Weng Weng was born in the Philippines, the size of a Pepsi Cola bottle and lived for his first 6 months in a shoebox, incubated with a single light bulb.
Australian Andrew Leavold has a tattoo of him on his left shoulder.
Because he’s one of the most unusual movie stars in the history of cinema.
Leavold who ran Sydney’s Trash Video, and has seen more seedy, sleazy, wrong and bizarre films than can be healthy for any human, became particularly obsessed with Weng Weng, the diminutive 2 foot 9 star of classic z-grade James Bond rip offs For Y’ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid. Watching him cavort around in a white lesiure suit, karate kicking attackers kneecaps, jumping out of 20 storey buildings with an umbrella and making the girls swoon was simply too much for Leavold. He had to know more.
The Search For Weng Weng is equal parts a tale of Leavold’s unchecked obsession, a detective tale, uncovering Weng Weng’s strange and somewhat tragic life, and a history of the Filipino film industry, which at the peak of its powers was releasing over three hundred films a year for its domestic audience.
Leavold weaves these multiple strands together effortlessly, there’s a real sense of discovery here, as we sit with him in Manilla cafes, swapping Weng Weng stories with Filipino b movie royalty, all of whom remember him affectionately. Leavold tracks down his brother who discusses Weng Weng’s early life and even his editor, who Leavold opportunistically bumps into in a car park, revealing not two but over ten Weng Weng films.
It’s a surreal and frequently unexpected journey that at one point sees Leavold hosted and given the VIP treatment by Imelda Marcos. Yet Leavold also tackles the inevitable dark side of the cinema business. Early on he addresses the exploitation angle, with an academic suggesting that Weng Weng was only on screen due to his ‘disability.’ Later we learn about Weng Weng’s difficult life, and this is fascinating as Weng Weng goes from this karate kicking midget that seems to have been dropped from Mars at the beginning of the film, to heartbreakingly human – particularly post life in the limelight as the industry chewed him up and spat him out.
The second of this three disc set contains the 1982 feature D’ Wild Wild Weng, which is scratchy and uneven, both in picture and plot quality, at times verging on nonsensical. The dubbing is a little loose, in particular Weng Weng who sounds ridiculously American – which only heightens the lunacy. But this Kung Fu western or eastern, which has Weng Weng alternatively groin punching or shooting his assailants, and features not one but two amazing Six Million Dollar Man jumps (complete with the sound effects), is ridiculous fun.
There are some incredible moments, like when Weng Weng gets put in a sack and handed a banana when his friend sits down for lunch, followed by a quick burst of cartoon music, or when Weng Weng inexplicably serenades an empty house with a baritone impossibly deep for a man of his stature. Then there’s the wailing mute man, who is given a remarkable amount of screen time to wail nonsensically for no apparent reason. He even gets a Lassie moment. “What was that? Weng Weng’s in trouble?
At one point he is captured by Sebastian, the evil boss who’s taken over Santa Monica and declared himself governor. “At last I meet the famous mister Weng,” he offers all camp movie villain. “Young and tiny, but very witty. Sharp and deadly as a samurai of Kumanju. Don’t you worry Mr Weng. I will not kill you right away; I have to learn so many secrets in your small little brain. Speak up…”
But its all about the finale, with Weng Weng wreaking havoc with a Gatling gun, mowing down Filipino henchmen in sombreros, attacked by ninjas, but ably supported by a band of Indian dwarves with bows and arrows. You can see the thinking here: Why have one genre when you can have all of them. It’s a standoff that would make Leone blush, all on a budget that wouldn’t have covered his personal catering.
The third disc is the complete cd soundtrack of Leavold’s film, featuring evocative vaguely south of the border instrumental tracks from Brisbane’s B-movie masters, The Screaming Meanies, the brass heavy funk and post Morricone playfulness of Filipino soundtrack composer Francis de Veyra, and some solo guitar work from Damien Devaux. To be fair for three separate composers they’re all mining a pretty consistent world, and The Search For Weng Weng benefits greatly from this playful, quirky, reverential and evocative score.