Feb 9, 2012

DVD Review: The Impossible Kid (1982?)

DVD Review: The Impossible Kid (1982?)

I promised something silly to break up all this serious John le Carré blogging of late, and here it is. I just couldn't resist the opportunity to jump from le Carré to Weng Weng, illustrating the unbelievably wide spectrum of the spy genre! Diminutive Filipino star Weng Weng, for those who don't know, managed to stretch the simple high-concept gag of “a midget James Bond” into possibly as many as five films in the early Eighties. (I reviewed the first one, For Your Height Only, a couple of years ago, here.) I say “possibly” because records of such things are apparently poorly kept in the Philippines, and as far as I can tell only two (maybe three) such movies actually found release in the United States. So nobody seems to be really sure—not even Andrew Leavold, the guy who’s writing his doctoral thesis on Filipino exploitation cinema and seems to be the West’s foremost authority on all things Weng Weng. He penned the actor’s mini biography on the IMDb, and if that’s to be believed, then it’s a biopic waiting to happen! (Or waiting for the right actor; the physical demands of playing a 2' 9" Filipino are fairly specific.) Apparently after the country finally tired of the one-gag film series, the movie roles dried up for Weng Weng, so the general in the Marcos regime who had made him an honorary secret agent years earlier decided to tap the former star to be a real secret agent, sent him to paratrooper school, and used him on actual infiltration missions where his tiny size was an advantage. If that story’s true, I think Weng Weng might be the only franchise spy star to later graduate to actual spying… which is pretty awesome.

I'll let Weng Weng's extraordinary hairdo remain the elephant in this room
Leavold tried to get a documentary about Weng Weng off the ground, but the project ultimately morphed into something else, expanding its admittedly narrow (yet awesome) scope and, presumably, its audience. Weng Weng sadly only warrants a few minutes of coverage in the final product, Machete Maidens Unleashed. Machete Maidens Unleashed is a documentary about the wider world of Filipino exploitation films in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties (with particular emphasis on Roger Corman’s New World productions) from Mark Hartley, the creative force behind the excellent “Ozploitation” documentary featuring George Lazenby, Not Quite Hollywood. While Machete Maidens Unleashed feels a tad less comprehensive than his first film (and neglects altogether my favorite spy movie to come out of the Philippines in the Seventies, Wonder Women), it’s still compelling viewing for those predisposed toward the low budget genre pictures of that era, and easy to recommend. (It’s also available streaming on Netflix, which makes it easy to watch as well.) Anyway, Weng Weng’s brief appearance in Machete Maidens Unleashed inspired me to revisit his oeuvre, so I dug out my budget DVD of The Impossible Kid and convinced (coerced?) my long-suffering girlfriend and two of our friends to watch it with me.

Two examples of Weng Weng's signature move
Those who have seen For Your Height Only or remember my review of it will recall that Weng Weng plays Interpol’s Agent Double-O (Get it? Because he’s short!), a superspy whose specialties are fitting into small spaces and punching or kicking bad guys in the balls. I’ll say up front that if you’ve seen For Your Height Only, then you really don’t need to see The Impossible Kid, because it’s pretty much just more of the same (only possibly on an even tighter budget), so whether or not you choose to accept this particular mission will depend entirely on your threshold for watching stuntmen get kicked in the balls. Fortunately, my own threshold for that gag is fairly high.

Gadgets, Weng Weng-style: a handy pole
This pole enables Weng Weng to injure two sets of testicles at once
Of the three times in The Impossible Kid that a suitcase is opened, on one occasion it doesn't contain Weng Weng ready to sprout out and kick balls. That moment doesn’t play as clever misdirection, however; it just plays as lazy—and, frankly, a missed opportunity. I don’t think anyone thought, “Hm, we already had him do that once and we’re going to have him do it again in the third act, so maybe we shouldn't do it here.” I think it just didn’t occur to them. Or maybe Weng Weng wasn’t on set so they just shot the moment without him. In both other instances, he disguises himself as ransom money, is dutifully dropped off at a pre-arranged location, and when the bad guys open their bundle he pops out and punches them in the balls. You know the drill. Personally, I was amused both times, though it did strike me as a little odd that the bad guys didn’t cotton to this strategy after the first instance. Even the time Weng Weng doesn't pop out, they’re not all circled around the case pointing their guns at it just in case he does, which seems like poor planning even if they somehow lucked out.

So what’s the plot? Well, that’s not easy to say. I don’t imagine it was ever very coherent to begin with, but the English language dubbing crew didn’t do it any favors, either, embracing (and extending) the silliness of the whole endeavor rather than trying to make sense of it. For all their effort, it might as well not even be dubbed. Watching The Impossible Kid and trying to follow its plot is just like watching an un-dubbed foreign exploitation film and trying to figure out what’s going on without the aid of subtitles. In the case of The Impossible Kid, it doesn’t really matter what language is being spoken on screen; confusing is a universal language. But here’s what I could discern: in a nutshell, there’s a bad guy in a white Klan hood (he looks sort of like the Hate Monger from Marvel’s Sixties Nick Fury comics) who delivers ultimatums like “he will die and then you all will die!” over a TV. I’m not really sure how he manages that in the pre-Skype era, but somehow he also manages to make the TV itself self-destruct afterwards to some Casio keyboard music that vaguely recalls the Mission: Impossible theme. At a certain point, the Casio player abandons attempts at flute-heavy James Bond or M:I music and instead starts ripping off the Pink Panther theme, which recurs throughout the rest of the film whether appropriate or not. (Alright, never appropriate.) Weng Weng’s boss responds to the threat by ordering his pint-size agent to “take his time,” and, as my friend pointed out, that’s exactly what he does. And it’s a strategy that's not really ideal for action movie pacing. There certainly aren’t enough turning points to satisfy Robert McKee. Rather than plot points per se, in fact, things just sort of happen. In that spirit, I’m going to get lazy with this review and just list some random observations:

• At one point, the bad guys throw a cobra at Weng Weng, and the actor, who usually remains impressively expressionless in any scenario, looks terrified. That sudden fit of acting leads me to believe that the Filipino production team really did toss an actual cobra at their tiny star.

• When a shoeless villain barks orders from the comfort of his luxurious home, it occurred to me that we don’t often see villains hanging around in their socks—much less indulging in maniacal laughter in their socks!

• At one point, Weng Weng’s interpretation of the order to take his time takes the form of kicking back and watching go-go dancers in a club, just like his regularly-sized poverty row spy brethren all over the world.

• People are always mistaking Weng Weng for a child, which is odd, because despite his height, Weng Weng does not look very youthful at all. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” exclaims an obsequious brothel proprietor when he realizes his mistake. “I didn’t know you were an adult!” To make up for trying to throw him out, he offers Weng Weng his pick of the girls, and they all swarm the poor munchkin, cooing excitedly. Weng Weng gets the same look on his face that the cobra induced, and then runs away like Short Round fleeing the harem in Temple of Doom.

Amusing though I found them, none of those moments really differentiate The Impossible Kid from For Your Height Only in any significant way. What that difference comes down to is this: For Your Height Only is the one with a jetpack. (Do yourself a favor and go take a look at the screengrabs of Weng Weng suspended from a cable in his little jetpack with that same look of cobra terror plastered on his tiny face. It’s easy to think of the poor guy as a human version of the Muppet Beaker, allowing himself to be subjected to stunt upon life-threatening stunt in a constant state of disquiet and agitation—all for the sake of his art.) The Impossible Kid is the one with the mini motorcycle. Yes, it’s a scooter of some sort specially built for someone of Weng Weng’s stature. Or maybe it’s a kids’ toy. Whatever its origin, it’s just fast enough to keep up with the junky trucks the bad guys drive, and those mischievous sound engineers have seen to it that the minuscule vehicle emits a hilarious buzzing noise that makes it sound like a wind-up toy. In this movie’s big stunt (one which really doesn’t compare to the great jetpack flight), Weng Weng jumps over a wide ravine on his pocket crotch rocket. That’s the stunt you’ll remember this film for—and not because it’s pulled off with any particular success.

Actually, there's another stunt that stands out too: at one point, Weng Weng makes a daring escape from one of the many bland, generic Manila tenements his missions tend to take him to by improvising a parachute out of a bed sheet. It's a good spy trick, oft-used, and perhaps a tad more believable with an agent of Weng Weng's height. While I sincerely doubt that Weng Weng jumped from the height depicted in the film, it's clear from the sheer terror etched on his minuscule visage (reminiscent once more of that "jet pack" expression) that the director made him jump from some height!

The other thing you might recall a day or two after seeing this movie is the indelible image of Weng Weng imprisoned in a bird cage on bad guy’s yacht. It’s funny, yet kind of degrading, and makes you feel a little sorry for the murderous Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize), who suffered a similar fate at the end of The Man With the Golden Gun. But what will stick with you longer than any image is the infectious theme song, in which female vocalist Ruby Tia (the Phillipines' answer to Shirley Bassey, no doubt) croons, “Weng Weng, I love you, my Weng Weng!” over and over again. Unless my hearing was playing tricks on me, I think another lyric is, “he does some things.” And that pretty much sums up Weng Weng’s approach to spying. He does do some things. Sometimes.

Digiview Entertianment’s DVD delivers exactly what you’d expect of the slim-packed bargain titles you find in bins at drug stores (which is where I found it). The print is panned and scanned, and the picture is muddy at best, as you can see from these screencaps. Needless to say, there are no special features—though there is, surprisingly, a menu! For these reasons, I’d recommend Mondo Macabre’s DVD of For Your Height Only over The Impossible Kid to any spy fan looking to expand his or her horizons by viewing one Weng Weng movie—but not quite prepared to commit to two. That disc, while still full-screen (which may well be how these were shot), had a better picture, and the movie had a better centerpiece stunt. But for fans of midget secret agent cinema, The Impossible Kid delivers exactly what you expect from it: more of the same, and slightly cheaper.

One more advantage of being small: fire hydrants make great cover


Bob said...

"Everybody wang chung tonight"

Simes said...

Looks like the sort of film you'd watch while VERY intoxicated!