At first, Gough Lewis’s Sex: The Annabel Chong Story affects heavy-lidded ironic bemusement as Chong, queen of the World’s Biggest Gangbang, visits with her beer-bellied fan club president; as Oral Majority star Michael J. Coxx complains that Chong’s record-breaking feat “gives porn a bad name”; as her mum back in Singapore speaks proudly of her daughter, having no idea that the biggest-selling porn video of all time features Annabel having sex with 251 men in 10 hours. But the film’s smug smirk fades as another personality comes into focus: that of Grace Quek, earnest, tomboyish gender-studies student and creator/performer of the Annabel Chong character. Quek improbably envisions her Caligulicious stunt and her other porn work (selected filmography: All I Want for Christmas Is a Gangbang, I Can’t Believe I Did the Whole Team!, Sgt. Pecker’s Lonely Hearts Club Gangbang) as what she calls “a piss take on masculinity”—she wants to reposition, as it were, the promiscuous female, recasting “slut” as “stud.”
Her proporn postfeminism challenges a truism that’s already weathered and hobbled, but Quek is compelling not for her ideas but the tangled path by which she came to them. Lewis sketches adolescent chafing against her conservative Singapore milieu, guilt-edged devotion to her unwitting family, and a gang rape at 19, the obvious parallels of which Quek declines to draw. Sex‘s initial facile smarm begins to appear as a strategy by which the audience will draw easy, soon-dispelled conclusions about Quek/Chong—we’ll see the same lip-smacking dragon lady (“I’m Annabel Chong, porn’s newest fortune cookie”) as do Lewis’s long, hairy parade of adult-movie producers, one of whom calls her “a babbling idiot.” The movie is still a cheat, cutting ethical corners, seeking cheap laughs and cheaper sentiment. Quek herself, however, is fascinating in all her contradictions, in her extreme-sports quest to chase down and obliterate an outmoded ideal.
lso going to extremities is the 13-year-old aspiring outlaw Stevie in Pups, the second feature from British-born director Ash, whose $20,000 debut, Bang (not starring Annabel Chong), also pivoted on the discovery of a gun and the resulting domino string of consequences over the course of a sweltering Los Angeles day. Thug-posturing, asthma-plagued Stevie (Cameron Van Hoy) finds his mother’s pistol and, with girlfriend Rocky (Mischa Barton) in tow, impulsively decides to hold up a bank because, as he later explains to MTV’s Kurt Loder (in a startlingly self-flagellating cameo), “It was on the way to school.” Ash trips up with Burt Reynolds’s blustering FBI negotiator, but the hyperreal performances he elicits from his two young leads, the complex dependencies that develop between the hostages and their captors, and his deft, unshowy doc-style camerawork all cohere and combust, borrowing from Dog Day Afternoon to debate the effects of media violence on youth. Didactic but not pedantic, Pups had both the prescience and the bad luck to premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival 48 hours before Columbine, and was then shelved; no pundit since has come close to answering the questions it raises.