Sunday, August 17, 2014


Weng Weng was born with dwarfism into a poor family. Virtually sold to a Fillipino film industry couple, he rose to fame in the movies in the 70s and 80s as a kind of toy James Bond. The roles dried up. He died in poverty.

All of those facts are on screen in The Search for Weng Weng. So are a lot of other things. Those things build up so solidly that the life that this documentary celebrates becomes obscured on a regular basis. We are treated to a good amount of images and recollections from the man's life and when the film faces the task of telling that life it does so with sincerity. But this piece suffers too greatly from a lack of discipline.

The problem is that it doesn't quite know how to resolve the footage from Weng Weng's screen career with this. We are openly invited to laugh at the conceit and the lo-fi filmmaking with its awkward dubbing and cut rate effects. There is no apparent appreciation of either the triumph of this man against his own odds nor much affection for the schlocky films he made. There is no celebration. We hear the interviewees softly remember how uncomfortable this chapter of Fillipino film history is but the next minute we're snorting at the next naff action sequence.

So, is there another angle, here? Am I witnessing the changes in the director, a notable figure in the cult video scene, as he gets to understand more of Weng Weng's life and the issues it brings out? Does his obvious enthusiasm for this cinema pick up some depth along the way? I believe it does but there is still too much left unresolved for me. And there are too many irrelevant digressions. The Imelda Marcos sequence is almost extraordinarily pointless, considering the paucity of her memory of Weng Weng, and would make a great DVD extra. Really? Imelda Marcos? Surely there's some intriguing sociopolitcal angle there? There is, and we see it, it just has no direct connection to the subject and serves only to make the film feel like it's wandering. This is a pity as there are some excellent interviews here that are getting swamped. While we indulge Imelda and her unhinged rituals and pronouncements we have forgotten all about Weng Weng.

I have heard others who saw this at the festival defend this approach by claiming it is a more personal one, an attempt to create closeness between subject and chronicler. Maybe, but between the exploitation of presenting the clips, the obscured interviews, and the genuineness somewhere in the cracks of what's left I felt mostly that I was being asked to indulge the filmmakers. Look at us! We've made something worthy AND entertaining! Maybe it's just me and I should relax a little. It's their film and they can make anything they damn well please. Is it personal? Sure, but what if you don't like the person (and I don't mean Weng Weng)?

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