Director: Andrew Leavold
Producers: Daniel Palisa, Andrew Leavold
It says seven years in the making but I know Andrew has been working on it for much longer than that. I remember going to a screening of a double bill of For Yur Height Only and the Impossible Kid (live dub as it was only in French) and I was one of the only people there.
There’s also the whole saga of what happened with Machete Maidens in 2008, but that is for another time.
Weng Weng (Ernesto De La Cruz) appeared in 14 movies and only seven are known to exist at this time. Andrew has six of them and has seen seven. There was a musical that Weng Weng appeared in but they could not get the rights to use it in the documentary, but hopefully they will get to screen it at MIFF in the future.
Andrew has been to the Philippines many times in making the documentary and Daniel Palisa now lives there.
The narrative of the documentary is a detective story where Andrew starts off not even knowing Weng Weng’s real name and through leg work and in some cases good fortune ends up meeting many of the people who worked with Weng Weng including the man who edited all his movies. They could not get to interview the film’s director as one had died and the other is no longer talking to them. You can’t say they did not try, but it reflects badly on that person as the other people interviewed do not have anything good to say about her as Weng Weng was exploited and was still living in the same shack when he died that he was before he even starred in movies.
The sequences with Imdela Marcos were very strange and got a strong reaction in the Phillipines. She seems to be somewhere off in her own world and has no self awareness of how much people hate her. Ferdinand Marcos is still lying in state waiting for a state funeral, it shows an unusual amount of restraint people didn’t just throw him on the garbage dump and set him on fire.
I did like hearing from all the old stuntmen and film makers from around that era as they all have fond memories of working with Weng Weng and are sad that he was treated badly. Werner Herzog even got a mention as one person being interviewed said they showed “Even Dwarves Started Small” to the director of the Weng Weng movies.
While one interviewee said that the Philippines was “cut off” from Asia, I believe the traditional spiritual and cultural beliefs combined with the Roman Catholic religion from Spanish settlement and the USA’s involvement from World War II onwards is what makes the Philippines unique as many of the things in the documentary would not have developed otherwise.
Santo Niño was mentioned in the film and Weng Weng was dressed as him during religious celebrations. During a screening of the documentary right outside Weng Weng’s house one of his neighbours said that Weng Weng cured him as he believed he was the reincarnation of Santo Niño.
The version shown at MIFF was the “festival” cut and there are still special features being completed. The final version will be screened as the Monster Festival in November and will be a three disc set including a soundtrack.
I did like the footage from James Batman and talked to Daniel Palisa after the screening who said they have subtitled the film and hope to screen it. It is still under copyright so they cannot release it. There were a lot of superhero knock offs in Philippines.