To the cult film connoisseurs who will make up its core audience, The Search for Weng Weng has already become something of a legend. Directed by Andrew Leavold, founder of Australia’s largest cult video store and author of the indispensable blog Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys, the film has been seven years in the making and at times seemed at risk of never being completed at all. There is no underestimating the power of obsession, however, as now, thanks to Leavold’s benign mania and the generosity of his supporters, The Search for Weng Weng is finally in the can and poised to make its festival debut.
introduction to readers of this blog, I’ll simply say that the 2’9” Weng Weng, after being discovered by husband and wife producers Peter and Cora Caballes, became the star of a string of miniature spy spoofs that made him a sensation of sorts in the Philippines of the 1980s, while at the same time earning him a spot in the Guiness Book of Records as the most diminutive adult actor to appear as the lead in any film. When one of those films, 1981’s For Y’ur Height Only, got picked up for international distribution, Weng Weng, for better or worse, became for a time the most recognizable face of Filipino cinema outside the country’s borders. As Leavold notes in the introduction to his documentary, aside from these scant facts, little is known about the tiny performer beyond what we see on display in the handful of his films that survive; that being the image of a monumentally inexpressive, karate fighting homunculus with a tendency to punch his opponents in the groin before escaping between their legs.
Bobby Suarez, the One Armed Executioner himself, Franco Guerrero, Silip’s Maria Isabel Lopez -- but it is often the grunts on the ground -- the stuntmen, gophers and grips -- from whom he gleans the most salient clues, among them an editor he stumbles upon completely by chance who turns out to have worked on most of Weng Weng’s movies. There are also, as with most investigations, a fair share of intriguing detours, the most surreal being a visit to the mansion of Imelda Marcos that sees the scruffy Leavold given the VIP treatment at a gala reception for the former first lady’s 83rd birthday. A tour of the grounds, conducted by Imelda herself, follows, during which we’re given a loving look at the glass entombed corpse of her dictator husband.
Tony Falcon series, and irreverent spoofs -- Dolphy vehicles like James Batman being an example-- that dovetailed into the Weng Weng phenomenon. He also touches interestingly upon those aspects of Filipino culture that immunized the makers of Weng Weng’s films from the kind of censure that, in the U.S., greeted Tod Browning’s Freaks, a frequently touched upon film that also exploited its featured performers’ real deformities.