Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2000 Maniacos interview (2015)

"El Asombroso Coloso Filipino Con Licencia Para Molar!"

[Interview with Domingo Lopez, published in 2000 Maniacos #48 (November 2015), Spain]

Domingo: What’s your first contact with Filipino movies?

Andrew: Like most of us, watching VHS tapes of Mad Max ripoffs, The Big Bird Cage and a thousand Rambo and Platoon clones. Most of them, I had no idea they were made in the Philippines until I saw Weng Weng in For Y'ur Height Only - that was my first conscious glimpse into the Filipino B Film universe. Then I opened a cult video store here in Brisbane called Trash Video and was able to join the dots to make up a much grander picture - the Cleopatra Wong films, Eddie Romero, Cirio Santiago, Enter The Ninja, Silip, Ramon Zamora, Dolphy and Chiquito, Palito - and hundreds and hundreds of Filipino films later, I don't believe the obsession will ever end.

Domingo: From where comes the idea to shoot a documentary film about Weng Weng?

Andrew: From a dream, believe it or not! I dreamt I was in Manila with a camera in hand, calling the Cultural Centre for information: "My name is Andrew Leavold, I'm an Australian filmmaker here in Manila to make a documentary about Weng Weng…" I forgot all about the dream until I was actually IN Manila with a camera in hand! Then I kept shooting until I discovered his real story…and kept shooting…and after seven long years, I had enough footage to be able to piece a narrative together.

Domingo: To somebody who don’t know him, how do you describe Weng Weng and his importance in popular Filipino cinema?

Andrew: For starters, he is an incredible person - a poor kid from the slums who, through a combination of hard work and pure luck, became one of the most famous Filipino faces at home and abroad. He performed his own dangerous stunts, was trained as a real-life secret agent, and in his home town was even considered a living Saint. As far as his importance to Filipino cinema goes, it's harder to argue, however his film For Y'ur Height Only was the single biggest film export at the time, which definitely paved the way for other Filipino producers to sell their films abroad. And if you look at the broader canvas of Filipino film, he sits somewhere near the middle, connected to many important figures such as Dolphy, Lito Lapid, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos.

Domingo: How fits Weng Weng into the Pinoy cinema? Is it still famous these after all these years?

Andrew: Anyone between the ages of 35 and 50 will no doubt remember him from their childhood, even if they need a little nudge. The younger generations of Filipinos are now starting to rediscover him via Youtube as a little hero - someone who took on the might of Hollywood with a film one-hundredth of the budget of a James Bond film. More than a national embarrassment, these days he's looked at as more of a subversive figure, certainly worth of Pinoy Pride.

Domingo: Before Jackie Chan, Weng Weng was doing his own stunts with little to none security. Was it the usual way to shoot action in Philippines?

Andrew: Back in the Sixties, the Filipino stuntman was the best in the world. They didn't need safety nets or wires. I remember Danny Rojo, one of the top stunt coordinators, telling me he used to do leap from a two-storey building onto two banana leaves! I said, "Did you ever worry about getting hurt?" "No, he replied, "we were professionals." Accidents were, because the stunt guys were so well trained. Eddie Nicart's group SOS Daredevils were the greatest stunt guys of all, they moved together like a basketball team. Like Danny Rojo, these guys didn't need nets or wires. Eddie and his stunt guys trained Weng Weng to be a professional stuntman and blackbelter, and from all accounts, he became a phenomenally good performer. His tight rope walk between two buildings in The Impossible Kid? No net beneath him. He was that good.

Domingo: In how many movies did Weng Weng star? I think only 2 or 3 made it internationally...

Andrew: So far I have discovered fourteen films with Weng Weng as lead star or cameo. As lead, six films. There are two westerns (Da Best In Da West, D'Wild Wild Weng), four Agent 00 films, cameos in three Dolphy comedies (Stariray, The Quick Brown Fox), and some early films with Ramon Zamora and Dante Varona. Half of those fourteen films have vanished without trace. I guess that means the Search will possibly go on forever!

Domingo: Legend says (at least here in Spain) Weng Weng was a sex machine but the real thing was quite different, is it?

Andrew: From what I understand, very different. Weng Weng was very shy in general, and self-conscious about his size. He would fall in love with his leading ladies, and they would go along with his flirtatious behaviour as if it was a joke; to Weng Weng, however, it was far from a joke. His biggest crush was on Nina Sara, his co-star in The Impossible Kid - you can see them during the end credits kissing and cuddling. From what I've been told, he never got over Nina. The spirit was willing, but there was an equipment malfunction, if you get my drift.

Domingo: Is it true that Weng Weng worked as a secret agent?

Andrew: He certainly TRAINED as a secret agent - we verified that mystery via Eddie Nicart, Dante "Boy" Pangilinan and Weng Weng's brother. And the training was more than a publicity stunt, as he was properly trained in firearms, parachuting, infiltration missions etc. What's not certain is whether he went on actual missions or not. But he was definitely issued a blue paratroopers' uniform, custom made 25mm handgun, and a tiny machine gun - you can see them in For Y'ur Height Only.

Domingo: How’s possible an actor so profitable ended his days in misery?

Andrew: You should ask his producer Cora and Peter Caballes that question. It appears they earned more than a million dollars from their films starring Weng Weng, but he never saw more than pocket money for his efforts. Some people will say that's the nature of show business, but their treatment of Weng Weng was deplorable. You'll need to see the documentary to find out exactly what happened to him, and it will break your heart.

Domingo: Any funny thing that happened shooting The Search for Weng Weng?

Andrew: My co-producer Daniel Palisa and I would sit down at breakfast every morning and write down the weird events from the day before. Funny, strange shit never STOPPED happening. There was one time Dani and I were trapped inside a fortified compound with Weng Weng's fellow stunt guys, listening to their boss preaching the second coming of dead action star Fernando Poe Jr. To break the tension we decided to sing a karaoke version of Scorpions' "Wind Of Change" immediately afterwards. The CEO then decided we were the Two Apostles, here to spread the Word of Fernando Poe Jr to the rest of the world…

Domingo: What’s the strangest movie you’ve seen from Philippines? And your favourite?

Andrew: One of the weirdest was a film featuring Weng Weng in a brief appearance, in a disco kung fu spy biker western called Legs... Katawan... Babae (1981), starring the Filipino Village People, and directed by Weng Weng's boss in For Y'ur Height Only, Tony Ferrer (the original Filipino James Bond from the Sixties!). Seriously, it's as amazingly bizarre as it sounds! Favourite was, is, and always will be For Y'ur Height Only. You can't beat that film for sheer joy.

Domingo: After The Search for Weng Weng, what’s next for you as a director?

Andrew: Maybe another documentary on Filipino film weirdness, then hopefully some narrative features. Dani and I are planning some real balls-out action and horror films set in the Philippines - homages in a way to our favourite Filipino B genres, but with a very 21st Century attitude. I can't say any more at the moment, as we're still in the pitching stage, and funding is yet to materialize. However I can safely say that all roads seem to be leading back to Manilawood!

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