Orgy and Mess
The Unbearable Lightness of Annabel Chong
Sex: The Annabel Chong Story is the tale of a con job. That the con is perpetrated by its victim is only part of the tragedy in this devastating look at self-styled Gen X porn icon "Annabel Chong." And after watching this skillful assemblage of interviews, outtakes, and video clips, "victim" is the only thing you can call Chong, as unchic as that might sound these days, when restyling oneself into a sex object is the essence of cool.
In 1995, Chong (real name: Grace Quek) decided to become the object of a record-breaking, 251-man gangbang. The film alternates scenes from the resulting porn video with biographical sequences and interviews. We learn that Chong was raised in a middle-class, Christian family in Singapore and later moved to London and then Southern California. We see the petite, buzz-cut performer taking gender-studies classes at the University of Southern California, working on her Web page, hanging with her drag-queen pal, and getting her brains fucked out on assorted video shoots. A colorful array of porn-industry insiders--director John T. Bone, star Ron Jeremy, and Screw editor Al Goldstein among them--offer running commentary.
A variety of Annabel Chongs emerge. One is a studious, smartly dressed "feminist" of the pro-porn school, who views doing triple-penetration scenes as a subversive act. ("I'm still young enough to think I can change things," she says of her desire to show that women can fuck and run with the same impunity as men do.) Another Chong is an emotionally flat-lined ideologue: When asked if she's concerned about contracting AIDS from the gangbang, she dully opines that "good sex is worth dying for." (Later, she revisits London, where she was gang raped years earlier. The connection between this trauma and her later activities is almost too pat. Or maybe not.)
As the body count grows higher, Chong's carefully constructed veneer begins to crumble. Amid scenes of Chong expounding on the seemingly intractable trinity of women-sex-porn, director Gough Lewis (her ex-boyfriend) segues into a sequence showing an obviously inebriated Chong slurring about "being numb." The camera pulls back to show her arm covered with bloody slashes, just as she takes a razor and angrily carves herself again. Just as disturbing is a sequence in which she summons the nerve to tell her clueless mother the nature of her employment. (Notable in its absence is any extended exploration of Chong's childhood.) Later we learn that, because of vague legal screwups, Chong was never paid a promised $10,000 for her record-breaking act. Watching her rationalize why she didn't take her employers to court as another form of female empowerment becomes, essentially, another variety of self-mutilation.
The terrible irony of Sex is that, while Chong/Quek tries to reconcile the traditionally "submissive" role of women in Asian culture with post-feminist theory, she becomes a victim anyway. (The director adopts a nonjudgmental stance toward the porn industry itself; there is no suggestion that Chong is ever coerced into performing.) The media image of the sexually blasé but emotionally naive dot-com girl, represented by Chong's extreme example, becomes a sham--that a person can learn an ideology, the film suggests, does not mean the person is able to integrate those beliefs into a viable psychological identity.
You'll walk out of Sex: The Story of Annabel Chong Story feeling that you still don't really know its star. After watching her feed herself on hollow intellectual rationales and emotional denial and strip herself of cultural-identity accessories, it's hard not to conclude that there is no "real" Annabel Chong--or, for that matter, a Grace Quek.