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Weng Weng and “The Impossible Kid”: The True Terror of Tiny Town
Night Flight contributor Andre Perkowski chats with filmmaker Andrew Leavold — the director of the documentary The Search for Weng Weng — who tells us about the 2-foot 9-inch star of The Impossible Kid, just one of the wacky films we’re featuring in our Wu Tang Collection over on Night Flight Plus.
Filipino heightsploitation epic For Y’ur Height Only (1981) was apparently such a towering worldwide success that charismatic powerhouse Weng Weng was quickly enlisted in a sequel that would pit his plucky secret agent abilities against the mysterious Mr. X, so-named because Mr. Y sounded apathetic and Mr. Z was presumably already taken.
The producers clearly had stumbled on a goldmine, and quickly pumped out a series of Weng vehicles with titles like D’Wild Wild Weng and The Cute… the Sexy n’ the Tiny. Most appeared to me to be the same few films re-titled, a time-honored exploitation tradition that would simply be bad manners to complain about.
How do you write about dwarfismsploitation? Due to Roger Ebert’s classic example, I do know you’re not supposed to say midget, and yet this movie basically does so for full on ninety of its constantly sweaty minutes.
Filipino cinema from this era is nothing if not sweaty, and more than one horror film they’ve exported to my eyeballs was ruined by constant distracting thoughts about how humid it must be and how those actors look so uncomfortable.
I’m told you adjust to life in the tropics and sure that SOUNDS sensible enough but it remained horrifying to contemplate. So I suppose: mission accomplished, Filipino horror.
Speaking of uncomfortable, nobody is going to accuse Weng Weng of having gone to RADA. What he brings to the table is an intriguing combination of hideously bad acting coupled with remarkably enthusiastic fight scenes that oscillate between pure cringe and pure Dwarf Power!
Charming as he was, Mr. Weng’s charisma is dented significantly by an unsettling haircut I’ve seen likened to early Dario Argento by more than one writer. Not that any of the ladies in this movie would share my snobbish opinions, as they throw themselves lustily at this irresistible bite-sized slab of bad acting with a creamy celluloid center.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, judging him like this without catching the full power of his original performances due to the clinically goofy dubbing, which is of course — a pure delight from the second we hear the voice they picked for our hero as he purrs into a walkie-talkie.
The effect of this queasy dubbing achieves the sort of disorientating dislocation that only a truly 2am sort of film can provide. And this is a 2am sort of film, a half-forgotten fever that will bubble with your brain as it careens along it’s plucky path.
Within the first few minutes, our hero descends on a rope down the side of a building while taking long lingering peeps at the women inside, all set to a discombobulating synth line that occasionally hits drunken notes and doesn’t bother for a second take. We’re quickly pushed onto the train tracks of relentless action: a tense hostage standoff.
Weng Weng slides across the screen as Angelo Badalamenti’s “Dance of the Dream Man” wafts in through your memories before the title sequence bursts into action: Weng Weng on a bike, greasy hair blowing in the action-packed breeze.
“He’s the man I loooooooove!” wails the singer as woozy red credits smear across the screen, punchy brass refrains a bit like someone trying to reconstruct the theme from The Stunt Man after a stroke.
“Somebody’s chasing us,” offers a grouchy thug.
That’s Agent 00 for you: instantly romancing ladies in literally seconds, wielding a license to peep on showering vixens, punching a whole heck of a lot. The sort of man you want fighting international terrorists and protecting prominent industrialists in the name of Interpol.
Cigar-smoking, neckerchief-wearing industrialists need Agent 00 because they are being threatened by a villain from the Cobra Commander school of realpolitik.
Weng Weng and Ben Johnson
Agent 00’s boss, a constantly sweating expat Larry Flynt type who looks like he’s worried he’ll be busted on charges from whatever country he expatriated from, does some more sweating as the hooded crime spree continues.
He’s played by Ben Johnson, driver and bodyguard to Dolphy. Dolphy? Who’s Dolphy? Kings of comedy with one name are always a tricky proposition and this particular king of comedy was Weng Weng’s co-star in several films.
Ben Johnson brings all the gravitas and dignity a man who was around anyway brings to a role. Despite the pressure of this urban terrorist-filled plotline, he advises Agent 00 to “take his time.” So this shall be a leisurely mission, then.
No wonder they just decided to rip off “The Pink Panther Theme.” Might as well.
Scene after scene pile up on the cinematic freeway. Bodies pile up. More sweating. More kissing. More punching: oh, how there is punching. It’s the bit that leads to further sweating, but it’s the bit Weng Weng likes best, rising to the challenge with endless enthusiasm. Did he ever get hurt doing all these stunts? He really seems like he does not give one solitary shit if he snaps a bone.
Despite half of Brisbane being underwater, I was able to chat for a bit with The Search for Weng Weng documentarian Andrew Leavold — who faced a cyclone AND endured my questions about this celluloid enigma.
Andre Perkowski: How successful did For Y’ur Height Only have to be to get a sequel going? Or did Eddie Nicart and company know they had a hot property on their hands and already had a full roster of Weng Weng vehicles planned?
Andrew Leavold: For Y’ur Height Only made a fortune for its producers Pete and Cora Caballes, over a million bucks on its $40,000 investment. So they made two cash ins, first D’Wild Wild Weng, then The Impossible Kid. D’Wild... sold miserably, The Impossible Kid made marginally more. But I think the Caballes decided they’d gone to the well too many times, they released one last film with Weng Weng: the Tagalog language Sergio Leone spoof The Cute, the Sexy and the Tiny, and after that he was sent home to his Ballarat neighborhood and was soon forgotten.
AP: What company dubbed his two spy epics in English first and got it to America?
AL: The Impossible Kid and For Y’ur Height Only were dubbed in two different countries. FYHO in Rome, by Dick Randall’s usual dubbing team, Impossible Kid in Quezon City by Jess Ramos.
AP: Was it just on video or did it manage the dying days of 42nd street? I’m embarrassingly unclear on the details and a continent away from stacks of dusty Psychotronic.
AL: All three English dubbed films were released in theatres, then on VHS. As it was 1982 to ’83, and you could still release films like that in cinemas. You know that For Y’ur Height out-grossed Raiders Of The Lost Ark in the West Indies?
AP: Oh yeah, I’m sure they did cracking business over there — I was just wondering if the dubbed prints hit 42nd street and the few American venues still open to bezerk imports like that because I don’t remember reading about Weng Weng much until later on and the VHS release of For Y’ur Height Only. Of course I only caught the tail end of 42nd street pre-Disney process and Times Square was a goddamn movie graveyard of closed theaters.
AL: Definitely 42nd street. They were even playing crazy Indonesian imports like Lady Terminator in the early 90s. For Y’ur Height was at the very tail end of the kung full craze and I suspect that’s one reason why the followup did worse business. That and the fact they don’t have the same surreal self aware dubbing.
AP: And if he was huge with the kids, what was the film code and censorship like at the time? Were kids able to get into movies like Impossible Kid or were those more restricted and the kiddie ones were more the later westerns?
AL: Movies back then we’re either classified General or Adult…so Weng Weng’s films were all for general audiences. Despite him planting a kiss on a topless girl in a hotel!
AP: What was it about Weng Weng that haunted you to the point that you had to go on this quest? Making a movie, any movie, is eating pavement for years and constantly improvising, dancing, reaching, bouncing off frustrating walls, finding tantalizing finds to keep you going. What were the key discoveries in making the film that helped keep you going?
AL: The idea for Weng Weng came to me in a dream in the late ’90s. After being obsessed with him for the best part of the decade I had a dream about making the doco in the late ’90s.
AP: How long did it take you to put The Search for Weng Weng together from idea to final cut?
AL: Filming started on my first trip to Manila in 2006 and it then took seven long painful years to complete.
AP: Weng Weng reaaally looks like he loves doing the action scenes. He must’ve gotten hurt a few times, the guy really throws himself into scenes. Did he say much about doing the action bits? Because he looks like he’s enjoying that shit way more than standing awkwardly. Did he talk to anyone about the action bits or did surviving crew remember much? Did he train?
AL: Yes, Eddie Nicaragua his director trained him.
AP: Trained by Eddie Nicaragua would be a distinction in any setting. They could’ve gotten away with much poorer action! They really looked like they were having a ball doing the fight scenes. Was there a fight choeographer?
AL: Nicart. Weng was already a brown belt in karate… Eddie and his two assistants from SOS Daredevils trained him every day for three months in stunts and karate.
AP: So the Caballes brought in Eddie Nicart, who acted in piles of stuff… were these his first movies because they feel like first movies, directing-wise?
AL: Yes, Boy Pangilinan got stunt director Eddie to be assistant director on Chop Suey Meets Big Time Papa.
AP: Chop Suey Meets Big Time Papa is the kind of thing that someone tells you “the book was better.” What a title. Jesus.
AL: Boy then pulled out of Agent 00 and recommended Eddie as director.
AP: He comes to it full of energy and silly ideas as a first-timer. What kind of shooting schedule did they have on these? are they shooting on fresh stock or short ends?
AL:Yes, and he also studied books on Hitchcock. Fresh stock was cheapish.
AP: Oh man, I can just see that. A worn copy of HItchcock/Truffaut and a ceiling fan. A nice salad out.
AL: Shooting schedule was around ten to fourteen days.
AP: Ten to fourteen days! Pretty generous for the budget. well all the action would need more time. How did mysterious producers the Caballes family get their money, what was their previous product?
AL: They started in the film business in ’69, before that they were in hardware, but Pete wanted to be an actor and be part of the industry. Cora wanted instead to go into politics. The money they made by not paying Weng or his family fueled her ambitions.
AP: So time to make a movie, naturally. Did Cora ever manage to get into politics, and what kind of politics at that?
AL: First, she was a bar angry captain. Barangay. Lowest form of local government. After the films, so around 1986 she came a councilor in Manila.
AP: Who spotted Weng Weng and said: this is a star?
AL: His cousin spotted him at the karate school and brought him to Pete and Cora.
AP: And a star was born. What do you wish you managed to find or dig up that still looms out of reach, is there a Weng Wengian holy grail? A lost adaptation of Don Quixote with Weng in the lead in a closet somewhere?
AL: Half of Weng Weng films are missing. Seven out of fourteen! The one I really want to see is Agent 00, the first of his spy spoofs.
AP: Seven out of fourteen??!!? That’s the kind of detail that gets me squinting at filmographies greedily. I had imagined that Al Adamson/Sam Sherman style, it was just two or three movies re-titled twelve different ways.
AL: No, he was a genuine star. A real draw, especially for the kiddie audience. But not for long… his superstardom only lasted a year.
And what a year it was. The Year Weng Weng Broke, ricocheting forever through space and punching people nonstop in the face.
What gets me is so many of his films are missing. I’m the kind personality obsessed with things like that, weird relics just out of reach — the lost demo tapes, the first draft, the rough cut that shouldn’t be seen. Seemingly so much more desirable in our instant access culture, more oddball epics floating just out of reach, waiting to be found in a broom closet somewhere. A bizarre little corner of trashfilm history, and like all bizarre little corners it’s full of madly interesting details.
Equally interested parties should definitely take a look at The Search for Weng Weng. Slightly less-interested parties should just get a few friends together and one of his films — hey, why not The Impossible Kid? — on the right night with the right accessories.