(1999) dir. Gough Lewis
I read about Annabel Chong (a.k.a. Grace Quek) first about 6-7 years ago in Giant Robot magazine, which is an interesting magazine in its broad scope though not always in its writing quality, and was not unsurprised when I read that a documentary had been filmed of her story as well. Chong, a native of Singapore, was a USC undergrad in sexual studies who entered the porn industry in a combination of research, perceived social commentary, and presumably to confront personal issues that she had about sex in general. The Giant Robot article and this film center around the apex/nadir of her journey, the filming of her movie, World’s Biggest Gang Bang (1995) in which she had sex with 251 men in a single 10 hour session, more than doubling the then world record.
As a documentary, this shot-on-video film is no great shakes. But as with many documentaries, the subject matter sometimes transcendently compelling and can override a less than quality film. I am not sure how “transcendently compelling” this story actually is, but there is something more here than the film manages to capture. Chong is intelligent, idealistic, troubled, and naive, and at the tender age of 22, these characteristics are in no way a-typical. Her academically inspired rhetoric about Sexuality and Women’s Studies is impassioned yet inarticulate. I wouldn’t doubt for an instant that someone with greater objectivity and education could weave some strong analysis of the issues that Chong seems to project on her situation.
What she seems incapable of recognizing is the self-destructive nature of her acts. Years before, in London, Chong had been gang-raped, a scene to which the camera follows her rather morbidly late in the film. A couple of times the film alludes to drug use, something which Chong is never shown doing or talking about. One scene depicts her cutting herself with a knife (scratching would be more accurate since the wounds she inflicts are not deep). This might be the great irony of that scene in general, as Chong’s life seems to be a series of self-inflicted emotional wounds which she doesn’t have the wherewithal to recognize.
There is so much material here that could have been better explored. Small asides with friends and associates fail to enlighten the subject in much more than hints. She delusionally tells an old school friend that she “is now one of the biggest porn stars in the world,” though, based on interviews with others in the industry, the claim is by no means an accurate one.
Ultimately, this is a depressing story and a depressing film. One would hope that this film would never become a truly tragic footnote in that perhaps Chong has grown/will grow and move on. At the end of the film, she returns to the porn industry after having quit. Her struggle for self-awareness, to come to terms with who she is, remains incomplete at the end of the film. And though her experiences are extreme and unusual, her troubled exploration of self is something that I think that most people can recognize and empathize with.