3 min

Grace under pressure

How do you follow up fucking 251 men?

Credit: David Ken

Sex: The Annabel Chong Story looks at porn legend Annabel Chong, the same Annabel Chong who, you might recall, had sex with 251 men in 1995 in what was then the “world’s biggest gang bang.”

Opening in Toronto this week, the documentary is directed by Canadian filmmaker Gough Lewis, previously responsible for Robin Black: The Last Stand At The El Mocambo. After discovering Chong on an episode of Jerry Springer, Gough contacted the actress and began shooting the film that would take him three-and-a-half-years to complete. The result is less an R-rated version of Chong’s porn star life and more a gutwrenching examination of her emotional struggles.

If you believe her version of events Chong, aka Grace Quek, was a hurricane born in Singapore, destined for revolt and rebellion; a woman whose intelligence and tenacity brought her first to the University Of Southern California (Go Trojans!) and second to the porn industry (Go Trojans?). Tired of stifling Singaporean culture and equally oppressive feminist theory, in 1994 Quek answered an ad in the LA Weekly looking for nude models. That year Quek became Annabel Chong, a combination of Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabel Lee and Chong of the infamous Cheech and Chong films.

The rest, as they say, is pornography.

Chong’s first porn feature was Dirty Debutantes #37. Following that she starred in several other films, including I Can’t Believe I Did The Whole Team! Fabulous uniforms in that one. (I find it kind of amusing how people are always talking about how porn stars look alike, all big boobs and red lips. It turns out the porn directors and producers largely look alike as well, big bellies and bad hair. Kind of “ick” really.) Chong later collaborated with Amazing Pictures’ John T-Bone (John Bowen) to create The World’s Biggest Gang Bang.

Following the big bang Chong became the world’s most famous porn star. In the film, Sex, Gough tags along with Quek to Las Vegas conventions and even to Cambridge University debates. Quek struts her stuff as a feminist freedom fighter and renegade bisexual slut. “We are not wilted violets,” she asserts in the film. “We are not victims!” On talk shows and in private interviews Quek is proud of her accomplishment and her message. Friends, colleagues and fellow porn stars admire and congratulate her. Quek shrugs off her critics with an exhale of cigarette smoke. Defiant.

But the rest, as they say, is not so easy.

Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, is not a sexy movie. Gough uses cuts of Chong’s Gang Bang, as well as cuts from the subsequent record breaking Bang by porn star Jasmin St Clair, but the gritty close-ups and behind the scenes clips are hardly erotic. Rows of hundreds of strangers quietly masturbating and waiting in socks and sandals for their turn at bat look more like naked people waiting in line at a K-Mart than a bunch of guys waiting for a gang bang.

The heart of Sex: The Annabel Chong Story is not about a woman who conquers the porn industry, but a twisted story of a woman on the verge of a heavy identity crisis who loses her title and the security she gained in her X-rated notoriety the minute her record is broken. Quek is bold but her iron will is not always completely believable. Before she learns of slack AIDS testing at the Gang Bang, Quek asserts that she is more than willing to risk the possibility of AIDS. “I believe the sex is good enough to die for.” A year later, however, at an AIDS clinic she seems less than immune. Gough captures shots of her slicing her arms in tears.

I can’t say if I liked this movie or not. I found it curious that so much was made of the fact that Quek is this incredibly intelligent woman, a woman who works in the porn industry but is still smart and analytical, able to use her experience as part of her thesis. It’s hard to see that as a novel concept if you consider the canon of female sexperts and sluts (such as Annie Sprinkle, Carol Queen and even Susie Bright to name a few), who have been doing that for years.

Whether or not Quek’s politics are compelling, it was hard not to get drawn into this craftily edited and intimate portrait of her life.

* Sex: The Annabel Chong Story opens Fri, Dec 13 at the Carlton Cinemas (20 Carlton St); call (416) 598-2309.