I’m an unabashed fan of documentary films, and documentaries about film genres are always a special treat.
A chance discovery of a Weng Weng Rap video on YouTube clued me in on the Internet fame of the dwarf actor Weng Weng as the subject of a global meme that has been apparently hot on the Net since 2007.
Weng Weng starred in Filipino films in the early 80’s as secret agent Double 0 in the Bond spoofs “For Your Height Only” and “The Impossible Kid” – which to the amazement of folks in the Philippines, were released internationally, making Weng Weng a cult figure revered to this day by B-Movie fans the world over.
Weng Weng may be in for a resurgence due to an appearance in the Australian documentary “Machete Maidens Unleashed”, a 2010 documentary by Mark Hartley about shlock king Roger Corman’s 70’s B-Movies shot on extremely low budgets in the Philippines. The film covers the period of the late 60’s up to the early 80’s. (The film poster’s lurid blurb nails down the period: “The Filipino revolution that even Marcos couldn’t crush!”.)
There’s extended coverage of the cult Weng Weng film “For Your Height Only” included. The documentary is all set for U.S. home video release (according to Amazon.com this is on November 1, 2011), so expect a Weng Weng revival any day now.
During the 70’s a number of Philippine-American co-productions ground out scores of low budget “exploitation” B-pictures intended for American drive-in audiences and “Grindhouses”. The Philippines offered low budgets, plenty of jungles, a homegrown film industry, an endless supply of stuntmen, and thanks to the martial-law era of Ferdinand Marcos, military personnel and equipment that could be loaned to American filmmakers in exchange for hard cash.
Though the bulk of the film focuses on American B-films directed by national artists Eddie Romero and Gerry De Leon, and the more commercial film directors Cirio H. Santiago and Bobby Suarez, there’s also a segment on the infamous Manila Film Festival of 1982 where it turns out the only Philippine film that got any commercial attention by foreign film buyers was the low brow comedy “For Your Height Only” starring Weng Weng.
The film is a fascinating revelation. Though film buffs have known about this for years, it’s only now that I found out there was a connection between B-Movie producer Roger Corman, directors John Landis and Joe Dante, and Philippine Film directors Gerry de Leon, Eddie Romero, Cirio H. Santiago, and Bobby Suarez.
While Romero and De Leon are revered today in the Philippines as National Artists for film, they also spent a lot of time in the 70’s doing B-films for the likes of Roger Corman.
The films ranged from horror, action to women-in-prison genres, with plenty of broads, blood, beasts, and exposed boobs along the way.
Needless to say, the Marcos-era Board of Censors prohibited many of these movies to be seen by Filipinos uncut. But Marcos allowed these films to be produced in the country for mainly US audiences.
Blaxpoitation diva Pam Grier (of films like Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Quentin Tarnatino’s Jackie Brown) and director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) got their start on women-in-prison B-films like “Black Mama, White Mama” (directed by Eddie Romero), “The Big Bird Cage”, “Women in Cages”, “The Hot Box”, and “Caged Heat”.
You’ll also get a kick out of seeing local actors like Eddie Garcia, Marissa Delgado, Vic Diaz, Butz Aquino, and even Chiquito (who shows up speaking English lines in the movie “TNT Jackson”) in the documentary.
The film manages to throw in the expensive Francis Ford Coppola production “Apocalypse Now” probably since it also used the resources tapped by the Corman productions. The choppers that Robert Duvall rode to the battle accompanied by Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” were on loan from the Philippine armed forces, and were used to strafe Muslim rebels in Mindanao when they weren’t being captured on film in Hollywood productions.
None of these films (with the noticeable exception of Apocalypse Now) can be considered art, but appreciation of the B-movie genre, including those shot in the Philippines, has extended to modern directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, whose most obvious tribute was the film “Grindhouse”.
But it’s obvious that exploitation films have influenced much of Tarantino’s career. Apart from “Grindhouse”, “Jackie Brown” was his nod to the Blaxploitation genre, and the “Kill Bill” series was a giant hug to Asian action films. Tarantino has been quoted as expressing admiration for Gerry De leon’s films – not the ones that earned him the rank of national artist – but “Women in Cages” a B-picture firmly in the “women-in-prison” genre.
And what about Weng Weng? He just might have been the inspiration for “Mini Me” in the Mike Myers “Austin Powers” movies.
Machete Maidens Unleashed: the movie trailer