Saturday, March 17, 2007

AP, Friday 16 March 2007

Stage group to tell story of Annabel Chong, Singapore's most infamous porn star
Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE (AP) _ A play about the life of local porn star Annabel Chong _ who gained international notoriety for her 1995 film showing her perform 251 sex acts in 10 hours _ is likely to push the envelope of public tolerance in conservative Singapore.

The play's producers hope that it will challenge some of the preconceptions of Singaporeans, who have long professed a love of traditional "Asian values," even as the government tries to portray a slightly more liberal image.

The video of Chong's antics, which the producers billed as a world record at the time, has never been available in Singapore's stores because pornography is banned here, and Chong has since retired from the industry.

But now Singapore's Toy Factory Productions, an independent stage group, is revisiting the X-rated actress' brief but controversial career in a play titled "251" that opens next month.

"251" explores a little known side of Chong _ including her troubled experience with religion as a teenager, a violent sexual assault as a college student overseas, and the intellectual premise of the video that earned her a spot in porn history.

"Whether we like her or absolutely hate her, we can't deny the fact that she is very much part of our national psyche," said director Loretta Chen. The cast includes local actress Cynthia Lee-MacQuarrie and four others.

But "251" has already been criticized even before its April 5 opening.

"I think its cheap and vulgar to use Annabel Chong as (a) play production," one user named "Tommy" wrote in an Internet online forum last month.

Playwright Ng Yi-Sheng, who wrote "251," said the criticism was unsurprising.

"Annabel is iconic to all Singaporeans because she's a force of sexual chaos," Ng said. "Just to say her name is to suggest a taboo."

In one scene, the Chong character encounters a childhood friend to whom she reveals that her exploits have perhaps affected her self-esteem.

"You never sold out," the friend says.

"I sold my body to everyone - to the church, to the strip club clientele, even the lonely men and women in their homes in front of their video screens," the actress responds.

Director Chen said there would be partial nudity in the play, but declined to detail how they would depict the stunts that earned the play its name.

Annabel Chong was the stage name of Grace Quek, 34, who is now said to be leading a quiet life as a Web designer in the United States since leaving the porn industry in 2003. Quek has since declined media interviews and attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.

Born into a middle-class Christian family, Quek was a top student in Singapore before she went to London to study law on a scholarship. There, she was reportedly gang raped one night.

Quek began working in adult films when she moved to the United States for postgraduate studies. Her stunt led to several media appearances, and in 1999, a documentary about her life was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Quek later admitted only about 70 men were involved in the shooting of the video, though 251 sex acts were shot. She said that she had been partially motivated by her experiences growing up in Singapore - a wealthy financial center with sometimes harsh social and political controls _ a theme Chen said "251" would also tackle.

"The notion of sex is still controversial even though we say we're opening up," Chen said.

The play, which is restricted to an over-18 audience, is being staged amid efforts by the government to boost tourism and cater to a generation exposed to overseas influences. Pornography is still banned, but more films depicting nudity have been screened uncut to restricted audiences, and racy magazines such as "Cosmopolitan" are on sale - though sealed in clear plastic to avoid browsing minors.


Lesley said...

Way to go Toy Factory Productions for challenging stereotypes and forging change and acceptance in your own country. What GRace, Annabel Chong, did was brave and took a lot of guts for whatever reason. Being from South Africa and having been fortunate enough to experience the demise of Appartheid first hand, I can say without doubt that if it were not for the bold and often inevitably controvercial and fearless individuals in our communities who persistently challenged senseless laws and stupid rules that did nothing but limit the extent to which imagination can yield freedom, we would not have witnessed democracy in 1994. Now we have the best costitution in the world, designed by all who live in and love our country for all it is and ever was. It is my opinion that this heroine must be celebrated by Singapore instead of being hated. I truely hope tht your productin manages to reveal the dreaded truth that Annabel Chong was not a sex worker but a revolutionary (visionary if you like)who, even in her retirement, continues to contribute to the recognition of women as equal humans in this world instead of objects of men's nefarious desires.
Let us continue to use theatre and art to express the realities of our worlds and use this freedom to educate the ignorant and the blind conformists of senseless ancient restrictions to individualism.

Lesley Vusi Nkosi

Anonymous said...

Grace has an extensive psychiatric history, ranging from depression, deliberate self harm, post tramatic stress disorder, low self esteem sexual assualt and anxiety. She had an identity crisis back in the 90s, which, she resolved to 251...but did all these ever make her happy? Satisfy? It was not about being brave. It is about her identity and her life. She had failed to achieve. She romanticized the porn industry....'There is no greater joy than soaring high on the wings of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality.'

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