Porn to Be Wild

"Having sex with 251 men in ten hours is no different from having sex with one guy for ten hours," says Annabel Chong during an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show. "All these people writing in, wanting to have sex with me--if that's not an ego trip, I don't know what is!" The audience whoops.

Chong, the subject of Gough Lewis's documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, propelled herself to overnight porn superstardom in The World's Biggest Gang Bang, a filmed sex marathon in which she took on more than twenty dozen lumpy, lustful fans in ten hours. Lewis's documentary, part of the 23rd Cleveland International Film Festival, asks the question: Who is Annabel Chong?

She is Grace Quek, a University of Southern California student, born in Singapore to devout middle-class Chinese parents and raised in London. Professors and classmates praise her intellect, though her insights are less than profound. "I think there is not enough knowledge in the field of sex and pornography," she posits in the film, "because everyone just--it's so taboo."

Chong says she went into pornography after sleeping with "everyone" on campus, out of "intellectual curiosity." She answered an ad for nude modeling, which swiftly led to hardcore films such as Depraved Fantasies 3 and I Can't Believe I Did the Whole Team.

"I wanted to do something that would challenge me," she says of Gang Bang. "Growing up as a Generation Xer . . . we talk about living borrowed experiences, things we experience secondhand. I thought it would be interesting to do something that's not secondhand." About one-third of her 251 costars apparently couldn't handle firsthand, going limp as the cameras rolled, under the steel gaze of three security guards.

Chong, who felt "empowered" by it all, said it was important that the film reflect the democracy of Caligula's Rome. Rather than the most handsome or best-equipped candidates (5,000 applied), she hand-picked "a little bit of everything" for her model United Nations. (About half were eliminated because they either turned in the application after the event had already taken place or didn't fill out the form properly.)

Porn producers embraced Chong's eminently marketable assets. "We wanted to take this girl with an English accent and an Asian look," says one in Sex, "and make her the nastiest sexual object." With unsavory imperialist overtones, Gang Bang's British director appears at a press conference in the documentary, seated next to his nude commodity, Annabel. "Was it love at first sight?" someone asks. "It was money at first sight," he replies, laughing.

If Sex lacks a discernible point of view, it's because it's unclear whether Chong is a daring feminist, using the porn industry to make a political statement, or a deeply troubled masochist, ripe for exploitation. Though the acting displayed in her videos is risible, Chong skillfully manipulates her public persona. She is, by turns, Asian courtesan, feral sex addict, bisexual androgyne, and shallow Valley Girl. She revels in her demi-fame, poring over fan-club photos and aggressively demanding cash from sleazy directors.

Yet Sex hints at a deeper pathology. Dismissing the AIDS risk, she says, "I believe that sex is good enough to die for." (Potential gang bangers took an AIDS test before the filming started.) She never received her $10,000 fee for Gang Bang, but insists she didn't do it for the money. And, in despairing moments, she takes a knife and slices repeatedly into her forearm.

Like pornography, Sex leaves the viewer strangely empty, curiosity aroused, but ultimately unsatisfied.

--Pamela Zoslov

Sex: The Annabel Chong Story screens Friday at 10 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Monday at 2:15 p.m during the Cleveland International Film Festival. At Tower City Cinemas, 50 Public Square. Admission is $4.75 (matinee) and $7.50 (evening); call 216-623-0400 for tickets. Chong will be a panelist on an obscenity forum following the Saturday screening (free admission with ticket to Saturday's show). The festival runs through March 28; see film repertory listings on page 18 for this week's schedule.