There are many curious tastes in cinema, from Naziploitation to Bruceploitation, Sadomasochist Prison Camp films to Mexican Lucha films and even films about Sporty Crustaceans (Google take a bow). Indeed it seems that there really is a form of film to suit everybody and anybody and much of this stems from the video culture of the 80s. Within the international market, you could find copious amounts of genres and films to peruse. Perhaps though, one of the oddest examples is the cinema that comprises the filmography of a Filipino actor known as Weng Weng. An international, 2’9’’ actor, who lead numerous pictures in the 70s and 80s finding fame as super spy Agent Double O (essentially a pint-sized James Bond). However, despite the humorous novelty of such films, Andrew Leavold‘s documentary not only attempts to (re)discover these movies but also attempts to look into the little known life of Weng Weng. Is he still alive? Where did he go after this wave of films? And what was the world like from his eyes? Fair questions but ones that take us on an incredible journey filled with surprise, shock, greed, exploitation, laughter and sadness.
Over the course of seven years, cult video storeowner Andrew Leavold embarked on a journey to uncover whom this enigmatic star of films like For Y’ur Height Only (1981) actually was. The resulting film is a dose of guerrilla documentary filmmaking, which tells a forgotten story of a flash-in-the-pan international star and the inner workings of not only cinema history but also the political history of the Philippines. The Search For Weng Weng is a film that relishes its unprofessional and independent spirit; it embraces the undisclosed areas of global cinema history and like the very best true-life stories is a blend of chance, research and downright oddness.
From the editor of Weng Weng’s movies to the (then) only surviving member of his family, Leavold manages to find (often by sheer luck) some very important people in this interesting, often funny, often sad, always bizarre person-centric puzzle. Weng Weng’s story and life is one that spirals outwards and into the most unexpected of places and not only does this fascinating film tackle this story with honesty and persistence, it does so with a level of affection. The Search For Weng Weng is of course a curio but considering the gobsmacking subject matter, this is hardly unexpected. The film explores areas of Filipino culture that many would quite simply leave well alone and in many ways evolves into a comment on the power of film under governance (the segment looking at former First Lady Imelda Marcos are startling) and the projection of personal beliefs and opinions onto larger than life (or in this case smaller) figures. It is hard to imagine anyone other than a guy born and bred on the crazed output of video culture, having the resolve to construct a film like this.
The Search For Weng Weng takes what many would call garbage and delves into it to find something rather poignant and rather fresh. This documentary is not merely a jokey look at a gimmicky intercontinental star but is a glaring assessment of prejudices, fame and exploitation. By the end of the film we are left to sit back, clear of all the ridiculous stunts and laughable dubbing and consider the real story behind these movies. Weng Weng’s story is not really a funny one but rather a telling one, which highlights many sordid areas of the movie business. True, the final credits warm sing-song routine could be seen as an attempt to cheer us up or make us think one way over another but Andrew Leavold uncovers all the story he can, from all the people he can and in the end manages to excavate one forgotten story in the countless that lay buried in the mud of worldwide independent cinema history. By the film’s end, there is a sense that Weng Weng’s localised cinema has gone onto cult fandom but in the end Weng Weng was a human being and this film treats him like one but the real question is, did the movie business? The Search For Weng Weng is a must-see example of underground documentary filmmaking and hard work paying off!
Extras: D’Wild Wild Weng Feature, “I Love Weng Weng” Music Video, Image Gallery, Deleted Scene, Extended Scenes, Q & A at Sydney Underground Film Festival, Director’s Commentary