Gerrie Lim tackles porn star Annabel Chong

  • Print this page Print
  •  
  • E-mail this page Email
  •  

Best known for his sex-industry exposés, Gerrie Lim’s latest nonfiction debunks the myths behind porn star Grace Quek, aka Annabel Chong. Elaine Ee-Meyers asks the author what motivated the Singaporean’s most infamous act

First published on 30 May 2011. Updated on 30 May 2011.

Back in the early 1990s, a bright, 22-year-old upper middle-class Singaporean Chinese woman, well on the fast track to success, did the unthinkable. Having already dropped out of law school in London and moved to Los Angeles to enrol in a gender studies course at the University of Southern California, Grace Quek made a bold move unprecedented for someone of her pedigree – she became a porn star. And so Annabel Chong was born.

In 1995, Chong initiated and starred in what was then the world’s biggest gangbang, where she engaged in 251 sex acts with 70 men in under ten hours. Two years later news of the romp broke in Singapore’s The New Paper, and Chong became a local outlier – equal parts rebel, whore, stud, heroine, ultra-feminist, desperado and victim, depending on your own moral compass. She officially retired from porn stardom in 2003, but for many, even beyond her home nation, there remains a fascination in her antics.

Now author Gerrie Lim has picked up the mantle with Singapore Rebel: Searching for Annabel. ‘Her gangbang had become an urban legend or mythological thing, and I was really surprised that after so long there was still interest in her,’ says Lim of the incentive behind his latest book. ‘She doesn’t even think about it anymore, but other people do.’

Singapore Rebel isn’t concerned with fanning the embers of the legend. Rather, it tackles Annabel Chong as the character Quek intended her to be, taking a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the making – and unmaking – of this porn persona. It’s more a treatise in gender studies and celebrity branding than the racy, ladmag investigative journalism of Lim’s earlier books like In Lust We Trust; more serious than titillating, more thought provoking than provocative.

‘The book originally came out of a proposal I wrote for a PhD that I never did, to talk about the role of pornography in society in terms of incidental learning, which is the process by which you are learning things when you are not intending to learn them,’ explains Lim. ‘I was trying to demystify the persona using a deconstructive process. This is not a book about Grace Quek, it’s a book about Annabel Chong.’

So what about Chong? In the documentary made about her in 1999, Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, which came four years after the gangbang and screened at the Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim, producer Gough Lewis revealed the idea behind Quek’s onscreen brainchild.

By becoming Annabel, Quek wanted to subvert gender stereotypes to show that women could have as voracious a sexual appetite as men, and flaunt it proudly. ‘I hope that the [documentary] would complicate people’s basic assumptions about women in pornography [and] the representation of women in pornography, as well as the nature of female sexuality,’ said Quek in the film.

It is this stance that Lim takes pains to explore and understand, through meticulously researched material, his own correspondence with Quek and a series of interviews he and others conducted with her which are reprinted in the book, some in their entirety. He is clearly supportive of the lofty intentions that underlay her porn work, but also reveals the darker, sadder underbelly of the world she entered – the self-destruction, humiliation and exploitation.

When asked where he stands on the issue personally, Lim is ambivalent. ‘I’m conflicted about this because she is misunderstood. The best way I can explain this is, if you set out to do something, with the best intentions, and people misinterpret that, is it your fault? She did this gangbang as a gender studies/liberal-progressive/ feminist statement to subvert gender stereotypes, but no one got it. There was a certain naivëte that went with that. She is a fragile, vulnerable human being, just like the rest of us, who set out to do things with good intentions, but failed to see that those intentions left her open to misinterpretation, which is exactly what happened.’

For Quek, explains Lim, the final sex-act tally of 251 was just a number; it was the message behind it that mattered, not how many men she banged. ‘But people started doing more gangbangs to break the record further,’ says Lim, ‘and it totally obliterated the whole idea of 251 being just a number, which is what she was trying to say. It is just a number.’

One reason why Lim’s coverage of the sex industry has been so well received is precisely because of his ability to see through the fear and prejudice that often surrounds sex work, and connect with his subjects as ‘fragile, vulnerable human being(s), just like the rest of us’.

With Chong he takes it a step further in the book, and glorifies her. She graces the cover in a superhero’s costume, standing strong and proud, wearing a shining crown, guns blazing. Indeed, Lim spends much of the book portraying her as a smart, brave woman who was ahead of her time.

‘I think Annabel came to the realisation at some point that she was going to get herself noticed. She was going to do it and make sure that you didn’t forget her, even though most people didn’t care, or dismissed her as just another Asian bimbo.

You’ve got to salute that and say “good for you, girl”,’ affirms Lim. ‘And that’s the way I would summarise this book. It salutes that gesture, which is why we have her on the cover as a superheroine. That she would have the courage and the balls to go that far, when no one else would. That’s what a superhero is.’

Gerrie Lim’s Singapore Rebel: Searching for Annabel (published by Monsoon) is in bookstores now priced $19.80.

The author will have a book signing at Page One VivoCity on 4 Jun, 3pm.

By Elaine Ee-Meyers
  • Print this page Print
  •  
  • E-mail this page Email
  •  
 

Readers' comments

 

© 2007 - 2014 Time Out Group Ltd. All rights reserved. All material on this site is © Time Out.