Pros: A consistently fascinating portrait of the adult business
Cons: The film is very dark and depressing at times, and quite graphic
Gough Lewis's 1999 documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story may be one of the most disturbing documents of the adult film industry ever produced. The film follows the life of Grace Quek, a Singapore-born seemingly normal college student studying sexuality at USC. Quek's life is different from her peers, though, as, in between classes discussing feminist thought and the nature of female-male interactions and personalities, Quek is a porn star who performs under the name Annabel Chong. After debuting in 1994, Chong (despite of having some of the worst teeth I've ever seen) quickly gained prominence in the industry due to her willingness to perform just about any action onscreen, as films such as What's a Girl Like You Doing in an Anal Film?, Depraved Fantasies 3 and I Can't Believe I Did The Whole Team would attest.
Chong became most famous for her appearance in The World's Biggest Gang_Bang, one of several gang_bang (i.e. where Chong would do numerous guys in succession and at the same time) that she would appear in. The main difference with this title was that an open casting call was held to find 300 guys to have sex with Annabel over a ten hour span. While only 251 men made the cut, the feat was still jaw-dropping, especially in the era of HIV and AIDS.
Using the filming of The World's Biggest Gang_Bang as its core, Gough's film follows Chong around cinema verite style, capturing her daily life as she becomes a prominent student at USC getting good grades across the board and acclaim for her persuasive and scholarly writing all the while interacting with seedy and, frankly disgusting figures in the adult industry.
Gough's film is quite engrossing and is actually very powerful in its depiction of the adult business. The view presented by this film is completely different from the perspectives provided in films like Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy in that Chong seems to interact with only the most sleazy individuals during her time in the business. We learn throughout the course of the film that, while offered some $10,000 for her participation in the Biggest Gang_Bang video, which was a huge video hit, Chong was never paid by the producer (who talks about this on camera, knowing full well that it was he who never paid her). Chong also gets involved with infamous porno film maker Robert Black, at one point getting into an argument about her salary while Black demands that she "p_iss, fist, f_uck" and worse in the film. It's not surprising, then, that at one point, adult star Michael J. Cox says that, while the adult business has worked hard at improving its reputation, Chong's participation in her most famous video "made the industry look sleazy."
Throughout the course of the film, various persons associated with Quek/Chong are interviewed about her personality. Aspects of her home life, social interaction, education, and pornography are discussed, but it seems as if director Lewis is almost trying to make a negative portrayal of the woman. This aspect is made even more alarming when one realizes that, at the time of the film's production, Lewis and Quek were engaged in a relationship, making one question many of the motives and/or viewpoints provided in the film.
That's not to say that footage of Quek informing her mother of her involvement in pornography isn't more than a little uncomfortable and strangely moving. There are plenty of moments in the film that are magical speaking from a documentary film perspective; Lewis has turned in a film that's engrossing and consistently thought-provoking, but the film content merely to present its material then move on. There are some glaring issues brought up in the film (Quek's apparent rape in London for example) that are barely mentioned. Obviously, this event would have played some role in her life (made more disturbing when looking at the type of pornography she made), but Lewis skims over this material, putting no effort into discussing what affect this might have had on Quek. This eventually forces the audience to analyze the material in the film, but it really seems like Lewis is being quite subjective in his presentation of the material.
If there's one thing that one walks away from this film realizing, it's the fact of just how screwed up the personality of Grace Quek/Annabel Chong really is. While in some scenes, she seems quite intelligent and assured, one can sense her complete discomfort in others, in which she often puts on some sort of facade to mask her nervousness and fear. Quek almost always seems on the verge of breaking down; a complete emotional disaster.
It becomes increasingly hard for the viewer to really take her seriously; several criticisms are brought up in the commentaries provided in the film, namely by porn actor Ron Jeremy and by a former art teacher, that hit the nail on the head with regard to Quek's emotional instability and seemingly introverted nature. While her intelligence is unquestionable, during the course of this film, a viewer really starts to question this young woman's judgment. It's also difficult to take her educational points seriously when, during the film, she wears both a shirt advertising her appearance in the World's Biggest Gang_Bang video and one emblazoned with the word "sl_ut" on it to class.
Gough Lewis's film is exceedingly graphic, containing distant shots of actual sexual intercourse, loads of full frontal nudity of all sorts, descriptions of sex that frequently borders on the aberrant, profanity, self-mutilation, etc. This film absolutely is not for younger viewers or those who are easily offended; it's quite harrowing in many ways. The DVD of this film from Strand releasing has a bonus short feature "Inside Annabel Chong" which looks at the film's release and how Grace Quek has coped with it.
While there's no doubt that Sex: The Annabel Chong Story would be worth watching to anyone interested in the adult film industry, I have to seriously question just how realistic its portrayal is. The film seems very manipulative and at all points, goes for pure sensationalism, delivering the most outrageous material possible. Gough Lewis's documentary does provoke some interesting questions, but the motivations of the film seem rather suspect and generally quite unpleasant. I've sought out many of the available documentaries concerning the porn business, and would have to count this among the most disturbing; it presents the story of a quite obviously troubled young woman in a way that seems uncomfortably voyeuristic at times. I'd give it a recommendation, but only to those who can handle the extremely graphic sexual and psychological content this film contains.