Back in the ’80s, Filipino cinema was ruled by one name: Weng Weng. An 83cm–tall martial artist with a flair for film, Weng Weng became the biggest movie star in the Philippines after taking on the literally ball-busting role of Agent 00 in an ultra-schlocky James Bond rip-off called For Your Height Only.
When Brisbane-based cinephile and filmmaker Andrew Leavold (founder of Brisbane’s legendary, much lamented Trash Video) first encountered this inexplicable cinematic phenomenon, he knew he couldn’t rest until he found out what had happened to the world’s tiniest secret agent. Seven years in the making, The Search for Weng Weng is a fascinating portrait of the Filipino film industry, in all its glorious strangeness and excess, as well as a funny and heart-warming tribute to the larger-than-life hero who overcame all obstacles to capture a nation’s heart.
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Tristan Bishop's review on the Brutal As Hell website (http://
Devotees of the stranger side of cinema may well be familiar with the work of Filipino actor Weng Weng, the 2ft 9 actor who graces the Guinness Book Of Records as the shortest lead actor ever, and who starred in a James Bond spoof entitled For Y’r Height Only, which was probably the biggest home-grown hit the Filipino film industry ever produced – much to the chagrin of the industry itself, apparently. The film itself is alternately a lot of fun (especially when Weng Weng employs his gadgets, such as a jetpack!) and pretty creepy (the scenes with the childlike actor seducing women), but is unmissable for those with a taste for the bizarre. Such a film would be unlikely to be made in this more enlightened day and age, and even more unlikely to be the global hit that it was, and as such the passing years have generated real cult appeal for the film and the diminutive star. But until now Weng Weng’s life has been a mystery to those outside of the Filipino film industry.
Coming on like a cross between two huge documentary hits of recent years, Not Quite Hollywood (2008) and Searching For Sugar Man (2012), The Search For Weng Weng chronicles Australian former cult video store owner Andrew Leavold on his hunt to track down the mysterious star, and was apparently filmed over the course of seven years (although there is very little indication of passing time present in the film itself). Leavold travels to Manila and manages to track down many of the big players in the Filipino film boom of the 1960s to 1980s; thankfully most of them are still alive, still hang out together, and are more than happy to share their memories. Unfortunately it transpires quite early on in the film that Weng Weng himself is no longer with us, having passed away some time in the early nineties. You might think that this would put a bit of a dampener on the entire enterprise, but Leavold keeps on digging for more information, and manages to track down Weng’s only surviving relative, his brother, who fills in the background to Weng Weng’s fascinating and ultimately tragic story.
As a documentary, The Search For Weng Weng is a little rough around the edges (not unsurprising for what is essentially one man’s obsessive seven year quest), but keeps the interest due to a quick pace and the use of hundreds of clips of Weng Weng in action, mostly from For Y’r Height Only and its sequel The Impossible Kid (as unfortunately up to 80% of Filipino films from the period are now lost). But things really kick into gear in the second half, with an unexpected swing into truly surreal territory, as Leavold meets and interviews a certain major player in the creation of the film industry (anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of The Philippines will recognise this particular character). This sequence alone had me rubbing my eyes with amazement and qualifies as one of the most astounding coups (pun very much intended) in a documentary in recent history. The only real criticism I could give here would be that Leavold seems to be a pretty interesting and entertaining chap himself, and more of him on camera would have been nice to see, but when you have a documentary subject as rich and strange as Filipino B-movies (also covered more generally in the 2010 film Machete Maidens Unleashed), it doesn’t really matter all that much.