Annabel Chong Story (1999)
Synopsis & Analysis
Born in Singapore, raised in London, and currently residing in Los Angeles, where she attended university, Ms Quek was, at the time the documentary was made, an actress in pornographic movies best known for having had sexual intercourse on film with two-hundred and fifty-one men in the space of ten hours. She is also a complex, sympathetic, and often articulate individual whose observations and personality are genuinely interesting. In fact, although Lewis attempts to provide insight into the life of his subject, he does little more than give her an opportunity to reveal herself.
At several points, for example, Ms Quek defends her involvement in the pornographic film industry as a statement about female sexuality, arguing that she has liberated herself and acts in the free manner in which many men act. Her story is not so simple, however. When, for instance, Ms Quek's mother becomes aware that her daughter is an actress in pornographic films, Grace is reduced to tears, repentance, and shame. She shows herself as being in need of her mother's approval and to be more complicated than the completely liberated person she claims to be. This disjunction between the person who has imbibed many of the values of her parents and the sexually free porn actress is made clear in a number of scenes, and it lends a complexity to Ms Quek that is both humanizing and fascinating.
What is more, whether one accepts Ms Quek's arguments about her liberation or not, the film leaves little doubt that she has been exploited by men in the pornography business. She has, for example, never been paid for the film that made her famous, specifically, the one that recorded her sexual encounter with two-hundred and fifty-one men. When Ms Quek discusses this topic, she expresses disinterest in reimbursement, but many of her comments sound distinctly like rationalizations employed to cope with her awareness of having been exploited.
Ms Quek is, in fact, a fairly sad figure. Despite her assertions that she has achieved a level of freedom most women do not enjoy, her existence appears to have been a difficult one. She does seem to have led a life of her own choosing, but she has also suffered social stigmatization as a consequence of many of the choices she has made. Instead of escaping exploitation by rejecting society's standards, Ms Quek's marginalization has made it easier for others to take advantage of her. By choosing to live in a way that defies social conventions, she has placed limitations on the very freedom she so clearly values.
Although Lewis' directing is frequently manipulative and occasionally trite, Grace Quek is such an intriguing individual that, as she reveals herself, the viewer is able to engage with her and become emotionally involved in her existence. Sex: The Annabel Chong Story is, consequently, an enjoyable film.
Review by Keith Allen
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