Sex sobers in controversial Sundance documentary
Hot ticket touches taboo subject matter
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From Turner Entertainment Report Correspondent Paul Clinton
PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- "Did it hurt? Well, yeah. It's like running a marathon, you know, the pain is part of the high -- part of the adrenaline rush. It hurt, but it's not something I didn't expect."
So said Grace Quek, aka Annabel Chong, in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival about her experience on January 19, 1995. At that time she was a 22-year-old University of Southern California masters degree candidate -- and a porn star. That day, within a 10-hour time period, she broke a world record by having intercourse -- on camera -- with 251 men.
Quek, who says she likes being treated "like a piece of meat," is sitting in the cramped living room of a small suite at the Shadow Ridge Hotel in Park City, Utah, just after the final 1999 Sundance Festival screening of the documentary following her sexual exploits, "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story."
The documentary by first-time director Gough Lewis not only details the sexual marathon, but follows Grace for the next two years -- at her apartment in Los Angeles, at work and at school -- as she rides an emotional roller coaster while reeling between sexual bravado and deep self-doubt. The camera even goes with her on family visits to Singapore.
Tickets for this documentary were among the hottest items at the 1999 festival.
Few regrets about sex record
At first glance, she looks much smaller in person than she did in the film. Blond streaks run through her dark chin-length hair. She seems both unsure of herself and in total control at the same time.
This is the same woman who speaks in the documentary of being flattered that so many men wrote in wanting to take part in the marathon: "If that's not a ego trip, I don't know what is."
When asked if there was anything she now regrets about having sex with 251 men in 10 hours, she replies in a perfectly even, but soft voice, "The only thing I thought I'd do differently if I had to do it all over again -- I would definitely be more savvy about making sure all the guys were tested and wearing condoms for the big gang-bang event. But otherwise, I would do it the same way."
As the documentary shows, even fellow members of the adult film community were shocked by her lack of safety, and by the actual event itself. Their outrage didn't effect her then or now. "I'm not terribly involved in the politics of the adult film industry," she says. "This sort of hostility eventually loses its momentum when they find someone new to hate."
The most obvious question is why someone would even do this in the first place, let alone make a documentary about the subject. "What I hoped to accomplish firstly," she says, "was to explore my own personal sexuality, my boundaries, and I think I accomplished that. To see how far I could go off the beaten track of the passive female who likes to be romantically seduced."
Deep reasons behind behavior
But she also freely admits, both within the disturbing film and in this interview, that there are other, deeper reasons behind her extreme sexual behavior. The only child of parents who were both teachers, Grace led a sheltered life in Singapore and attended a girls-only convent school. She claims her life there was restricted and paralyzing.
In regard to her childhood and her current profession she admits, "Certainly that's a major aspect of it and there's, of course, all these stories about leaving Singapore and going completely in the other direction because Singapore is very, very repressive society, very rigid, very structured."
Todd Williams, an independent filmmaker who directed the Sundance dramatic entry "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," expressed a fairly common reaction after seeing the documentary."The thing about 'The Annabel Chong' thing that was interesting to me," Williams says, "is that it wasn't -- I didn't find it titillating at all. I think," he continued, "a lot of people came there to be titillated, but it was -- it's pretty sobering."
Quek claims that her record-breaking feat (the record has since been broken several times by others) was also her way of poking fun at the double standard between men and women. "If a guy did 251 women in one day, I guess everyone would think he's a real stud," she maintains. "But when a girl does that she's considered to be this terrible slut."
She says she's aware that society still tends to put single women on a pedestal, sexually speaking, while single men are left off the hook by many, and allowed to exercise lower standards in their behavior. But she claims to see nothing wrong in lowering women's standards to fit the more base standards set by many men.
"Don't you think," she says, "that by putting women on this terrible pedestal, where they're all pure and perfect, is kind of terribly constraining on women? It really puts this terrible limit on what they can do in life. It's just another way of controlling -- limiting the avenues of exploration that women are allowed to do."
When asked what she thinks is the difference between making love and having sex and whether she feels the need for intimacy, she says, "I think making love is an emotional connection, a sense of being a part of another person. For me at least -- it's the difference between having a gourmet meal and a taco. Sometimes you maybe want a gourmet meal. Sometimes you just want a taco.
The actual sexual marathon is handled somewhat discreetly within the documentary. Only extreme close-ups of various body parts and faces are shown; the film never gets truly graphic. However, many scenes are hard to watch as the viewer is treated to numerous wide shots of hundreds of naked men all lined up in a big room waiting for their turn to make history -- an unsettling sight, to say the least.
In addition to the actual "gang bang," there are two very disturbing parts in the documentary. Her visit home to Singapore is extremely painful. Her parents had no idea what Grace did back in the United States and were completely unaware of her new claim to fame. Her mother glows in front of the camera while talking about her little girl and how she hopes Grace will find happiness in life. When she discovers the truth, the results are heartrending.
In the other unsettling segment, Grace takes a knife and repeatedly cuts her arm over and over again in a horrifying act of self-mutilation.
Asked if these difficult moments in the film actually reflected her life and how she felt at the time, she says, "The film is Gough's interpretation of my work and my life. I think that he projects a lot of himself onto the movie and he's drawn to certain situations. I look at the movie myself and say, 'God, am I actually that depressed?'"
She adds, "I think he went slightly overboard with it, but I think there's a grain of truth in a lot of the pain that I've had to go through. It's a really long journey and everything I've done until now is a work in progress."
After the interview, the last image this reporter had of Grace was of her sitting in the hotel hallway outside a closed door. She's apparently waiting for someone to take her to her next interview. Her knees are drawn up to her chest and her arms are wrapped around them. She has no expression on her face -- no expression at all.
"Sex: The Annabel Chong Story" is currently scheduled to be released by Greycat Productions. No date has been set at this time.
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