Released by: Wild Eye Releasing
Released on: November 8th, 2016.
Director: Andrew Leavold
Cast: Tikoy Aguiluz, Imelda Marcos, Roy Arabejo
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Directed by Andrew Leavold, The Search For Weng Weng is just that – one Australian man’s quest to find out as much as possible about the life and times of the world’s most famous teeny tiny James Bond counterpart. The star of such notorious Filipino B-movies as For Y’ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid, Weng Weng has been well known to fans of offbeat cinema for years now – but not much was really out there about his background, his origins, or his work outside of the ‘Agent OO’ films. With a DV-camera at his side, Leavold hopped a plane to Manilla and set out to uncover whatever he could about a special little man who has touched film fans in the way that few others have.
As the movie plays out, we quickly realize that this is not going to be an easy task. The film scene in The Philippines doesn’t have the best track record for film preservation and the details as to who did what on various productions are sketchy at best. Leavold had his work cut out for. As it happens, Weng Weng – born Ernesto de la Cruz - did pass away quite a while before this feature could be made, so there are no interviews with the man himself in here, but there is plenty of talk with those who knew him, those who worked with him and even his brother. Amazingly enough, Leavold even manages to get an interview with none other than Imelda Marcos herself. Apparently the wife of the late dictator of the country (and notorious shoe collector!) was a big fan of Weng Weng and got to know him personally. The movie is worth it just for this scene alone – the sight of Marcos playing hostess to Leavold and guiding him around her compound sharing stories about Weng Weng is almost surreal.
The movie winds up an interesting mix of the absurd and the tragic. We learn that Weng Weng’s life was not easy. He was born into poverty and his dwarfism meant that it was unlikely he’d ever find a ‘normal job.’ When the opportunity came for him to try his hand at show business, it made sense that he and him family would be into the idea, even if in many ways you get the impression that the guy was being exploited. Still, it seems he made the best of this. If, as we’re told, he never had a girlfriend in real life it seems that the little guy had a blast hitting on all of the pretty actresses that he got to work with and that he had a good sense of humor about everything.
Along the way we get a nice selection of archival stills and pictures from throughout his career and clips from the few films he starred in that are still available to pull from. The movie has no trouble holding your attention from start to finish and while it doesn’t turn over every stone (a few of the people Leavold probably wanted to interview have passed on and one or two didn’t participate for their own reasons) it does about as good a job as realistically possible. The end result is as much a look at Filipino culture and the ups and downs of its arts and film scene as it is about Weng Weng himself, but it’s a fascinating journey regardless.
The Search For Weng Weng arrives on DVD in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen with a lot of the archival footage used framed at 1.33.1. The transfer here is all over the place, with much of the newly shot footage looking crisp and clean and much of the archival footage looking a little worse for wear – but that’s the nature of the beast when dealing with material like this. It’s all plenty watchable, however, and given the nature of the project it’s hard to imagine anyone taking issue with it.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the disc is on par with the video presentation in terms of quality. Much of the newly shot stuff sounds fine, some of the archival stuff is at the mercy of the elements. Most of the film is spoken in English but there are stretches in Tagalog – during those sections English subtitles automatically appear on screen to translate the dialogue.
Extras start off with an excellent commentary track from director Andrew Leavold who speaks quite candidly about how and why he took on this project in the first place, what was involved in tracking down the various participants who are interviewed in the feature, the difficulty in really getting all the facts right on Weng Weng’s real story, the contributions to the project from various members of the Filipino film community and, yeah, that whole Imelda Marcos thing. This is a really interesting track – it turns out that the story behind this documentary is, in many ways, just as interesting as the picture itself.
The disc also includes nine minutes of extended interviews with Weng Weng’s brother in which he offers up a few more anecdotes about his sibling and their home life. Additionally, director Eddie Nicart gets just over fifty minutes of additional interviews where he speaks about working with Weng Weng, some of the films that they made together, what he was like as a person and more. Actor Palito also gets a sixteen minute bonus interview to further explain what it was like working with Weng Weng. In The Sydney Film Festival Q&A with director Andrew Leavold we learn a bit more about the background and origins of this project, what was involved in completing it and more.
Aside from that we get a trailer for an unreleased and probably lost Weng Weng movie called Gone Lesbo Gone, a music video for the song I Love Weng Weng, menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
The Search For Weng Weng is as moving as it is fascinating as it is frequently hilarious. Leavold’s love for the subject matter comes through in a big way and it’s hard not to come away from this with an appreciation for Weng Weng’s struggles and successes. The DVD release from Wild Eye Releasing is a good one, containing not only the feature itself but a load of fun and interesting extra features.