SINGAPORE (AFP) - Annabel Chong gained global notoriety in a very un-Singaporean way -- she had sex 251 times with 70 men in the American pornographic film, "The World's Greatest Gang Bang".
On Thursday, a play inspired by the Singapore-born porn star opens in the conservative city-state, and in its own way edges the country toward greater openess.
"I feel I am becoming quite an Annabel Chong myself because I am finding the boundaries I can push, the envelopes I can't push," said the play's director, Loretta Chen.
The 90-minute play "251: Welcome to the Intimate Life of Annabel Chong" poses the question: Should someone like Chong be regarded as a hero?
The catalyst for the play was a local newspaper article that discussed the definition of a national hero, Chen said.
"They said national heroes are people who dare to go the distance, break boundaries and do what no man or woman has dared to do and Annabel Chong has done just that," she said.
"And yet she is branded as a national shame... she's taboo because her act was sexual."
Chong was the stage name of Grace Quek, who was born to middle-class Christian parents who were teachers. She attended top schools and was awarded a scholarship to read law in London.
But shortly after, she moved to Los Angeles to enrol in a gender studies undergraduate programme and there, her porn career began.
"Annabel Chong is a persona I created to express a certain part of myself that so far has not been able to find an outlet," Quek told AFP at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival that screened "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story", a documentary about her.
"In some ways Annabel is a rebel. She is rebelling against her very strict upbringing in Singapore," Quek, then aged 26, said.
"251" explores the turning points -- including a gang rape which Quek said happened to her in London -- that led her to become Annabel Chong, Chen said.
"I see her as a product of the Singaporean system," she said.
Singapore is Southeast Asia's most advanced economy and the hard-driving society has left many people with little time for sex.
Officials have said the country is not producing enough babies to replenish the population. A survey by condom-maker Durex put Singapore near the bottom on a world list of sexually active nations.
Its politics remain tightly-controlled but Singapore has been gradually easing the social restrictions that have given it a strait-laced reputation.
Late last year the government said oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be legalised, although "gross indecency" between two males remains a crime.
A cabinet minister said recently that the country is undergoing liberalisation -- it only blocks 100 Internet porn sites -- while retaining a very strong conservative core.
Chen said she was stunned when authorities approved "251", and their action appears to show that times are changing.
A few years ago, the play would have been banned and not talked about, she said.
Still, authorities had concerns and gave Chen a list of guidelines to follow, she said. Full nudity and group sex could not be depicted but a topless scene was allowed.
The play is rated for audiences above 18 years of age.
Annabel Chong's story is interspersed with social commentaries and monologues, including a humorous scene in which the citizen-government relationship is portrayed as "mainstream porn".
A character, Mr Big, threatens to "tame" an actress while they are simulating different sexual positions.
"In return I will have prosperity... I will have safety from crime, hate... inter-racial strife," the actress says.
Another scene shows Annabel Chong speaking with a porn talent scout.
"I want everyone to get a piece of my body, but nobody gets my soul," she says.
The play, set to run until April 15, is sold out for the first three days but Quek will not be in the audience.
Chen says Quek refused to meet the theatre group or attend the premiere because "Annabel is dead".
Quek often returns to Singapore to visit her mother, and passed along magazine articles and tapes of her media interviews to help Chen in her research, the director said.
But Quek has killed off her Annabel Chong alter ego and is working as an IT consultant in the United States, says a notice on her defunct Website.
Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie, who stars as Chong, said she visited an online forum where people asked: "Why are they bringing her back? She's not worth remembering."
Chen hopes "251" can challenge those attitudes.
"I am hoping too that people will actually see her in a more humane light," she said.Media SourceThe pirated DVD version will be available next week. I can't wait to check it out!! BTW who has seen her master piece "The World's Biggest Gang Bang"?
FYI In hardcore pornography, Annabel Chong pioneered the on-camera TRIPLE PENETRATION.