The movie Eden made its world premiere at this year’s South by Southwest and it immediately made waves among the SXSW crowd. The movie snagged the Audience Award for Narrative Feature and director Megan Griffiths received the SXSW Chicken & Egg Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award. (I mentioned all this already, but it’s worth a repeat post.) In addition, Jamie Chung was praised with Special Jury Recognition for her performance as Hyun Jae (who is named “Eden” by her captors), a Korean American teenager who was abducted and imprisoned as a sex slave.
Inspired by the real story of human trafficking survivor Chong Kim, Jamie’s performance may very well be a game changer for her acting career. We are so used to seeing her in movies like Hangover 2 and Sucker Punch that we never thought of her taking on such a hefty role — and she does an impressive job. A REALLY impressive job. It’s nice to know that she her career is going beyond “pretty” roles.
While at SXSW, I met up with Jamie — and she actually remembered me from the phone interview I did with her for Hangover 2. After I spazzed out about that, we talked about her riveting role as Hyun Jae.
For me, watching Eden was a bit difficult because of the subject matter. I only could imagine how difficult it was for you to play a role like this.
What made it easy was to know the outcome of the story and to know that this person in real life is now an activist and very much involved and living somewhat of a normal life. She’s recovered. A lot of people have traumatic experiences just like this story — and you hope for a happy ending.
This role is definitely a change of pace from your previous roles in Hangover 2 and Sucker Punch. What is it in particular that attracted you to this role?
Just knowing it was based on a trued story — an actual Korean American — there’s something that really attracted me to that. I’ve always been fascinated with issues of woman being exploited — like comfort women in World War II. It’s always kind of hit home for me and I’ve always wanted to do a movie about that and do something that gives these kinds of stories justice. With this story, it was just so appealing because it was so raw and real. It was a topic that I was interested in and I wanted help. To be honest there’s not a movie like this. You have the movie Taken, which is about a father who rescues his daughter, but you never see it from her perspective.
You’re right — we never really see what she is going through.
Yeah. What is she mentally going through? There’s the physical abuse, but there’s also the mental abuse.
Matt O’ Leary plays a guy who, a lot of the time in the movie, isn’t so nice to your character. Did you feel the need to keep your distance from him?
No, not at all.
Wow, really? His character is just so abusive in the movie!
I know that it’s just acting — I know that he loves me. What helps is that we worked together on Sorority Row We knew each other. When I knew he was coming on board I was like “Yes!” because I would be afraid to take the chances that I did unless it was with someone that I really trusted — and I trust Matt.
So you weren’t that much of a method actor with this?
Not at all! I think I would be completely distraught if I really went method with this, but no I’m not that kind of actor. We needed to balance it out by laughing in between.
That’s what I was going to ask next — how did you keep the levity on set with such heavy material?
Sometimes you have to do that. The (material) was so bleak, disturbing and it was so hard to film. It brought us closer but we had to smile and laugh in between.
How long was the shoot?
It was a month and a half. It wasn’t very long, but it was one of the best experiences ever. It was so cool because it was a group of young thirtysomethings who were all like doing it for no money. We were coming together to lell this beautiful story — that was the drive of the entire shoot.
To be honest, when I first saw this film in the SXSW film lineup, I was about to write it off as “another Asian woman human trafficking film” — but when I saw it, I was proved wrong. The women kidnapped in this film were all nationalities.
They’re young girls of all nationalities.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the race is. This kind of stuff just gets under my skin.
Exactly. What’s even more disgusting is that there’s actually a demand for this kind of stuff and that’s why there’s a huge supply.
Do you think the movie would have been different if a big studio was involved?
I hate to say it, but I don’t think studios want to make movies like this. It’s such a dark topic and studios are a business. Big studios do make beautiful art house projects, but it’s very seldom and very rare for them to make a movie like this. This movie was even surprising to me. After reading the script. I said, “Holy shit! Someone’s actually going to make this?! Someone’s actually brave enough to put money into it and make it?!” But this movie is not for a profit; it’s to tell a story. What’s different about this movie is that it’s Eden’s voice. It’s truly her journey.
How much time did you spend with Chong Kim before and during the making of the film?
In the beginning, I talked with her on the phone and we had a lengthy conversation. I had very specific questions in terms of what she was thinking — How she’s feeling? Why she thought that way and what caused her to distrust authority. She was so wonderful and accessible. She would answer any questions that I had during the shoot.She works with so many groups. She’s traveling around the world for everything. She’s so hands on and she’s a real hero. She’s an activist.