If you’ve seen the trailer to our next screening, For Y’ur Height Only, you may be wondering just who the hell Weng Weng is and why is this the first time you’re hearing about him? Well, let us hit you in the nut-sack with some knowledge…
At the peak of his fame, Weng Weng, was the most famous Filipino celebrity of his generation, however 30 years on, he is barely remembered. As a result, a number of urban legends have sprung up around him. Some say he married a porn actress, others believe he was actually a real-life secret agent, while others have stated he went on to become a professional karaoke singer.
Intrigued to find out what happened to the diminutive superstar and why he has been forgotten by the Filipino film industry, Australian film-maker Andrew Leavold spent 20 years trying to find him and the last seven making the documentary The Search For Weng Weng to get some answers.
Born in Balacaran in 1957, Weng Weng (birth name Ernesto de la Cruz) was the youngest of five brothers. He was born with a condition known as primordial dwarfism and in the words of his brother Celing,was “no bigger than a coke bottle”. This meant that young Ernesto spent the first 12 months of his life in an incubator.
“He was not expected to live,” said Andrew. “But when he did, it was declared a miracle and Weng Weng was dressed as the Christ-child figure at the head of Baclaran’s yearly Santo Nino parade.”
Weng Weng grew up to become obsessed with martial arts and trained almost daily. He was cast by film producer Peter Caballes in a bunch of novelty kid films and was almost cast in a film as a midget Superman, but the idea was scrapped. Peter Caballes then introduced Weng Weng to the King of Philippines Comedy, Dolphy, who cast him as his kung-fu kicking sidekick in his spy caper The Quick Brown Fox (1980) and western parody Da Best In Da West (1981).
Weng Weng’s fame grew and he was made an honorary Secret Agent by future President General Ramos, and was presented with a badge and a 25-callibre pistol. This event was the direct inspiration for the film ‘Agent 00’ which, along with For Y’ur Height Only, would make him a global superstar.
The “absurdist masterpiece of gloriously bad cinema” became one of the Philippines’ most successful exports, and Weng Weng was soon The Philippine’s ‘biggest’ cinematic export. A sequel was quickly churned out (The Impossible Kid (1982), but as the box office failed to match that of its predecessor, Weng Weng’s time in the spotlight soon came to an end.
Speaking to Leavold, Weng Weng’s brother said “the family was poor before he became famous, and afterwards remained as poor as ever.”
Weirdly General Ramos decided that Weng Weng could still be an asset to the country and put him through paratrooper training in order to “send him on infiltration missions where his size would be used to its maximum advantage.” While this meant that Weng Weng was actually sent on some undisclosed missions, he also meant he was frequently seen walking around the Arrivals Lounge in Manila Airport, acting as a human “Welcome To Manila” banner.
While Weng Weng died of heart failure on 29th August 1992, Andrew Leavold is still trying to find rumoured lost films that have yet to see the light of day to ensure Weng Weng’s unique legacy to cinema is never forgotten.
For more information on Weng Weng and Andrew Leavold’s documentary, go to www.searchforwengweng.com