMDb boards brought up similar suspicions does not put me in good company.

But I want to bring the possibility up pre-emptively because I would hate for that to become the big issue about this great movie. As far as the actual problem of sex trafficking in this country, we know for sure that there are scumbags called pimps, who are glorified in this culture, whose job is to find 13 year old molested runaways, get them hooked on drugs and force them to have sex with adults and then take their money and beat them up. I hope we can keep sight of what a bad thing this is even if a few of us suspect (naively?) that the more spectacular HOSTEL form of the business depicted here is an exaggeration.

And more importantly for our purposes here this is just an excellent piece of crime fiction, a deftly choreographed ride through hell, full of memorable characters, uncomfortable relationships and ratcheting tension. Maybe it’s a shocking exposé of horrors that have been going on right under our noses for years, but if not it’s powerful speculation about how something like that might work. It’s a hell of a scary story and it’s stuck with me for weeks and that’s good enough for me. I can’t recommend it enough.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 at 12:05 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Eden”

  1. Back in school, I had a priest as Religious Education teacher. He was a pretty cool guy and actually lived a very interesting life that he told us about. For example he was the priest of a motorcycle gang and drove all across the country with them and of course ended up in the middle of some gang fights. He also was for several years a priest on the Reeperbahn, Germany’s best known red light district.

    The thing is, prostitution is legal here. And even when it wasn’t legal, it also wasn’t illegal. Yet of course sex trafficking and other illegal and disgusting shit still happens. As a prostitute you can (and should) register your job to the authorities (although you don’t get any actual benefits from it, apart from some tax stuff, I think) and I think the idea behind it was to give prostitues some kind of safe environment and stop pimping and sex trafficking. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. But that’s a different story.

    Back to the priest. He told us that during the years on the Reeperbahn, he saw and heard of some of the worst shit ever. Of course all the pimps came to him to tell him their sins. At first it was made up stuff like “I killed that one guy”, just to see if he would tell the police, but once it became clear that he took the seal of confession seriously, they started telling him the really sick shit and unfortunately it was all true.

    I don’t think that I really wanna repeat all of it here, but let’s say that just from the description of this movie, I believe that every thing is true. Including the stuff with the babies.

  2. On a more light hearted note: Damn, the star of this movie also plays Mulan in ONCE UPON A TIME! I knew she looked familiar!

  3. “It’s a hell of a scary story and it’s stuck with me for weeks and that’s good enough for me.”

    Yeah, this is enough for me to take a pass on this one. This is one of those subjects that I want to remain in ignorance of for the most part. I know it’s out there and it’s probably more horrible than I could imagine and I want the government and law enforcement agencies to do all they can to stop it, but I don’t want scenes of it to live in my head to pop up as I lie in bed trying to sleep. I want to believe Liam Neeson is going to save them all.

  4. MaggieMayPie, it’s for the best then that you never get to watch the french horror film MARTYRS.

  5. looking forward (?) to seeing this one soon. On a similar subject, may I recommend The Seasoning House, an excellent horror/thriller set in a makeshift brothel in Serbia during the Balkan conflict. It’s pretty grim to begin with, but develops into a great viscerally cathartic thriller.

  6. Elizabeth Bennet

    June 27th, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I wonder whether you have seen Lilya4Ever. It is about the same subject.

  7. Just so you don’t think I’m a total sourpuss tonight, I did see this at SXSW last year and thought it was quite good, great to see Chung get to play a harrowing character like this.

  8. “MaggieMayPie, it’s for the best then that you never get to watch the french horror film MARTYRS”.

    RE:

    Martyrs is obviously a fantasy. Her problem seems to be with stories that are too close to horrifying reality.

    Anyway, while there are obviously always crazy people who kidnap and rape women, even put them to long-time sex slavery, the concept of a this kind, professionally done, wide-spread sex slave operation in USA seems a bit impractical.

    However, there are *many* documented cases of foreign women who come in illegally to work as waiters, strippers, etc. They get their documents taken away, are raped repeatedly, and then put to prostitute work to earn money that allows them to go home. Since they are illegally in the country, and they have no concept of how American laws might protect them, it’s hard for them to contact police.

    For an American woman, it would be obviously much easier to simply contact police.

    I don’t know if there are any modern, reported and investigated cases of American women being kidnapped into sex slave rings.

  9. Yes, tuukka, it is when the stories and portrayals are too close to reality that I find them too upsetting to watch.

    I’ve heard that of the American citizens who are taken, they are usually runaways and drug addicts. There isn’t any family to contact the police and any friends from the street probably distrust the police, or the police dismiss them. I doubt the victims are able to contact the police themselves.

    A few years ago I saw a report on some kind of 48 Hours show with an American woman who was a runaway teenager who was forced into the sex trade at truck stops. I don’t remember how she got away, or if I watched the entire program, and I don’t remember the program, so I’m not sure how thoroughly it was investigated and her story confirmed.

    I did think that it was ironic that it was an Asian actress playing an American sex slave when Asia is where you hear about this being such a large problem. It’s like if you’re an Asian woman you’re fucked even if you’re from Arizona.

  10. I remember seeing Jamie Chung on “The Real World,” but I don’t believe the show spent much time on her since she didn’t do anything really stupid or obnoxious. I’m both surprised and intrigued by all the positive reviews for “Eden” because I don’t think Chung has been particularly good in anything I’ve seen so far, so it’s interesting to see her tackle a much tougher starring role and make a statement with it.

  11. CJ-“On a more light hearted note: Damn, the star of this movie also plays Mulan in ONCE UPON A TIME! I knew she looked familiar!”
    Too bad they don’t give her anything to do. They give her a little bit of motivation, and a supposed purpose of being the warrior of her group of characters, and she just gets pushed to the background for the benefit of the more major characters all the time.

  12. Knox Harrington

    July 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I hope this doesn’t sound insulting, but I think that the American public is quite naive about this kind of thing. A lot of people won’t accept it as the truth simply because it seems so horrible that it must be some kind of urban legend or something. I guess it doesn’t help that this kind of thing isn’t exposed too often.

    But if you have a look at the kind of shit that people do in Eastern Europe or over here in Africa… Hell, I think the average Joe would lose all hope in humanity if they saw what’s really going on. People are selling babies for 200 Rand (that’s about $20) here in South Africa. Kids are being herded like cattle and raped with the same ease it takes to light a cigarette.

    I don’t know why the media hasn’t made a bigger deal of this kind of thing. Maybe people just don’t want to know.

  13. Greatly enjoyed this movie. Thanks for the recommendation, Vern. May I recommend some pertinent reading material? http://tinyurl.com/m4olw8y

  14. One of the many things RZA & Mouth have in common is we both have a thing for Jamie Chung, so this was a bit hard to watch.

    But yeah, this is a good one, possibly deserving of its controversial superspecial ribbon in Vern’s opinion in my opinion. All the filmatistic elements are unimpeachably strong -– direction, acting, score, editing, suspensefulness, script, restraint, shock value, originality of narrative, tone, nightmarishness countered & augmented by realisticness. This Megan Griffiths seems legit.

    Brutal stuff, but I’m grateful for the recko, Vern. Now I’ll e-mail you my home address so you can come over and strangle a puppy in my driveway, thanks.

  15. It does seem odd that there has never been any discussion about what if anything the victim did to track down her kidnappers. It just doesn’t make any sense, after spending a year or more improperly incarcerated she would have had a wealth of information which would have brought the perps to justice in a NY minute. Names, license plate numbers, homes of johns, etc. And you can bet she would want to see the ring arrested, and they could likely be caught in the act, so to speak.

    Actually, it is more than odd, it really defies logic.

    But there is no question that although sexual slavery exists, even if perhaps the particulars of the operation depicted in the movie were over the top.

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