Some of the oddest exploitation films of all time have been made in the Philippines. The director Eddie Nicart made some of the most memorable of these. The success of the James Bond movies created a stream of exploitation spy movies all around the world. But none can really match Nicart's work with his biggest star, Weng Weng (born Ernesto de la Cruz, 1957).
I am not that interested in movie stars. Really, the only time a star should be interesting is when he (/she) is that damn good (which is not really that often) or when he (or she) has risen to stardom beating different obstacles. Thus, I'm fascinated with odd-looking lead actors. Even though they usually have bigger charisma than good-looking leads, none can really match the story of the world's shortest lead, Weng Weng. He was only 80 cm (2 ft. 9') tall, which makes him the world's shortest lead before the likes of Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffmann. But Weng Weng was also much more than that - he was a martial arist, a sneaky spy, a tough cowboy with few words, and a disco-dancing babe magnet.
|Image from Bargain Bin Reviews.|
Really, everything you need to know about Weng Weng is in the brilliant song by the Chuds above. But I'll go a little deeper with the three Weng Weng films I've managed to see (they are not all that easy to find).
For Y'ur Height Only (1981)
In the same year as 50-something Roger Moore tried to reboot his jokey James Bond with a bit more serious adventure (For Your Eyes Only), Nicart produced a spoof that borrows the same title to exaggerate everything cartoony the Bond series was known for. Yet Weng Weng's Agent 00 is not a one liner-spurning joke character. In fact, he might be the most merciless spy ever displayed in movies! The body count is much larger than you could imagine for a film like this.
The filipino crime organizations are having a hard time with Agent 00. He frequently destroys their operations and diposes of their men. But the mysterious leader of the organization, Mr. Giant, has a master plan - to kidnap the scientist Dr. Kohler who has been working on a new kind of a weapon. With the doctor's N-bomb, Giant could take over the entire world - unless 00 can stop him.
The plot itself has no real importance for the film. Nicart has merely spliced together various set-pieces and scenes where Agent 00 gets away from increasingly tricky situations. The downside of being so short is that villains can easily spot you just walking down the street. The upside is that their most vunerable body parts - the knees and the balls - are easily in your reach. 00 is highly trained in various martial arts. He gets to utilize a (short) katana sword at one point. But Weng Weng's most used asset is his markmanship skills. He never misses a shot, even if the gun is so big as to throw him a few feet back by gunshot impact. His most astonishing skill is to slide all over the floor and shoot the bad guys at the same time. That particular trick never gets old, and gets even funnier if you consider that there is probably an extra throwing Weng Weng every time such a shot is filmed.
The English dubbing in this (as well as in other Weng Weng films too) is pretty great too. In the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed the translator even admitted of making up the dialogue as he went along. Thus we get such gems as the exposition the sinister Mr. Kaiser gives to his men:
"The forces of good are our sworn enemy, and I repeat, they must be exterminated. And I mean lethally!"
Or the exchange between Weng Weng and one of the 00-girls in the film:
"You're such a little guy, though. Very petite, like a potato."
"Ah, let's go."
Weng Weng is quite the ladies' man in his movies. He's a man of few words, but has cool disco-dancing skills. A running joke in Agent 00 films is that he constantly gets into a chase scene in a hotel and ends up in a room where a naked girl is sleeping. Weng Weng can't ever leave her alone without sneaking a small kiss, the cheeky devil. But as to why in a hotel, the whole film looks as if it had been shot in the biggest tourist traps in Manila. Considering how dangerous the other parts of the Philippines were at that time, it was probably a wise move.
|Image by Badmovies.org|
A big part in any classic spy film are the gadgets and Weng Weng has the best there are at his exposal. He utilizes a radio-controllable flying hat, X-ray specs that show people without clothing and a jetpack. At the final showdown with Mr. Giant, he does have to use his wits and fists. Yet on the same island seems to also be an almost endless supply of identical henchmen, 00 disposes with lethal accuracy. The slaughter goes on and on and on.
Needless to say, this is one of my favorite films of all time.
D' Wild Wild Weng (1982)
Seemingly a western, D' Wild Wild Weng sees Weng Weng's character Weng and his tall friend Gordon (Max Laurel) wander around the prairies, righting wrongs like the basic western archetypes they are. They arrive in a small village that has been taken over by a group of ruthless mexican bandits, who go on brutally conquering every village in their path. Weng falls for a village girl, but as she and her father get kidnappedby ninjas and has to be rescued.
The film's hilarity begins with the fact that it's impossible to pin down where or when exactly does the story take place. The clothing and the set-up seem to belong in a western, yet there are Asian villages built from bamboo, mexican bandits, medieval monks, samurai and ninjas all running around the place. At one point Weng Weng also gets a jeep and in the end, a machine gun. So it's basically a film that could've been written by a 6-year-old. And all the better for it.
Surprisingly, Weng isn't actually the most memorable character in the film. That honor goes to the comic sidekick Lupo the Mute (Max Alvarado). He has suffered a trauma of having his family killed and his own tongue cut off. Yet although he can't speak, he really isn't a mute. He constantly gives out yelps, howls and whining as a reaction to EVERY SINGLE DISCUSSION. As he makes hopeless gestures and stupid faces, at the same time we can clearly see his tongue in his mouth. Nicart focuses on this character so much so that it all becomes increasingly hilarious. Lupo is like Chewbacca as played by a guy without a costume. Yet he also gets a big musical number in the film.
Even though the film mostly treats Weng Weng like any movie superstar playing in a western, there are plenty of brilliantly braindead exploitation traits in here, too. For instance, to add to all the other lunacy going on, the indians in the prairies are actually pygmies. The tribe of midgets has war paint on their faces and feathers on their bandanas.
The film is also as brutal as FYHO, as dozens and dozens of identical bandits get slaughtered by Weng's gatling gun and the warring indians. The end scene has to be seen to be believed with all its explosions and whatnot. The whole film is one of the best films ever made to watch with friends while getting increasingly drunk.
★ or ★★★★★
The Impossible Kid (1982)
The final film in the Agent 00 trilogy (a film called Agent 00 (1981) was apparently the second according to IMDb) goes out with a whimper rather than a bang. There are brilliant scenes here and there, but Nicart has seriously toned down his luscious exploitation storytelling. Also, from the name onwards the film is profiled by the odd decision of treating Agent 00 like an infant here and there. This is most visible when he escapes from a 20-story hotel by using a bedsheet as a parachute. he falls into a pool where a obese man picks him up and starts cuddling him: "Aren't you a pretty boy!" Yet Weng Weng is no child and witnesses this by kissing naked women here and there and of course bagging the female lead in the end. However, this is all done very innocently, unlike in FYHO, where there were serious sexual undertones and Weng Weng even took off his shirt.
The film benefits of having a real Bond-like song instead of just ripping the real ones off by producing similar tunes. It's notable that the song calls Weng Weng by his actor name, not by his character name of Agent 00. The agency he works for is here identified as being Interpol, and its Manila branch. 00 is on pursuit of a notorious smuggler called Mr. X this time around. X, who takes his costume advices from the Ku Klux Klan, has a sinister pedant of holding the entire Philippines for ransom. With what isn't exactly clear as he doesn't actually have an N-bomb. Weng Weng goes around trying to find out the true identity of X. This search leads to some surreal scenes, like when very evil-seeming Don Simeon (Romy Diaz) throws a cobra at him and then claims he couldn't possibly be the villain.
So, the logic in the film isn't that much better than with the previous films, but the wonderfully mad set-pieces are all too rare. There's 00's jump across a huge gorge on his mini-motorcycle that would make Homer Simpson proud. Weng Weng also gets to show off his martial arts skills in a great gym fight scene where he takes out five big men and a woman with his slick kung fu style.
|Image from 10kbullets.com.|
But all in all, Weng isn't as merciless towards villains as he used to be anymore. There isn't that many kills, Weng preferring to arrest them according to protocol. But by the end he does blow up a boat holding a great number of bad guys.
Sadly, the end credits promise another Agent 00 adventure, License Expired, which was never made. Weng Weng died in 1992 aged 34. He had heart problems related to his primordial dwarfism. He will be sorely missed and each of his films are hugely appreciated at least by me.
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