2. Eden

Director: Megan Griffiths
Stars: Jamie Chung, Beau Bridges, Scott Mechlowicz, Matt O’Leary, Mariana Klaveno

There are still five screening-filled days left in the SXSW 2012 Film Festival, yet it’s tough to think that we’ll come across a delightful revelation as big as former Complex cover girl Jamie Chung’s performance in the excellent, hard-edge drama Eden. The beautiful actress’ post-Real World days have been spent populating unbearable comedies (Grown Ups, The Hangover Part II) and providing eye candy in critically panned action flicks (Dragonball: Evolution, Sucker Punch); given her first chance to hold down a leading role in Eden, though, she rises to the occasion in eye-opening ways.

And she’s been given one hell of a role to inhabit. Based on the real-life experiences of Chong Kim, Eden follows a sweet, naïve, brace-faced Korean-American teenager (Chung) as she’s kidnapped, placed into a secret prostitution ring, and forced to work her way up the ranks, from sex provider to glorified receptionist, for over a year.

Griffiths and screenwriter Richard B. Phillips present the underground world of human trafficking with unflinching harshness; one scene, in which Chung’s raised arms are cuffed and a whip comes out, is especially disturbing. Fortunately for Chong Kim, whose bravery in sharing such a horrific memory is admirable, her decision to relive her 1994-1995 nightmares is rewarded by Griffiths’ superb and nuanced direction, Phillips’ expertly paced script, and Chung’s fearlessness. In terms of SXSW, Eden is the fest’s most pleasant surprise thus far.