The gob-smacking thrill that was my first experience of Weng Weng, the diminutive Filipino actor who starred as Agent 00 in a series of spy-spoof hits in the 70’s, delivered a sensory overload of pulsating extravagance. Or as Weng Weng devotee and documenter Andrew Leavold would call it, ‘a cranial haemorrhage you can never recover from’.
And what’s not to go thoroughly berserk over? Weng Weng was 2ft 9 inches …. impersonated James Bond … toted a machine gun … travelled in a jetpack … and kicked martial art butt on sets as wobbly as the heaving breasts he buried himself in.
But how easy it would have been to compartmentalise Weng Weng as a cheap curio and momentary hit of kitsch as disposable as a Krispy Kreme wrapper.
From the moment I first clapped eyes on Weng Weng it was a certain sadness beneath the surface of his smiles that struck me just as hard, and I suspected there was more to Ernesto de la Cruz’s story than ‘Weirdo of the Week’ status.
Weng Weng was born with primordial dwarfism, the youngest of five, but remained defiantly ‘mischievous and cheerful’, so much so that he took an interest in martial arts as a young boy and by the early 70’s was being shopped around to film producers, culminating in his first starring role in 1978’s ‘Chopsuey Meets Bigtime Papa’ opposite the Bruce Lee of the Philippines, Ramon Zamora.
While Weng Weng went on to become a box office favourite in his country, climaxing in a special citation award from Imelda Marcos, by 34 he was dead from a heart attack, most likely the result of a serious drinking problem that escalated once the roles dried up and he was spat out by the system.
So it’s heartening to know that I’m not alone in finding the Weng Weng story a richly intriguing one worth retelling, if only posthumously.
Australian Andrew Leavold is a man on a mission and one who also wears his (he)art on his sleeve as evidenced by the impressive Weng Weng tattoo he sports.
Beyond unfurling the mystery of Weng Weng’s back story through intensive research and the accumulation of some serious air miles, Leavold has been deeply affected by the ‘humanity of his saga, which touched me more acutely than I could ever have imagined’.
Well on its way to realisation, his Kickstarter-funded ‘In Search of Weng Weng’ documentary will see its world premiere in Melbourne late November. There is also his book of the same name, based on his PhD thesis, which will be released after the film.
That Weng Weng is being recognised two decades after his death with the respect and admiration that appears to have been largely missing from his brief life, would no doubt have brought a sincere smile to Ernesto’s otherwise wistful face.
View an action montage of Weng Weng here: