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Friday, December 9, 2016
If you're unfamiliar with Weng Weng, all it takes to remedy the problem is seeing the trailer for the James Bond spoof "For Y'ur Height Only" which kicks off writer-director Andrew Leavold's affectionate documentary THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG (2007).
For the next two minutes or so, we see the diminutive Filipino movie star (all 2'9" of him) going through all the familiar Bond motions, such as the gun-barrel sequence and a wobbly-wired imitation of his celebrated rocket pack flight from THUNDERBALL, in addition to all the shooting and fancy fighting (not to mention romancing) we're used to seeing from Sean Connery.
Needless to say, watching the vertically-challenged Weng Weng as Agent 00 doing all this action-oriented secret agent stuff in a spiffy white suit is the very definition of the term "novelty."
It's this quality that prompted the film industry in the Philippines to churn out a number of Weng Weng films in quick succession, one of which ended up in the hands of Australian cult video store owner Leavold in the form of an obscure VHS copy and sparked in him the keen desire to do a film biography of the tiny actor.
But finding out about him proved an elusive prospect at best, so, Mini-DV camera in hand, Leavold took the bold step of traveling to the Philippines in order to track down anyone he could find who could help shed light on his elusive subject.
As we see here, he pretty much hit the jackpot, running across not only former cast and crewmates of Weng Weng but the man's only living relative, brother Celing de la Cruz, all of whom are only too happy to share their fond reminiscences.
Sadly, all was not happiness and success for Weng Weng--as we discover, he was taken advantage of by some whom he trusted while never finding the fulfillment in life that a man of normal stature might have.
Still, as we find in what is probably the most fascinating segment in the film, Weng Weng was a favorite of his country's political royalty, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Leavold scores a major coup by being invited to the palace by an enthusiastic Mrs. Marcos herself and treated as a special guest to whom she is quite talkative and candid. (The film's weirdest moment for me: visiting Ferdinand's embalmed body, which is still lying in state for all to visit.)
Of immense importance to him as well, of course, are the interviews with Weng Weng's brother and those who worked with him. Leavold is able to extract much interesting information with which to construct a picture of the man's life and give us an empathetic understanding of what it was like to be an irresistible novelty to some and a freak to others.
All of this is enhanced not only by nicely-shot interview footage but also with copious amounts of film clips featuring Weng Weng in all his glory. The films themselves are incredibly cheap and sub-par technically, and I seriously doubt than their plots would be of much interest, so it's nice to simply get an entertaining montage of scenes from all of them which are made more interesting by the knowledge that Weng Weng performed all of his own stunts. After all, where would they find a 2'9" stunt man to stand in for him?
The DVD from WildEye Releasing contains an informative commentary track from Leavold, a trailer, deleted scenes, an "I Love Weng Weng" music video, and extended interview segments. There's also a trailer for Leavold's upcoming Doris Wishman parody "Gone Lesbo Gone."
THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG isn't just a filmed biography, but also a detective story in which the director, obsessed with his subject, tracks him down as Holmes might track Moriarty. The result is a true story with equal shares of triumph and tragedy, and an opportunity to get to know this sweetly likable little man who made a big mark on the Filipino film industry while gaining fans all around the world.
Buy it at Amazon.com