Arts & Entertainment

The Larger-Than-Life Story of Weng Weng

Standing at two feet and nine inches, the diminutive action star represents an entire industry.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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Whoever said that size doesn't matter must have been a relatively tall person. Height discrimination is a reality. Those who bear the brunt of this irrational stigma are people with skeletal dysplasia, which is the medical term for dwarfism. 

Back in less-enlighted times, people with dwarfism were featured in carnival shows. Later on, actors and actresses who had dwarfism had limited roles. Moreover, they often had to be in costumes that rendered them unrecognizable.

That said, Weng Weng (real name: Ernesto de la Cruz) was truly ahead of his time. Standing at two feet and nine inches, the late Filipino actor starred in action films (mostly spoofs of James Bond movies) in the early 1980s. He is listed in the Guinness World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role.

While other performers with dwarfism were relegated to bit roles, Weng Weng was the main attraction in several films.

 

From shoebox to movie sets

Weng Weng was born to a simple family in the Baclaran area on September 7, 1957. He was the youngest of five children. His father was an electrician, while his mother was a laundrywoman.

Weng Weng's parents were surprised when they saw that their child was extraordinarily small. In fact, according to his brother Celing, Weng Weng spent the first few months of his life inside a shoe box. The family had come up with an improvised incubator to keep him warm.

Celing told GMA's Tunay na Buhay that he doesn't recall the doctor telling them that his brother had primordial dwarfism. The family simply accepted Weng Weng's size as a consequence of his mother's fascination with the image of the Holy Child who is carried by the Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She has reportedly been drawn to the image when she was pregnant with Weng Weng.

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Celing said everyone in their neighborhood was delighted by Weng Weng. They found him cute. They even dressed him up as the Santo Niño for the annual Baclaran parade.

The young Weng Weng, though, wasn't content to dress up as Baby Jesus. He reportedly got involved in martial arts.

In fact, it was Weng Weng's former martial arts instructor who eventually introduced him to an independent film producer named Peter Caballes. Shortly after that, Weng Weng was said to have been cast in his first role ever.

Now, here's where it gets tricky, as the film listed as Weng Weng's debut movie is a 1972 Filipino Bible epic called Go Tell It On The Mountain. Weng Weng suposedly played Baby Moses, while future President Joseph Estrada played grown-up Moses. Unfortunately, there's no additional information about this movie. Like many other Filipino films, it's most likely lost forever.

Weng Weng went on to appear in films with Ramon Zamora (1978's Chopsuey Met Big Time Papa) and Dolphy (1980's The Quick Brown Fox).

Little big star

Weng Weng's reel antics caught the attention of Hong Kong director Raymond Jury, who cast him as Agent 00 in 1981's For Your Height Only—a spoof of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

From 1981 to 1982, Weng Weng went on overdrive with his movies. He played Agent 00 in two more films: Agent 00 and The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu. He also appeared in Stariray, Legs Katawan Babae, D'Wild Wild Weng, and The Cute...the Sexy n' the Tiny.   

Weng Weng's last movie was 1984's Da Best in the West, where he shared screen time with Dolphy, Lito Lapid, and Panchito.

In all these movies, Weng Weng showcased his comic timing and his agility. His co-workers recall that he always did his own stunts. They only had good things to say about him, praising his sunny disposition and work ethic. 

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Yet, there came the day when Weng Weng simply just stopped getting calls from movie producers. His proverbial 15 minutes were up.

 

Not-so-happy ending

Weng Weng's brother Celing recalls that despite his brother's fame, his life didn't exactly change. Celing related, "Natutuwa lang sila dahil artista (People were just happy that he was in the movies)." However, Celing alleged that Weng Weng didn't get paid much. "Kung ano lang iabot sa kanya (Whatever was handed to him)," he said. 

As Dennis Harvey wrote in his Variety article: “Weng Weng’s vehicles were popular—Height, in particular, sold to numerous foreign territories—yet by all accounts he was never paid a salary, let alone given a profit percentage. Instead, he was kept as a sort of indulged pet, then discarded.” 

GMA's Tunay na Buhay actually showed the dilapidated house where Weng Weng had lived until the day he died.

By 1992, just days before he would turn 35, Weng Weng died of a heart attack, which is a common cause of death for people with primordial dwarfism.

 

Unlikely fan

In 2013, an Australian named Andrew Leavold paid homage to Weng Weng with the documentary, The Search for Weng Weng. Leavold related that he had been obsessed with Weng Weng ever since he saw For Your Height Only in the 1990s.

As it turns out, the film had been screened in several countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.

"Weng Weng is a personal avatar,” Leavold told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

 

Big roles

While Weng Weng is no longer around, little people are more visible in mainstream entertainment these days. For instance, actor Peter Dinklage is one of our favorite scene-stealers in the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Cable TV channels have also banked on little people as reality TV stars. TLC initially had Little People, Big World. Its success paved the way for The Little Couple, Little Chocolatiers, Our Little Family, and 7 Little Johnstons. For its part, Lifetime has Little Women: LA and Little Women: Atlanta. Meanwhile, Animal Planet has Pit Boss.

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We wonder what Weng Weng would have thought about these shows. After all, he had already been a superstar who was larger than life. The only tragedy is that real life—which has far nastier villains than the ones in the movies—burned him badly.

 

Note: The Little People of America website explains, "Such terms as dwarf, little person, LP, and person of short stature are all acceptable, but most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label."

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