Tales of a foreigner shacking up in the country to look for the love of his life isn’t too uncommon a story.
Take the story of Andrew Leavold for instance, a 44-year-old-Australian, who took a plane to Manila in 2006 to search for his lifelong object of affection. In his case, the object wasn’t a woman, not even a full-grown man but rather the 2'9" tall Ernesto dela Cruz, a Baclaran-born actor who had primordial dwarfism and was more popularly known as Weng-Weng.
For anyone too young, Weng-Weng was a star in the ’80s as Agent 00 in the James Bond parody, For Y’ur Height Only, which was screened in the 1982 Cannes Film Fest together with Mike de Leon’s Batch 81. Leavold, an avid collector of strange movies and a video shop owner, came across For Y’ur Height Only and has been obsessed ever since with the diminutive star.
Now, thanks to Leavold, Weng-Weng has returned to Cannes through a documentary, The Search For Weng-Weng—Leavold’s labor of love that tracks down Weng Weng’s ascent to the top of Pinoy pop culture, his descent, and everything that surrounded him.
In making the film, Leavold lost his video shop business, and had nervous breakdowns. Prior to his film making the rounds in international film fests, all he had to show for all his efforts was a tattoo of Weng-Weng on his left shoulder:
Our question to him was simple: Why? Why would one man scour a foreign land for the life story of a cult star from the ’80s? Why the tattoo, the film, and the obsession? We ask all these and more in our interview with Andrew Leavold below!
FHM: What was your first encounter with Weng Weng?
Andre Leavold: The moment I first saw Weng Weng was when the first moment I became aware of the Filipino B-film as a distinct creature.
There was something about its disco twilight and guys in Hawaiian shirts with big moustaches kicking the hell out of a 2'9" secret agent. It appeared like I entered a completely parallel universe with its own twisted logic. It was only when I recovered from For Y’ur Height Only and more Filipino B-films that I realized that this was a genre unto itself.
What was it about For Y’ur Height Only?
I think I have watched the film 150 times. I would show the Agent 00 film publicly to my family and friends and say this is extraordinary; this is the film which you’d never see the likes of again. It is so entertaining when you watch it with an audience. This is another reason I had to find out why people were connecting to Weng Weng, and why I had a strange connection with this odd little character, whose humanity seems to come through the screen and seems like a very innocent child like character. I wanted to know his real character.
I wanted to talk to the people closest to him and ask, "What was he like? Was he truly like a child? What was his voice like? What were his dreams and aspirations? Did he want to be a star? What happened to him after?" So it took quite a lot of time to get to his brother, and his brother was the one to crack the code and so I was able to get a very intimate portrait.
On a personal level, why did Weng Weng appeal to you? When did this obsession start?
In the early ’90s. Before I started my video shop in 1995, I was an avid collector of strange and obscure movies, and quite a large percentage of that were Filipino movies without me even knowing.
The films of Eddie Romero and Cirio Santiago, [which supposedly were] shot in South America and Orlando, were in fact shot in the Philippines with Filipino co-productions. It wasn’t until I started working backwards that I discovered that these films that I love were in fact Filipino. So this obsession with the Philippines began with Weng Weng, but I was also in love with really badly dubbed kung-fu films where the voices nowhere matched the movements of the mouth and some absurd things were coming out of the mouths of the characters.