Saturday, February 23, 2008

28th July 2007: Weng Weng on Blood Island Part 2!

The Impossible Kid

Philippines 1981 colour

Director Eddie Nicart Writers Greg Macabenta, Cora Caballes Producer Peter M. Caballes

Cast Weng Weng (Agent 00), Romy Diaz (Senor Manolo), Nina Sara (Lolita), Tony Carreon (Don Simeon)

One night in 1996, I dreamt I was in the Philippines directing a documentary about Weng Weng, the long-dead Filipino midget James Bond. Ten years later, I’m actually in Manila making a deal with the forces of chaos and following his two-decade obsession to its logical conclusion. It’s just the beginning of a very strange adventure, and as fate would have it, it’s all captured on film - my documentary The Search For Weng Weng, the rough cut premiering at Brisbane International Film Festival on Sunday 5th August.

Follow me as I fearlessly leap into the trenches of the Philippines’ once thriving film industry, armed only with a Mini-DV camera and with a head full of gloriously bad B-movies, and allow blind chance and serendipity to point the way. I discover a schizophrenic Banana Republic dotted with shopping malls and a scale model of Hollywood now a disaster zone, symptomatic of a country attempting to claw its way out of its post-colonial malaise, yet curiously on the verge of a digital filmmaking revolution.

As for Weng Weng: he remains an enigma even to those who worked with him. His reign as the midget Agent 00 was an outrageous novelty that plucked him from complete obscurity and returned him just as quickly. What was he like? When and how did he pass away? In a country of 80 million people, it seems the truth about Weng Weng has slipped between the cracks forever.

His first feature role in the 1981 midget James Bond parody For Y’ur Height Only turned Weng Weng into an instant superstar, appearing on TV and at parties, film festivals, movie openings, even an advert for children’s motorbikes. Liliw Films producers Peter and Cora Caballes quickly cranked out two more Weng Weng features to capitalize on his staggering novelty value: a much less successful Agent OO sequel, The Impossible Kid (1982), and a modern Pinoy western D’Wild Wild Weng (1982), starring Weng Weng as a government agent known only as “Mr Weng”, which doesn’t appear to have made it beyond the Philippines borders. There may be other Weng Weng film appearances, including an earlier starring role in Agent OO (1981) [since confirmed] and a guest cameo alongside the stick-thin Palito’s character “James Bone”, but even in the Philippines information is sketchy at best, if not non-existent.

In The Impossible Kid, midget superhero Agent OO is back and is shorter than ever in his little white suit and pudding bowl haircut, now working for the Manila branch of Interpol. The Chief, a low-rent version of M complete with his own Miss Moneypenny, sends him in the pursuit of Mr X, an arch villian with a white sock on his head, who is holding the Philippines to ransom. Two businessmen, Senor Manolo (classic bad guy Romy Diaz) and Don Simeon (Tony Carreon), pay the demands but Weng Weng suspects foul play and goes deep undercover to reveal the identity of Mr X. Here the James Bond references kick into top gear: Agent OO has even MORE gadgets at his disposal, including a miniature bike which sounds like one of those high-pitched grass cutters and does an incredible leap across a ravine - along a very visible wire! Another highlight is an incredible stunt where Weng Weng gets to use his circus training and walks along a tight rope between two buildings. He then jumps down a garbage chute straight onto his waiting motorbike. Impossible? Mais non!

The opening is a killer - Weng is suspended over the side of a building and gets to ogle naked women through the windows. Now, nudity has never presented a problem to me. But in a Filipino kids film? With midgets involved? The Impossible Kid now ranks up there with 70s Danish sexploitation export The Sinful Dwarf as sleaze mini-classics. Not exactly “dwarfspoitation”, but very sordid indeed. Musically the film offers the same hodge-podge of garbled Bond scores courtesy of Pablo Vergara and, more bizarrely, the theme to The Pink Panther (well, almost). Top of the Manila hit parade is the opener “The Impossible Kid” sung by a cabaret songstress who croons to her micro-hero: “I love you my Weng Weng, come to me and kiss me, I love you Weng Wengggggg!!!” Unfortunately the film is no For Y’ur Height Only, so hoping to strike Comedy Gold a second time is really asking for the impossible - without the surreal rescripting and preposterous English dubbing with bad Peter Lorre impressions, it’s not the same delirious experience. Still, any Weng is good Weng, and we should be thankful for the little guy getting a second shot at filmic infamy.

As the profits diminished, Cora Caballes moved on to a political career and Liliw Films folded. As a result, Weng Weng found himself no longer flavour of the month and without a film career. According to his brother, his family was poor before he became famous, and afterwards remained as poor as ever. In a bizarre twist of fate, General Ramos decided to put Weng Weng through paratrooper training; this time he was given a genuine Agent badge and was sent on infiltration missions where his size would been used to its maximum advantage. Thanks to the Caballes’ connections at Manila Airport, Weng Weng was seen patrolling the Arrivals Lounge in the mid-Eighties in his blue uniform as the unlikeliest “Welcome To Manila” banner.

He continued to live in the family home in Baclaran, gained weight and, according to some reports, drank heavily, and developed hypertension after a severe reaction to eating crabmeat. His health declined steadily over the next twelve to eighteen months, and he died of heart failure on 29th August 1992, just short of his 35th birthday.

The Philippines’ tiniest film icon is buried in a modest white concrete tomb with his parents, grandparents and great-grandmother in Pasay City Cemetary.

My documentary The Search For Weng Weng leapfrogs from one eccentric character to the next - Weng Weng’s director Eddie Nicart AND his only surviving brother Celing, as well as producers, actors, stuntmen, midget waiters, transvestites and dwarf zombies, each one with a unique place in Filipino cinema - all the while dismantling the country’s greatest filmic urban legend. It’s part detective story, part forgotten B-film history, and part surreal Quest for the Holy Grail - that is, if the Grail is a two-foot-nine superstar called Weng Weng, aka The Impossible Kid.

Beast Of Blood

USA/Philippines 1969 colour

aka Beast Of The Dead, Blood Devils, Horrors Of Blood Island, Return To The Horrors Of Blood Island

Director Eddie Romero Writers Eddie Romero, Beverly Miller Producers Kane W. Lynn, Eddie Romero

Cast John Ashley (Dr Bill Foster), Celeste Yarnall (Myra Russell), Eddie Garcia (Dr Lorca), Liza Belmonte (Laida)

From Filipino midgets we go to mutant Manila monsters, and the 1969 Beast Of Blood, an indirect followup to the 1968 Brides Of Blood and direct sequel Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (1969) which reunites Hemisphere Pictures producer Kane Lynn, Filipino director Eddie Romero, and the velvet Elvis Presley of drive-in sleaze John Ashley for a third and last outing to Blood Island. Taking up the action on the boat where Mad Doctor... left off, the hideous chlorophyll experiment of Dr Lorca is loose and destroys the ship; miraculously both Dr Foster (John Ashley) and the creature survive, and Ashley heads back to Blood Island with suspicious female reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall) in tow to uncover its secrets - and secretions - once and for all.

Of course it doesn’t take Ashley long to unearth Dr Lorca. Now played by Eddie Romero’s favourite bad guy Eddie Garcia (Curse Of The Vampires, Beast Of The Yellow Night) and crippled, badly scarred, and left with one eye after his experience as the Mad Doctor Of Blood Island, Lorca is continuing his ghastly experiments in green blood-soaked transplants in a secluded underground lair. More like a Bond villain than a scientist, he instructs his goons to kidnap the reporter then dresses her in a bikini, trades one choice amoral line of dialogue after the other with Sean Connery substitute Ashley (“I’m madder than EVER!”), before watching a cut-rate rescue mission by Ashley’s jungle raiders dissolve his lair in one explosion after another. All that’s missing is a tank full of angry piranhas, and you have an evil sanctuary Blofeldt would be proud of.

Luckily the chintzy would-be 007 touches don’t overshadow the film’s raison d’etre. Always considerate of the wants - no, NEEDS - of its drive-in audience, Beast Of Blood ups the ante on the previous Blood Island epics by offering more sleaze, more cheese and much more over-the-top gushing of the red red vino, particularly during the brutally realistic surgery sequences. Of particular note is Lorca’s creature, a vast improvement on the previous two creatures of Blood Island - this time it looks like its bones are on the outside, and its head spends much of its time separated from its body - a head, by the way, which taunts Lorca from its saucer full of chlorophyll with lipless teeth and perfect diction. Have you tried saying the word “mammoth” without lips? This creature is AMAZING, and could be the spearhead of a future ventriloquist revival.

In my documentary on Filipino B-films The Search For Weng Weng I interview both the star Eddie Garcia AND director Eddie Romero (remember kids, it’s Sunday August 5th at Brisbane International Film Festival). Until then it’s aloha to Blood Island with the headless, eyeless, seamless fusion of science gone mad and the bad getting worse in the 1969 Beast Of Blood.

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