Sep 15, 2008

DVD Review: For Your Height Only (1981)

By the late Seventies and early Eighties, low budget Bond knock-offs were not nearly so prevalent as they were in the 1960s. In fact, when Bondian spy conventions were employed at that point, they were usually employed as a convenient skeleton on which to drape another exploitation genre: kung fu (Enter the Dragon), blacksploitation (Mister Deathman), sexploitation (The Man From S.E.X.) or, in one instance, midgetsploitation. For Your Height Only and its sequel(s?)* are the only examples I’m aware of of that one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there were others. You’ve got a pint-sized star who can pull off some fight moves and make people laugh: what’s the right vehicle for him? Why, a James Bond-type movie, of course!

Filipino star Weng Weng plays Agent 00, the world’s shortest secret agent. (Well, besides Danger Mouse, I guess, who bills himself as "the world’s smallest secret agent.") In the movie’s one endearing stroke of genius, that fact is never called attention to. 00 is taken for granted by his masters and his enemies alike. The good guys never even discuss his height, and the bad guys only mention it in a descriptive sense or occasional taunt. ("You’re really a miniature Bond. Only that’s in the movies. In real life, you die! [Evil laughter.]") Other than that (and one femme fatale who coos that she "likes ‘em little"), nobody calls attention to 00's height, and why should they? It’s attention-grabbing enough on its own, as is his perplexing comb-forward/pageboy haircut with its careful little curls.

Being a midget secret agent certainly has plenty of surprising advantages: the ability to hide in bushes and under pianos, being able to parachute from a tall building on an umbrella, and being able to sneak into rooms between the legs of a beautiful woman who’s distracting the bad guy inside. It also has its disadvantages, primarily being very conspicuous and easy to spot. (Especially with that hairdo!) And also being easy to pick up and carry off. Fortunately, and for our viewing pleasure, the filmmakers managed to foresee all of those pros and cons, and incorporate every one of them into this movie!
00's special moves including punching and kicking bad guys in the balls (many, many, many balls get punched and kicked in this movie) and propelling himself along floors at high speed. That one’s quite a feat, so it’s no wonder the producers opted to use it so many times. No matter how often we see it, the viewer is still as shocked as the bad guys to see a tiny white blur suddenly scoot out of nowhere and start shooting. I don’t know if they had to grease the floors for these stunts, or if white polyester is a slippery enough material on its own. (Agent 00 wears white polyester leisure suits whenever possible, looking just like a miniature John Travolta.) After one such scooting stunt, poor 00 conks his noggin on a wall, rubs his temple and laments, "Ow! My little head!" If that was in the script, it was probably a groaner, but Weng Weng manages to get laughs with it. If it was an ad-lib (which is possible, since it looks accidental), it’s brilliant. (It's also brilliant if it came about in the dubbing, but I'd rather credit the joke to Weng Weng.)
The fights are the number one thing going for this movie, and one of two primary reasons to see it. (I'll get to the other one, er, shortly.) Besides his two signature moves, Weng Weng is a pretty impressive martial artist, and it’s certainly an interesting sight to watch him take on whole gangs of enemies, literally running circles around them, and flinging himself at his opponents. One henchman complains (after having the old scoot-along-the-floor maneuver pulled on him), "The little man has done it again. He’s made a monkey out of the forces of evil. He’s as slippery as an eel. How do you hold onto an eel?" A second reiterates his thoughts, exclaiming, "To be beaten by a lousy eel!" whilst making an appropriate "beaten by a lousy eel" gesture. The action scenes are basically lots of variations on the same general fight (like I say, the little guy has pretty good moves); the best version takes place in a disco where 00 fights to the beat of the music. And, if you stick with the movie long enough, you will be rewarded with a little person-vs.-big person samurai sword fight.

What’s the plot? Just your basic kidnapped scientist plot, one that will be familiar to anyone who’s sat through a few Eurospy flicks. The film’s worldview is refreshingly simplistic. A bad guy declares early on, "The forces of good are our sworn enemy! I repeat [he doesn’t, actually], we have to exterminate them... and I mean lethally!" So now you know just where everyone stands.

The story beats parody or parrot Bond beats at all the right moments, usually (astonishingly!) to the actual James Bond musical beats! (The score is a bold array of direct lifts of "The James Bond Theme" and an instrumental version of "For Your Eyes Only," repeated ad nauseam.) When the plot calls for it, 00 reports to a boss to get his mission and his gadgets. (Economically, M and Q are combined into one person.) He’s given a ring that "can detect all poisons," apparently because "it’s made out of gold, not platinum." And he’s given a pen.

"Your pen," says his wannabe Q. "It looks ordinary, but it’s specially built." Well, that’s helpful! I may be wrong, but I don’t think we ever do find out what’s special about his pen. Perhaps it's engraved with 00's code number? Like all 007 clones (and even, finally, Bond himself at one of his lowest points, gadget-wise), 00 is also equipped with X-ray glasses that make women appear nude, but don’t actually see through machinery or desks or anything. Yes, we get the requisite lascivious grinning when 00 first tries them on. Later, they demonstrate the additional capability of seeing through curtains, and making men appear nude: three ugly, sweaty, butt-naked assassins clutching guns, completely unaware that Weng Weng can see them.

00's epicurean tastes are not quite Bond’s (he takes a woman to a place called "Food Fiesta," so labeled with a gaudy, light-up sign), but his resourcefulness is. In one of his more inspired moments, 00 elicits in-fighting amongst enemy guards by hiding under a counter and kicking each one in the shin, making them each think the others are doing it.

The best bit of resourcefulness–and best gadget–comes as 00 makes for "Hidden Island," the secret island hideout of chief baddie Mr. Giant. Whether or not Mr. Giant also turns out to be vertically challenged I’ll not reveal, though fans of Get Smart’s Mr. Big (or people who have ever seen a movie) should have little trouble making their own predictions on the matter. (Okay, yes, he is! And they wrestle each other and 00 kicks him in the balls. Did you see that coming?) Anyway, to get to the island, 00 straps a tiny rocket pack on his back and–with a look of genuine concern as obvious as the strings holding him up–jets across the rocky terrain. That’s the movie’s money shot, the scene we’ve all been waiting for and, naturally, the second main reason to see the movie at all. It may be exploitative, it may be a cheap gag, but cheap or not, it makes a great visual. Once he gets to Hidden Island, the aforementioned wrestling takes place, there’s more fighting after that, more ball-punching, and it all culminates in an uncharacteristic, out-of-nowhere downbeat ending.
Would there be anything to recommend about For Your Height Only if it didn’t star a little person? Well, no, but then... that’s its raison d’etre, so what’s the point in picking apart the production values of a movie so low budget that nobody notices–or, at least, nobody bothers another take–when a mosquito interrupts a shot by flying directly in front of the lens? Ultimately, either you’re the sort of person who would watch a movie about a midget secret agent or you’re not. Whether or not you actually like it is irrelevant. If you are that sort of person, then what are you waiting for?

For Your Height Only is presented on DVD as a double feature with Challenge of the Tiger, a martial arts cheapie from the same producer starring Bruce Le with one E. For Your Height Only is pan-and-scan but fairly decent for this sort of thing; Challenge of the Tiger is a surprisingly good widescreen transfer. Challenge of the Tiger appears to be espionage-related itself, and co-stars Sixties Eurospy star Richard Harrison.

*The IMDB lists two follow-ups to For Your Height Only: Agent 00 and The Impossible Kid. I was under the impression that Agent 00 was merely an alternate title for For Your Height Only, and the scant details offered on the IMDB (including the same release year) aren't enough to convince me otherwise.

3 comments:

Solex Agitator said...

I love Weng Weng! There are at east 3 or 4 Weng Weng 00 movies. I read, in fact, on the DVD Maniacs board some months back that there is a documentary in the works to celebrate this international hero.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqh5O9LbjhY

David said...

Fantastic review. Just a couple of things that may interest you (though I am hardly an expert on these) - the movie (and series - possibly?) are parodies of the Agent X44; Tony Falcon films - which starred Tony Ferrer. Tony Ferrer makes a cameo in this film as Weng Weng's boss.

Todd, at Teleport City posted an informative review of one of the latter Tony Falcom films – Sabotage 2

Cheers
D.

Righty007 said...

Weng Weng has the sex appeal of a billy goat.