The Search for Weng Weng: Special Collector's Edition (2013)

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Released 17-Dec-2014

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Audio Commentary-Director Andrew Leavold
Additional Footage-Weng Weng’s Neighbourhood & Grave (8:50)
Featurette-Eddie Nicart Interview (50:10)
Deleted Scenes-Deleted Scene: Palito Interview (16:42)
Featurette-Q&A at Sydney Underground Film Festival (37:57)
More…-D’Wild, Wild Weng feature film (82:15)
Music Video-I Love Weng Weng Music Video (3:17)
Gallery-Image Gallery (4:16)
More…-Soundtrack CD
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2013
Running Time 93:48
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Andrew Leavold
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Damien Devaux
Screaming Meanies
Francis De Veyra


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during and after end credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In the 1960s, 70s and 80s the Filipino film industry, encouraged by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, was the second biggest in the world, producing over 300 films a year. Foreign productions, such as Apocalypse Now, came to film in the Philippines but with the fall of Marcos in 1986 money and productions came to a halt. Perhaps the high point of Philippines filmmaking was the Manilla International Film Festival of 1982 when producers and stars came from around the world. This festival was intended to showcase high quality Filipino films, but the success story was a 2’9” actor named Weng Weng whose resume featured such films as the James Bond spoofs Agent 00 (1980) and For Y’ur Height Only (1981) and westerns Da Best In Da West (1981) and D’Wild, Wild Weng (1982) made by a company named Liliw Productions, with whom he went to Cannes in 1982. Then just as suddenly as he had appeared Weng Weng disappeared from sight.

     Video store owner and film geek Andrew Leavold had loved Weng Weng’s films for 20 years and in 2006 set out on an odyssey to the Philippines to find out what he could about his life and death. The result is The Search for Weng Weng, a documentary that is not only about Weng Weng but also about the highs and lows of the Filipino film industry in its halcyon days.

     Leavold travelled to the Philippines on numerous occasions and spoke to people who had worked with Weng Weng including directors Eddie Nicart and Dante Pangilinan, editor Edgardo Vinarao, actors and actresses, producers, film historians and academics. He visited the ABS-CBN film archive and managed to track down Weng Weng’s only surviving relative, his brother Celing with whom Leavold visits Weng Weng’s family house and his grave in Pasay City. Perhaps even more extraordinary, Leavold is allowed to visit Imelda Marcos, ask her about Weng Weng and to film her 83rd birthday celebrations as well as the embalmed body of Ferdinand Marcos.

     The story Leavold pieces together is both extraordinary and tragic. Weng Weng (real name Ernesto Dela Cruz) was born in September 1957, the youngest of 5 boys in a poor family. He was tiny at birth and not expected to survive. He did, and developed a liking for action films and martial arts. When his father died in an accident, Weng Weng was “given” to film producers Peter and Cora Caballes – in later publicity it was said he was adopted, but that was untrue. He appeared in films such as Chop Suey Meets Big Time Papa (1978) before the heyday of his popularity in the early 1980s. His films made money for the Caballes’, but Weng Weng received none of it. When the Caballes’ separated, Cora to embark on a political career (she was friends with the Marcos’), Weng Weng’s career was over and he faded into obscurity to die, destitute, in 1992.

     The life of Weng Weng is, as one academic notes, a cautionary tale of the exploitation of a man, a man who seemed to retain the trusting and naďve attitude of a child. His films were based on the gimmick of his small statue, which people then and now still feel uncomfortable about. The Search for Weng Weng includes numerous clips from his films (and this 3 disc DVD special collector’s edition includes on a separate disc Weng Weng’s 1982 feature D’Wild, Wild Weng in full) so people can make up their own minds about whether Weng Weng was a gimmick or a genuine as action star.

     Filipino filmmaking has fallen a long way from its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. While currently film industries in other parts of Asia, including Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, are producing films that are getting releases outside of their home country, and I have reviewed a number on this site, I can remember reviewing only one Filipino film. There may well have been others released but this is a far cry from a time when 300 films were being produced each year.

     The Search for Weng Weng is an obvious labour of love for Leavold, one could say an obsession, which could have got out of hand. It nearly does, but instead the result is a fascinating documentary with a cast full of eccentric characters, including Imelda Marcos herself, who talk about the Filipino film industry and its highs and lows, all wrapped around the life and fate of one small actor.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Search for Weng Weng is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is likely to be close to the original ratio.

     The film uses a lot of video footage shot over seven years, so the quality varies considerably. Some of the interviews are crisp, others quite soft with some sound drop outs. The old film footage of Weng Weng has numerous scratches, dirt marks and artefacts, as expected from old, poorly preserved film footage from the 1980s. This old footage, and some interviews, is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio. Colours are what might be expected, given the material.

    There are no subtitles as such, but burnt in white subtitles come on for non-English, and a far bit of English, dialogue. They cannot be removed.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
Colour
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Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192 Kbps. There is also a commentary track with the same specifications.

     This documentary is mostly narration by Leavold, plus interviews and clips from the films of Weng Weng. The audio is mostly centred, with little separation but with a bit of music directed to the rears. Nothing for the sub-woofer to do, but nor was it needed.

     The score comes from a range of people, including Francis De Veyra, Chuds, Screaming Meanies and Damien Devaux. It is varied and includes spaghetti western, mariachi and Bond-like themes. Listen to the CD to get them in their full glory.

Audio Ratings Summary
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Audio Sync
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Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This is a three disc set with an incredible range of interesting extras. A testament to Leavold’s persistence and love for the project.

Disc 1

Director’s Audio Commentary

     Director Andrew Leavold is a natural storyteller who has been passionate, or rather obsessive, about Weng Weng and Filipino B cinema for 20 years, so his commentary includes stories and thoughts not in the film, asides, locations, the identification of cast members in films and much more. Leavold is a humorous and entertaining speaker, and this is a fun commentary.

Extended Scene: Weng Weng’s Neighbourhood & Grave (8:50)

     With Weng Weng’s brother Celing Leavold visits the Baclaran neighbourhood in Pasay City where Weng Weng grew up, interviews neighbours and visits the family gravestones. Some rough footage and sound, comments not subtitled. This is the fuller version of what is in the film.

Eddie Nicart Interview (50:10)

     This is more an extended chat which occurred when Leavold visited Nicart at his home in 2007. Nicart was originally a stunt man and went on to become a stunt director before being offered the chance to direct by producer Peter Caballes, directing Weng Weng films such as For Y’ur Height Only and D’Wild, Wild Weng. Nicart talks about his career as a stuntman, what he knows about the life and the character of Weng Weng, Weng Weng’s relationship with Peter Caballes, and how a number of the stunts in the films were performed. He also shows Leavold some of the equipment he used in the stunts. Some of this interview was used in the film.

Deleted Scene: Palito Interview (16:42)

     An extended interview with the very skinny actor Palito (Reynaldo Hipolito, who died in 2010), sometimes called the “walking corpse”. He talks about music, his acting career, his films, Weng Weng and makes jokes. Filmed in the bookshop coffee shop were Leavold conducted other interviews what made the finished film; indifferent sound and vision.

Q&A at SUFF (37:57)

     Leavold on stage answering questions after a showing of The Search for Weng Weng at the Sydney Underground Film Festival in 2014. He is funny, down to earth, obsessive about Weng Weng, and shows a tattoo he has on his arm of Weng Weng as a Catholic saint!

Disc 2

D’Wild, Wild Weng Feature (82:15)

     The 1982 feature film starring Weng Weng and directed by Eddie Nicart. Weng Weng and a sidekick are government men sent to a town to investigate the death of the governor. They find the town controlled by a gang of ruthless bandits and with some help take them on. D’Wild, Wild Weng is a tongue in cheek Eastern western with non-PC humour, a whole lot of unrelated captures, escapes, stunts and fights set to a loud mariachi and spaghetti western score leading to a final battle involving Mexican bandits with rifles, Ninjas with swords, pygmies with bows and arrows and Weng Weng with a Gatling gun!! This is cheesy, silly and is as strange as it sounds; rather an acquired taste yet great fun in patches. And it does allow us to see a range of Weng Weng in action.

     The print is unrestored with numerous scratches, dirt marks, other artefacts and brightness variations, with crackly and scratchy sound. Aspect ratio 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Still it is never unwatchable.

I Love Weng Weng Music Video (3:17)

     Written and performed by Ray Arabejo

Image Gallery (4:16)

     No music, stills advance automatically.

Disc 3

Soundtrack CD (64:53)

    Thirty tracks by Francis De Veyra, Chuds, Screaming Meanies and Damien Devaux.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There is not currently a Region 1 US version of The Search for Weng Weng. From what I can see on Amazon.com.uk the UK version is a one disc release, possibly the same as the first disc on our set, but I have been unable to find any reviews to make sure. There is no reason to go past our All Region special edition.

Summary

     The Search for Weng Weng is a real oddity yet Andrew Leavold’s quest to find out about the life Weng Weng is a wonderful documentary that is not only about Weng Weng but also about the highs and lows of the Filipino film industry when it was the second biggest in the world.

     The DVD has variable video and audio due in part to the extensive use of clips from low budget films over 30 years old. The extras are extensive, genuine and fascinating; a great package for anyone with an interest in film history, Filipino films or the story of a little man. Absolutely fascinating!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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