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Sex: The Annabel Chong story - Gough Lewis, Grace Quek

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

On 19 January 1995, Annabel Chong, a 22-year-old undergraduate in gender studies, embarked on a marathon crusade to secure fame, notoriety and a permanent place in the hallowed halls of fornication. Her feat: having sex with 251 men over the course of one 10-hour day, doubling the record set by a sex worker in Amsterdam.

What motivates a woman to engage in "The world's largest gang bang" and who this woman is comprise the subject of this fascinating, disturbing and intensely provocative documentary.

In this penetrative documentary by Gough Lewis, we are exposed to the life of Grace Quek (better known as porn star Annabel Chong), a self-proclaimed artist and gender activist who wanted to "shake people up from stereotypes of women as passive objects".

At once explicit and candid, Sex: The Annabel Chong story combines multi-textured storytelling, graphic footage of the caligula-style gang bang, and behind-the-scenes interviews with Chong and her Singaporean family, colleagues and friends. Made with Chong's guidance and full co-operation, this is first rate filmmaking, a moving and shocking portrait of selfhood and the politics and psychology of sexuality.

Also featuring Steve Austin (World Modelling talent agent), Al Goldstein (Screw magazine publisher), Frank Sanford (Scoop Syndication publicist), Robert Black (producer), John T Bone (World's biggest gang bang 1 and 2 director), Seymore Butts (director and performer), Chi Chi La Rue (director), Jim South (talent agent and director), Ed Powers (director and performer), Israel Gonzales (designer and production assistant), Ron Jeremy, Michael J Cox and Jack Hammer (performers), Dick James (Annabel Chong fan club president), Doctor Walter Williams (Professor of anthropology, University of Southern California), Charles Conn (friend and classmate), Mr and Mrs Quek (parents), Raynard Tan (cousin), Calvin Teo (high school friend), Allen Wong (best friend). Directed by Gough Lewis.

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

This is one up-front porn queen.

Sex: The Annabel Chong story is misleading as a title as it's really the study of two women: Annabel and Grace. Their lives often interact but they are never living in each other's pockets. Annabel is an outrageous, untalented and shallow sex industry worker while Grace is a confused and increasingly irate Asian woman living in a white, Western man's world. There's room for some tension and drama there perhaps, h minutes?

As a documentary, the film moves beyond the fly-on-the-wall syndrome, quickly inserting deft announcements to titillate the viewer. In fact, the more I think about it, Sex: The Annabel Chong story takes on more and more of the USA TV daytime tabloid chat show formula than it would perhaps acknowledge. The sensationalism is explosive just in the subject matter but there are often times when the outrageous is treated like just another selection from the world's smorgasbord of weirdness.

Anyhoo, the audience for this film is very specific: you're either after body porn or brain porn. The former: lots of tits, ass, dick and porking. Not to mention bodily fluids. For the latter there's the discussion of sexual power (Annabel is by no means a blushing violet in the bedroomdepartment) and finding out just who is in charge of the sexual act, the penetrator or the enveloper? From Annabel's point of view it's definitely herself, no matter which way she's swinging. From my point of view it heads back to the sleazy men in the dodgy offices raking in the tens of thousands of dollars and paying out as little as possible.

As for the infamous world record, it's sure a scary thing to see on the big screen. Just the thought of hundreds of men applying to be recorded while boffing some porn chick, lining up for sloppy seconds and enjoying the whole experience tells you a lot about what people are really interested in. All those people pushing traditional family values need to wake up and smell the coffee.

If you're not a voyeur, don't go and see Sex: The Annabel Chong story. Like porn itself, this documentary is about witnessing someone else's experience for your own benefit. The degree to which you then make that experience your own is, of course, up to you.

Security censorship classification

R 18+ (Strong sexual content, adult themes)

Surveillance time

83 minutes (1:23 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 26 October 2000 - Cinema Paris, Fox Studios and Hoyts Entertainment Centre

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Grace Quek/Annabel Chong

Born

22 May 1972 in Singapore.

Parents

Grace's father was a primary school teacher who also taught Japanese at night school.

Grace's mother was a music and piano teacher. For several years, she was the host of an afternoon children's television show but she gave it up to return to teaching and to have more time with her daughter.

Childhood

Grace is an only child, which is unusual in Singapore. Her parents tried not to spoil her too much. Without siblings, Grace spent much of her time "telling stories to my dolls, reading quite a bit and writing." She had a good relationship with her parents and has fond memories of family vacations in Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Grace's parents took her to a performance of Swan lake when she was three. She decided then and there she would become a ballet dancer. Grace's mother used her influence to arrange for ballet lessons, even though it was usual for students to begin at age six.

At age three, Grace also started taking piano lessons from her mother. "I loved it but it never came easily, like writing and drawing."

School

Grace attended single-sex convent schools. She was a bit of a loner, shy and moody. She was not unpopular but never became part of any group. The only time she was around boys was at church or at a neighbour's house after school, where there were three brothers.

Changes

Age 12 was pivotal. Grace hurt her back in a fall. Ballet lessons ended. Frustrated with her lack of talent for the piano, she refused additional lessons, vowing to never play the piano again.

Grace started secondary school. Instead of dancing, music and fantasy, her time was consumed by study and homework.

Also at age 12, Grace stopped celebrating her birthday. "You're always supposed to be happy and smiling on your birthday, and I didn't want to have to pretend." When asked her age, Grace replies, "I was born in 1972. You figure it out."

Throughout the onset of her rebelliousness, Grace remained obedient to her parents. "They were never the enemy, like it is for a lot of American teenagers." Home was a sanctuary, a safe haven away from the restrictive, authoritarian school system.

As a young adult Grace still had not joined or even become identified with a particular peer group. To the contrary, she had become very critical of the "extreme displays of school spirit and patriotism" that were the norm.

Grace attended junior college in Singapore for two years where she took all kinds of required courses in preparation for going away to study law. She interned at a law office the summer between. She was "appalled at how boring it was" and not at all enthusiastic about the prospect of attending law school. "But what else was I going to do? It was what my parents expected."

Also while attending junior college, at around age 17, Grace became friends with a group of born-again Christian teenagers. Her parents approved of this association, happy that they were "nice, church-going kids." However, Grace had become increasingly outspoken about what she saw as the oppressiveness of Singaporean society and, more shockingly, she had become even more vocal about her sexual feelings and longings. She found it more and more difficult to reconcile her dwindling religious faith with her burgeoning sexuality. Her new friends decided she was possessed by a demon, and urged Grace to be exorcised at a local church.

Grace has little recollection of what actually occurred during the exorcism. The exorcist was a very large woman who was violent in her approach to exorcising demons. It lasted for two hours. She emerged sobbing and covered in bruises.

Grace was a zombie for several weeks afterward. Her parents were furious. Her Christian friends felt the exorcism had been a success. "They saw phantoms flying away from my body." The exorcism forced Grace to accept that she had completely lost her faith, and set her on the search for a new set of beliefs.

University

Grace took a year off in advance of law school. She worked as a commodities futures broker, buying and selling pork bellies, orange juice and soy beans. "I made and lost thousands of dollars. It was extremely stressful." She also became a big sister to poverty-stricken children.

During this time, Grace rekindled her interest in photography and art, an interest which led her to become a nude model at the local art school.

London

Grace moved to London in 1991 to attend King's College. "I wasn't really scared to travel so far from home but, after living in the cocoon of Singapore for so long, it definitely was a culture shock." Partially out of rebelliousness and partially to broaden her horizons, Grace refused to associate with other singaporeans. "It caused quite a bit of loneliness."

The longer she was on her own, the more Grace realised she did not want to pursue the law. "I became very angry, at my parents, at the system that brought me there."

Trauma

One evening in London, Grace got off at the wrong tube stop, which led to a series of events that resulted in her being robbed and gang-raped. It took weeks to recover. She missed many classes. "That is when I realised life is too short and I had to live my life my way, regardless of the consequences." Under the circumstances, her parents relented. Grace left law school and enrolled at the Camden School of Art where she taught drawing and worked as a nude model to help pay for classes.

California

Grace developed an increasing desire to attend school in the USA. "I believed I could experience a more liberated education in the States." She applied to a number of schools, but could not decide which to attend. Her parents recognised her talent through her drawings and, unbeknownst to Grace, decided to help. Her mother forged Grace's name on an application to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and called upon teaching and television friends to help it along.

Grace entered USC's school of fine arts as a sophomore in the autumn of 1993. She experienced culture shock all over again. "Americans are so blunt." After only six months, she was totally Americanised.

For a time, Grace thought about attending USC's school of film and television. She abandoned the idea when she determined the students and teachers were "totally absorbed in everything Hollywood."

Part of Grace's Americanisation was the "usual experimentation" with drugs. She stopped when it "threatened to take over my life. I don't mind dying young but I don't want to die ugly."

Grace and her circle of friends were influenced by Douglas Coupland's Generation X. There was a lot of promiscuity, so much that Grace was ostracised by the other students in her dorm. It was rumoured that Grace and her roommate were lesbian lovers. Fraternity boys stormed their room to teach them a lesson.

Grace became enraged during a class on feminist theory. "It was much too hermetic. It did not embrace other cultures, and it was too male-oriented."

Professor Walter Williams had the greatest influence on Grace at USC. Through his gender studies classes, the ideas and theories she had been mulling over began to take shape. "Gender studies put it all together for me - connected the dots."

In a photography class, Grace created performance pieces that employed her Annabel Chong persona. She re-created a porno set and cast classmates as various performers and technicians. "I wanted to deconstruct the mystique of filmed pornography." One classmate was extremely offended and complained to The daily trojan, the USC newspaper. Although they were defended by her professor, further pieces were not allowed. The university threatened to cut off funding for the class if "acceptable guidelines" were not imposed.

Grace was seeking something totally original, something that none of her peers were doing. In 1994, Grace responded to an LA weekly ad for nude models. She was introduced to porn director, Ed Powers, and her first adult feature, Dirty debutantes #37. She adopted the name Annabel Chong (Annabel from Edgar Allan Poe's Annabel Lee, and Chong because her friends all watched Cheech and Chong movies). Grace next met porn director John Bowen, and the idea for the world's biggest gang bang was hatched.

Grace was never really nervous about performing in adult features. They fit right in with her emerging theories an sexual pioneering. "There are layers of voyeurism - even in pornography. Who's watching whom?"

The world's biggest gang bang took place on 19 January 1995 - 251 men in 10 hours: a new world record. Appearances on the Jerry Springer, Charles Perez and Howard Stem shows followed.

In September 1995, Gough Lewis tracked down Annabel after seeing her on The Jerry Springer show. He told her he wanted to make a documentary about her life. She agreed and made herself available to Lewis day and night, at school, at work and at home in Singapore, for the next two years.

Present

The experience of making the film, the return to Singapore, the trip to London, re-visiting the gang rape site, the Cambridge University debate, and still earning her BA in Fine Arts from USC, were extremely draining. Grace feels she needs to "discover who Grace is again."

Inspired by Annie Sprinkle, a new influence in her life, Grace would like to more fully explore the possibilities of performance art. She just finished directing an adult feature, her first behind the camera, and has two additional adult projects in development. "I want to create a new genre of adult film: not porn, not erotica, something new. I realise it is still important to shock people. But I would like to move beyond the shock and explore these issues in a more subtle way."

Grace is also interested in producing a documentary on the use of sex in regression therapy, and hopes to continue her studies in graduate school this autumn.

Reflection

"It is still a bit too early to articulate my feelings about Gough's film - hard to be detached."

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