might be hard to imagine Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos rolling out the red carpet
for a two foot-nine inch martial arts film star, but it makes sense when you
consider how much money Weng Weng’s films made. In the early 1980s he was the
Philippines’ top cinematic export—and there really wasn’t a number two behind
him. Cult film connoisseur Andrew Leavold set out to discover the unvarnished
truth about the ironic icon, while grappling with the obvious issues of
exploitation as best he could in The
Search for Weng Weng (trailer
screens during the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival.
man born Ernesto de la Cruz will always be best known as Agent 00 in For Y’ur Height Only. As seen in Mark
Hartley’s Machete Maidens Unleashed,
it has become a word of mouth favorite amongst midnight movie patrons. While
investigating Weng Weng’s whereabouts, Leavold confirmed a number of earlier
featured appearances by his subject, including a film starring future president
of the Philippines’ established film scholars and critics are uncomfortable
talking about Weng Weng, because they consider his films the cinematic
equivalent of a carnival sideshow. However, Leavold found some people who were
happy to talk about the Guinness record holding actor, such as his former co-stars
and director, as well as fans Imelda Marcos and her daughter, Governor Imee Marcos.
course, Search is all about weird
cinema, but Leavold’s considerable time spent with Imelda reveals much about
the current state of Filipino society and politics. Clearly, she still
considers herself the nation’s First Lady-in-spirit, but you cannot call her
delusional because there seem to be an awful lot of people who agree with her.
It is a heavy thing to say, but Leavold’s footage of her might just be stranger
than the Weng Weng movies that brought him to the Philippines in the first
place. Yet, nobody can say she is not a gracious hostess.
the other hand, there is one person conspicuously missing from Search: Cora Caballes, who produced Weng
Weng’s films with her late husband. It is his relationship with the Caballeses
that most directly raises questions of exploitation, including issues of fair
compensation, or lack thereof.
interviews with old school movie business veterans, Leavold conveys a vivid
sense of the Philippines heyday as an unregulated haven for low movie
production. He also achieves closure in his quest to determine whatever became
of Weng Weng, but his fate holds few real surprises. It will sound like a bit
of cliché, but the journey is what is important in Search, rather than the ultimate destination.
the way, Leavold tantalizes viewers with truly bizarre film clips, while
treating his subject with scrupulous sensitivity. It is a tricky balance to
maintain, but he pulls it off. The result is a big, entertaining valentine to B-
movies that opens a strangely insightful window into the contemporary Philippines.
Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the ragged glory of offbeat
cinema, The Search for Weng Weng screens
again on Monday (8/4), as part of this year’s Fantasia.
Labels: Documentary, Fantasia '14, Weng Weng