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[whitespace] Unsung Feminist? Annabel Chong strikes a blow against sexual repression in a new documentary--or does she?

Bedtime Story

A new documentary focuses on one woman's complex sexual history

By Richard von Busack

SHE WAS BORN Grace Quek in the sexually repressed, socially conservative nation of Singapore. Quek came to London to study as a college student. There, one night, she was gang raped by some men on the concrete near the garbage chute of a housing project. Transferring to USC in Los Angeles, she became a feminist anthropology student and started to work in pornography under the name Annabel Chong. As Chong, she starred in The World's Biggest Gang Bang, a piece of stunt-porn in which she had sex with 251 men in front of the camera during a 10-hour session--a world record it was claimed.

The portrait of this mercurial woman, Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, by documentary maker Gough Lewis, leaves you with no clear idea of Quek's motives. Was it sexual expression, therapy or money that led her into the sex business? Was she trying to escape being a dutiful Asian girl? (If so, why did she introduce herself as "a fortune cookie" when she was recruiting men for the orgy?) The film suggests that growing up in Singapore scarred her worse than the rape in London. (Quek says, "In Singapore, pornography is filth. It goes against the collective agreement of what it means to be a Singaporan." A seething pause. "Fuck them. They can lick my ass.")

The first question anyone ever asks a porn star is "Do you enjoy it?" The second is "Does your mother know?" It's impossible to gauge Quek's feelings about being Chong, but it seems likely the feelings are mixed. She's a cutter, slashing her arm with a knife on camera. (In this moment, Lewis' decision not to interfere with his subject seems not dutiful, but voyeuristic and cowardly.) Quek also drops broad hints of a drug problem. But the answer to the second question is one we get oncamera. The tearful despair of Quek's mother back in Singapore--tipped off to her daughter's profession by some vicious, civic-minded anonymous phone callers--gives you a little taste of the burden of Confucian duty to one's parents. This terrible guilt seems to overload even Quek's remarkable ability to intellectualize her experiences.

Although the film doesn't pass judgment on Quek, the porn-industry men in this sexually explicit documentary don't impress as similarly complex people--from the slobby directors Ed Powers and Robert Black and the homely star Ron "The Hedgehog" Jeremy all the way up to the various producers who ripped Quek off on her fees. Quek may be ahead of her time. Maybe she is what she's been called here, "an unheard voice in feminism." I agree with her arguments about a woman's right to seize control of her own sexuality, and I still think this is a tremendously sad story.

Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (Unrated, but sexually explicit; 86 min.), a documentary by Gough Lewis, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the April 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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