January 20 | 2015
Andrew Leavold became obsessed with a Filipino action star named Weng Weng more than 20 years ago. This film is what resulted when he traveled to the Philippines to learn more about the karate and JKD practitioner.
The Search for Weng Weng (2013) is a far-out documentary about video-store owner Andrew Leavold’s obsession with a Filipino action-martial arts film. The connection was made more than 20 years ago — Leavold watched a bootleg VHS copy of For Your Height Only (also called For Y'ur Height Only), a 1981 movie that featured an enigmatic Filipino karate star named Weng Weng, who happens to be a dwarf. When wacky meets crazy like it does in this movie, the results are entertaining, and just when you think it can’t get any nuttier, it does. Playing a James Bond-ish secret agent, Weng Weng, who stood 2 feet 9 inches tall, became the face of Filipino movies in the early 1980s — and then vanished a few years later. Before the making of this documentary, very little was known about the life and times of this action-film icon. Various urban legends hold that he was a dental student, a stand-up comic, a customs officer, a karaoke star and a real-life secret agent. The ambiguity was the reason Leavold embarked on a mission to uncover the truth. In the documentary, Leavold lands in the Philippines, armed with no contacts or clues — but with plenty of questions about Weng Weng. One day, Leavold reaches out to an unassuming man in a parking lot. “Have you heard of Weng Weng?” Leavold asks. As luck would have it, the man is a film editor named Edgardo “Boy” Virarao, who just happened to edit all Weng Weng’s movies. Next, serendipity sends Leavold on an adventure that has him meeting many top Filipino filmmakers, martial artists and stuntmen from the 1970s — people he’s been trying to track down for 10 years. The stars share their memories of Weng Weng — who reportedly also trained in jeet kune do under Dan Inosanto — and confirm that he did all his own fights and even the dangerous stunts. But it gets even better. One of those stars has a connection to Weng Weng’s only living relative, a brother who’s willing to speak on camera. The snowball gathers more speed when a subsequent interview with a Filipino film historian ends with this remark: “You should talk to Imelda Marcos … I know her number.” Apart from being the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, Imelda is a patron of the arts. In 1982 she organized the first Manila International Film Festival, which put the Philippines and Weng Weng in the international cinema spotlight. Leavold’s two days with her result in some must-see scenes. By the time The Search for Weng Weng concludes, all Leavold’s questions are answered. Among other things, he learns who gave Weng Weng his name and why. It’s surreal how all the pieces of the puzzle come together, offering tangible proof that sometimes passion can be enough to see things through. (Illustrations courtesy of Andrew Leavold) Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.