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Sex: The Annabel Chong Story

     My long-ago audition article to join the illustrious world of Boston journalism was datelined New York City and detailed grubby days and nights of slumming in the porno film world. Those freelancer adventures climaxed with eight hours on an XXX film shoot, my press identity disguised from everyone but the director. He had me interning as the unit photographer: I was the one who, between takes, shot (shaky!) still pictures of the naked, upside-down cast. That's the long way of saying that I'm not the critic to toss pebbles at Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, Gough Lewis's documentary chronicle of a current porn-film queen, which opens at the Kendall Square this Friday.

     Others will do it for me. "A picture like this makes me want to throw up," a woman friend told me, shuddering as she remembered the endless line of sweaty men (it was almost all men, she said) trying to shove into the world premiere at the 1999 Sundance Festival. She's heard enough to know this isn't a movie she wants to attend, that this Annabel Chong calls herself a feminist and claims she's a champion for women's liberation even as she has sex with 251 guys in 10 hours before cameras and press in the course of trying to set the world's gang-bang record.

     What can I reply? That I mostly liked this film, that I found it engrossing, and that I have a kind of dumb admiration for the protagonist's brash and irrational wildness, even as, not good at all, she puts herself at high risk for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

     I'm influenced by having actually met this Annabel Chong, whom I sat next to, and conversed with, at a formal dinner at the Stockholm Film Festival. Call me a sucker, but I thought her smart and articulate. A gender-studies graduate from the University of Southern California, she spoke eloquently - and even academically - about issues of sexuality.

     Her real name is Grace Quek, and she grew up middle-class in one of the world's most puritanical developed places, Singapore. A good part of her X-rated activities can be seen as a passionate revolt against her starchy, super-policed native land. Quek has left Singapore strictures behind to screw and suck on the American screen. As she says in this movie, "To do pornography is to be against the collective agreement of what it means to be a Singaporean. . . . Fuck them, they can lick my ass."

     I have some problem with the editing of Gough Lewis, with the manipulative way he structures Quek's life to give it a downsliding trajectory: poor little porno girl! After she has abandoned X-rated films and confessed to her mother in Singapore about her blighted life, she flip-flops and agrees once more to make X-rated movies. That's the gloomy moment where The Annabel Chong Story ends: with Grace sashaying through the portals of a porn studio, back in the sleazy embrace of her greaseball ex-employers.

     My guess is that many people are going to walk away from this movie shaking their heads in condemnation of Grace Quek's contradictions and self-deceptions. Granted, her final act probably is a dumb "feminist" decision, but . . . hey, she's not Richard Nixon. She's not Henry Kissinger. Grace Quek hasn't started wars or backed dubious coup d'états or murdered anyone. She's only resolved to make porn movies. So what?

     Reviewing The Annabel Chong Story afforded me a thin excuse to check out some of her actual porn. I went arbitrarily for four titles (should I sample Anal Queen?) and fast-forwarded through them one recent afternoon, searching for . . . I don't know what.

     Grace Quek has said in interviews that she's not much of an actress. True. She's not an especially charismatic sex performer either, as the turn-on promise of Depraved Fantasies 3 and The Best of Annabel Chong goes unfulfilled. How has she distinguished herself from the X-pack? With her college-girl biography. With her special gymnastics. In several movies, she makes impossible room for simultaneous penetrations by three males, in her vagina and rectum, with porn veteran Ron Jeremy cast inevitably as the Third Man. Then there's The World's Biggest Gang Bang, a 90-minute celebration of Annabel's record-smashing day, which is not about eros but about sexual athletics. Watching all those bodies going in and out of Grace, making Annabel Chong world infamous, gave me a pounding headache.

(Boston Phoenix, May 15, 2000)

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