‘The Search for Weng Weng’ review: pint-sized Filipino movie icon recalled

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A 2’9 ” footnote in the history of cinema is studied for surprisingly enriching purposes in “The Search for Weng Weng”. Andrew Leavold’s documentary delves into the puzzle of a long-overlooked novelty Filipino movie star, providing insight into not only the poorly-told life of his forgotten subject, but also the ‘second golden age’ cinema in general. It is a winding and gradual road that eventually leads to the gate of Imelda Marcos itself. This entertaining, good-humored but respectful tribute to a unique figure in the exploitation film has drawn fans to the festival circuit for quite some time (starting in 2007 as a work-in-progress), and could transform that attention in a limited theatrical part. exposure. Larger but still niche home-format sales are assured.

Australian pilot Leavold first became a Weng Weng enthusiast as the owner of his country’s cult video store, Trash Video, whose stock included what appeared to be the star’s only vehicles: The Spy Parody of 1981 “For Y’ur Height Only” and “The Impossible Kid. Both were antique, high-energy low prices distinguished by a deliberately ridiculous English dialogue dubbed (reminiscent of “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”) And the obvious presence of tiny Weng Weng (named after a potent local fruity cocktail. ) like their unlikely karate- chopping, superspy magnetizing babies.

But it was impossible to find any information on this dark character. The documentary begins with Leavold interviewing a presumably knowledgeable audience of the Cinemanila Film Festival, only to elicit answers split between the baffled and the offended. Those who remember the films of the little phenomenon now see them as embarrassing recollections of a pre-modern cinema in which the nation’s traditional “fascination with the macabre” could be satisfied by treating “a disabled person” as a jester. court. No one seems to have the slightest idea of ​​Weng Weng’s background, let alone what happened to him.

Nonetheless, Leavold perseveres, ending up stumbling upon a network of old boys of surviving gamers so now underemployed in the thriving Pinoy action film industry of decades ago, including directors, editors, stuntmen and co-stars. He soon discovers that Weng Weng (born Ernesto de la Cruz) had died years earlier, in the same slum from which he had been torn up too briefly. Less expected, perhaps, he learns that there were at least a dozen films starring the performer, dating back as far as 1976. Many are previewed here, though given the erratic state at best. conservation of films in the Philippines, others may have disappeared. for real.

Former colleagues and acquaintances testify to the star’s affability, childlike innocence and openness to everything, including his own often risky stunts. But some also saw him as a sad and overconfident character who was exploited, most notably by a husband and wife production team who simply threw him back into the darkness he came from when they left the movies for a while. new career in politics. . Weng Weng’s vehicles were popular – “Height,” in particular, sold to many foreign territories – but obviously he never received a salary, let alone a percentage of profit. Instead, he was kept as a kind of pet and then thrown away. While living the high life, he was apparently a frequent guest at the Presidential Mansion, as recalled here by both Imee Marcos (who headed his father Ferdinand’s film commission) and, ultimately, by Imelda herself during a surreal visit to the former empress without a crown. current plush digs.

While unraveling its titular mystery, “The Search for Weng Weng” provides a good overview of the hugely prolific film industry of the period – something, it was pointed out, that flourished under martial law by elsewhere highly questionable Marcose. (The documentary’s perspective on this era is more insightful than that of Mark Hartley’s 2010 “Machete Maidens Unleashed !,” which also featured Weng Weng and had Leavold as an associate producer, but focused primarily on international co-productions.) At the time, almost 300 features were released per year, several times the number produced today. Their availability only reinforces the nostalgic affection that industry participants have for them, not to mention psychotronic movie fans like Leavold. By the end of the photo (admittedly toned down), the director managed to create a wave of new worship for his deceased subject.

While the latest wave of sentiment in “We Heart Weng Weng” (along with the contributions of a particularly irritating Pinoy film scholar) pushes the envelope of “too much of the good,” for the most part, “Search” is delicious. and surprisingly deep. Production resources were clearly not plentiful, but the package is nonetheless well turned out.

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