There is a moment when Andrew Leavold, director of The Search for Weng Weng, meets editor and director Edgardo ‘Boy’ Vinarao. As soon as Leavold mentions his documentary and how he is trying to hunt down the diminutive film star Weng Weng. Vinarao in a rather matter of fact manner, says he is dead. Despite suspecting as much, Leavold, off camera, can clearly be heard to deflate. To paraphrase Bart Simpson, ‘If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment his heart breaks in two.’
For Leavold, this documentary is a love letter to the Filipino star who was born Ernesto de la Cruz, but who will always be known as Weng Weng. He appeared in numerous films with For Y’ur Height Only being his most famous, in which he punch, kicked and kissed as good as James Bond would if he were 2ft 9. Leavold interviews numerous friends and acquaintances to build a picture of Weng Weng’s life behind the camera and honestly, it’s not a pretty picture. Despite seemingly being adored by all he worked with, there’s a suggestion in Leavold’s fact finding that there was an exploitative nature to his work; akin to the freak shows of yore. Indeed, his adoptive parents – who incidentally wrote and directed his films – seems to have acquired an asset rather than a son.
Equal parts fascinating, funny heartbreaking, and a crash course in the history of Filipino cinema, The Search for Weng Weng could easily have been an excuse for pointing fingers and giggling behind hands. In reality, it’s a lovely documentary that will be fascinating, even to those not familiar with his work. Which, we’ll admit is probably a fair few.