[Photos from the Eddie Nicart shoot for THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG, February 2007]
In The Search For Weng Weng, Eddie Nicart was truly one of the Holy Grails. It was February 2007, on my second trip to the Philippines, and the closest I’d come to finding the real Weng Weng story was his editor (Boy Vinarao) and co-star (stuntman Steve Alcarado). Not only had I run into the proverbial brick wall, but to add insult to injury, I was now ramming my head against it repeatedly.
A chance phone call to former child star Nino Muhlach led to a late night coffee near my Stonehouse hotel room in Quezon City. Nino was roughly the same size as Weng Weng when they used to show up to festivals together in the early 80s. “he used to get angry when I tried to play with him,” laughed Nino. “I thought he was a kid like me!”
Nino eyed me over steaming polystyrene cups and empty Nescafe sachets from across the table and said, “So how close have you got?” I told him all I knew. He snorted. “This is bullshit. Who do you need to talk to?”
“How about Eddie Nicart?” I shot back optimistically. “He was Weng Weng’s director, and trained him as a stuntman.” Nino flipped open his mobile and dialled. “Talk to Rene the Legman,” he said as he shoved the mobile towards me.
Sure I can bring you Eddie, said Rene. He was schedule master during the crazy days of Pinoy cinema and knew where all the Old Boys lurked. 3pm tomorrow, National Bookstore in Quezon City. Yep, I know where it is. See you then.
It was too good to be true – I was finally inches closer to the truth about Weng Weng! Sure enough, I found a table of aging goons at the National Bookstore coffee shop. There was Roland Dantes, former martial arts superstar, and his co-star in Arnis Sticks Of Death, Rusty Santos. Franco Guerrero, the One-Armed Executioner himself, was seated next to director Romy Suzara. It was a veritable Goon Convention, the stories were sparking off each other, and I let the camera roll.
I then spied a guy in a baseball cap escorted past the security guards by a shorter chap. “That,” said Franco, “is Eddie Nicart.”
I ran across the shopping centre to shake his hand. “I am SO happy to meet you,” I beamed. “I rang you several years ago on your mobile, and you told me to meet you in Manila. Well, here I am!”
“Yes, I remember,” he said. Such a quiet, humble guy. We all sat at the table, the stories flew thick and fast, and by the end of the afternoon Eddie agreed to an interview at his home several days later.
Tikoy Aguiluz and I hired a cab for the hours-long drive to Taytay, the Western part of Rizal province bordering Metro Manila. “When you get to Taytay, just ask for me,” were his instructions. “Everyone knows who I am.”
And know him for a good reason. As Barangay Captain for ten years, Eddie held an exhalted position akin to Village Chieftan. Barangays are like subdivisions within larger towns and are the smallest division of government. At the time of our visit Eddie had only just stood down as Captain, but was monitoring the upcoming Barangay elections. Across the road from his home in his bamboo recreation room, the walls were lined with Barangay paraphernalia, not to mention countless trophies for basketball, movie props, Betamax tapes, framed photos with co-stars Fernando Poe Jr and former President Joseph Estrada, and what was obviously an object of immense pride: a FAMAS Stuntman of the Year award for 1988.
Eddie is still regarded as one of the Philippine cinema’s greatest ever stunt performers, rising through the SOS Daredevils’ ranks from stuntman to fight director, character actor, and eventually film director, starting with a series of midget spy spoofs. He’s not the most confident of English speakers, but we understood each other well. I was in awe of the man who created Agent OO, and he knew it. Here’s our conversation, published for the first time.
Andrew: Your career started in the Sixties as a stuntman?
Eddie: 1961 or ’62. Maybe ’60. My first film was Sigaw Ng Digmaan [actually 1963] with FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr). I was a Japanese.
Can you tell me what it was like making action films in the Sixties?
During the Sixties up to Seventies I worked hard as a stuntman, then Burt Reynolds comes to the Philippines. He made a film and I was the co-star, trainer, contrabida of Burt Reynolds. Both the stuntmen, we are jumping from the building. Impasse, Burt Reynolds. That was 1969.
You were a stunt director since which year?
When I was a stuntman, that’s 1962. Up to 40 or 45 years in SOS Daredevils.
I heard that Burt Reynolds gave SOS Daredevils a car or motorbike after the shoot because he was so impressed?
When we are shooting in Pasay, in that building where I am running, the jeepney is around, and I jump to the jeep. That’s why Burt Reynolds is “wow!”
I also heard you and an American stuntman once rolled down a hill – the American was battered and bruised, and you got up without a scratch?
There were many cactus. I rolled down the hill.
Obviously you trained as a stuntman for many years. Someone told me the pay for a stuntman was very low.
At the time (in the Sixties), fifteen pesos, up to twenty pesos a day. Now is a thousand.
No union of the stuntman here. I formed a stuntman association, I am president with FPJ. I worked for one year to make an association, no film, just to have an association. A group of stuntmen from Cubao, Cebu, come here to Manila. That’s Ronnie (Fernando Poe Jr), Dolphy, (Joseph) Estrada – my three backers.
It seems both Estrada and FPJ did a lot for independent producers.
I think that’s good, but now it’s very hard. FPJ passed away, Joseph is under house arrest. Maybe ten years ago, the movies were in boom. But now very hard because of political (reasons).
If you had no union and therefore no protection if you were hurt, then you were out of work, no money?
There is no union, no protection here. When I made Robo Warrior (1996), when I made stunts, we have a contract for insurance.
I saw you in an Agent X44 film, The Infiltrators (1969). Do you remember how many films you did with Tony Ferrer?
Maybe fifty as a stuntman. After that, my producer Liliw (the Caballes) convinced me to direct a film. That was Weng Weng. At the time I was also directing foreign (films) as an action director, also local action director. So I got experience directing movies. It’s very hard to direct a small guy that did not know what he is talking about (does a high pitched voice). It’s very hard because he did not know how to speak English or to read the script. So the most I was going to do was dubbing (dubbed over?), and most scenes are action and with gadgets. He’s like a stuntman – jump from the building, jump from the bridge (laughs).
What was the life of Weng Weng like before Pete Caballes came along?
I think before that he is selling cigarettes, a vendor in Baclaran I think. The name of Weng Weng is I think Ernesto. The family name, I don’t know. The first name is Ernesto.
Did you ever meet Weng’s family?
One time only. When I went to the house of Weng Weng, I meet the mother, she was very old already. In a small shanty in Baclaran.
They were very poor?
Not so poor, but one meal a day.
Was his father there?
His father had already passed away. Only the brother, or sister also.
Was the elder brother supporting the family?
Yes. The brother is Bin. Ricardo, I think, and Bin.
I heard a story where Weng Weng was dressed as Santo Nino in the parades in Baclaran.
Maybe my instructor knows. When Weng Weng goes out, my instructor accompanies him. Even to the province to make a casual appearance, I think. The brother in Baclaran knows that.
Do you remember how Peter met Weng Weng?
I remember only that Peter saw him in Baclaran, and Weng Weng was selling cigarettes in a cigarette stand (imitates a high pitched voice).
Is that what Weng Weng’s voice sounded like?
Very small. But you could understand it. (Squeaks) “You want cigarette?” Very small. But when he tells a story, he’s very aggressive to tell the story. Sometimes he cannot do it, because he’s thinking that he did not remember the other (details).
How did Peter discover him?
I think in Baclaran. The brother of Weng Weng is a big guy, they had an idea to offer Weng Weng in the movies. So the producer got Weng Weng, brings Weng Weng into the studios. The studios say, “Who’s Weng Weng?” And then at that time Marcos brings Weng Weng to Malacanang (Palace). Because Caballes is Ilocano, also the President is Ilocano. “There is a small guy…” The President laughed and laughed, especially Bong Bong Marcos, the son of Marcos, already at the time was a kid. That’s why they have a friend. Then they say, “We make Weng Weng as an agent!” (laughs)
Make him a real life agent?
A real life agent. That’s why Peter Caballes brings him to the studio. “This is a real life agent!”
They made a badge for him?
Yes, a badge and a gun.
A little pistol?
25 calibre pistol. Then they have an idea to make a movie of Weng Weng. Then they talked to me after the director of Caballes, Boy Pangilinan, made a movie – Weng Weng is already in the leading role.
Do you remember what film that was? (Almost certainly Chop Suey Met Big Time Papa )
No. Then the Caballes told me to make a full-length movie with Weng Weng. So we collaborate on the story. At that time, For Your Eyes Only, that’s James Bond’s story. So we make For Y’ur Height Only!
Someone once told me Weng Weng worked at the airport?
Because Caballes is an Ilocano, and the head of the airport is the best friend of Caballes. When foreigners arrived, Weng Weng is already there! So the foreigners, they appreciate Weng Weng.
We was like the Welcome to Manila sign?
(In a high pitched voice) “Welcome to Manila!” (laughs) That’s the life of Weng Weng.
Boy Vinarao told me there were six Weng Weng features and four cameos. Who would know exactly how many films he made?
The details (are with) Cora Caballes. They sell Weng Weng to other producers in that time, before I handled Weng Weng. Up til I handle Weng Weng, already up. Cora was elected already, selected as a politician, so she stopped producing. Maybe before he has cameo roles with Dolphy, maybe cameo with other outfits.
Do you remember meeting Pete Caballes?
I think it was in Pandacan (in Manila), I have a nice stuntman and they were making a movie also, they have a movie at that time before Weng Weng (Chop Suey…or the earlier Sila Sa Bawat Bangketa ). And then they hired me as a stuntman, and then they have an idea. The director of Weng Weng in that Liliw production (Dante “Boy” Pangilinan) cannot easily make a film with Weng Weng, so the producer contacted me to make a movie with Weng Weng. I said maybe we can make a film with Weng Weng, but we are going to practice first with him in the gym. So I bring Weng Weng into the gym, then make him do his own stunts, martial arts, everything. And then they gamble the money to produce Weng Weng.
I watched Da Best In Da West (1981) and saw you were a stuntman, Peter Caballes was an actor, and Weng Weng was Dolphy’s deputy sheriff.
I think that was filmed in Baguio.
Did that film come before For Y’ur Height Only?
Yes, before For Y’ur Height Only.
What do you remember about Da Best In Da West?
And Lito Lapid. I’m a stuntman, and I was instructor of Lito Lapid at the time. All the fights of Lito Lapid, and the horse of Lito Lapid goes into the bodega. I made candy glass. On the mountain, the horse jumps into the water – I was the one who jumped into the water.
So you were the main stuntman?
As an actor, what did you do?
I fight with Lito Lapd, that’s my role in the film. Lito fights with Dolphy.
So you’re a bad guy?
Bad guy (laughs) at the time.
Do you think Pete working on Da Best… inspired him to make For Y’ur Height Only?
After Da Best, Weng Weng guests in that film, then Cora has an idea to make a movie. That’s why they contacted me to make For Y’ur Height Only.
When you were first introduced to Weng Weng, did he know martial arts?
He did not know. We teach him, we practiced in gym with my instructor. Stunt acting, karate, fighting scenes, everything.
How long did you train him?
A couple of months, I think.
In D’Wild Wild Weng, he takes off his shirt and starts doing martial arts patterns on the hill – he’s quite good. So by the time you made D’Wild…, was he quite good?
Yes, the instructor teach him very well. We only had to count – “Weng Weng, go! One…two…three…four…” So he knows the numbers to do it.
How was he as a stuntman?
My instructor taught him, and whenever he did a stunt, there were other stuntmen to assist him. Maybe not afraid if it is very high, because there is a stuntman below, “C’mon, Weng Weng!”
The company Liliw Productions was Pete and Cora Caballes. When did they form the company?
I think it’s in 1968 or 1969.
What kind of films did they make?
Action, drama. For the Tagalog market only.
For Y’ur Height Only was their first international film?
Only (the films with) Weng Weng were his international films. And they made money on that film, so they can have a mansion in Quinta. Ten or fifteen million (pesos) worth of mansion.
The Caballes really did well? Yet you weren’t paid very much.
(Laughs) Not satisfied.
So the only people who made money were the Caballes?
Right. But because they are kind, they are so good…
So you’re not unhappy?
When it comes to the financial, I’m not happy. Nut it’s OK for me, because they are like my mother, they treat me as a brother.
There was a real family feel?
Yes, so I worked hard for him, five pictures I work for him. Maybe financially I’m not happy but it’s OK. It’s not we are only for money, but for our heart.
He allowed you to direct your first film. Then you started making films for other producers. What was your first film after Weng Weng?
Lito Lapid, Alamat Ni Leon Guerrero (1982). Like a Lone Ranger, there’s a Tonto, there’s an Indian village…
It’s a Pinoy western?
Yes, Pinoy western. Senator Lito Lapid, producer also. The second one is Zigomar (1984), like Zorro. I made two Dante Varona pictures, and Get Commander Jack Moro: Bangsa Moro Army (1989), that’s a real story.
There was a rumour of an Agent OO TV series?
No TV series. Film only.
There was a film called Agent OO?
That’s a different film.
With Ramon Zamora?
I think so. Zamora. I think only five pictures. For Y’ur Height Only is the one that makes dollars.
The film was shown at Metro Manila Film Festival, then Dick Randall saw it, and sold it all over the world?
Then brings Pete to Cannes festival.
The film was sold everywhere – Australia, the Middle East, Mexico. Because the idea of a miniature James Bond is insane! Were the other films taken to Cannes as well?
I think so. The Impossible Kid, D’Wild Wild Weng were also taken to Cannes by Pete Caballes. But I don’t know if they made money.
Can you tell me how you got Weng Weng flying out of a building with only an umbrella?
He jumped from the seventh floor of Midland Plaza with a big umbrella. I made a gadget with piano wire, then a tie with a harness. I made the piano wire so that if the wind blows up, I can control the umbrella with Weng Weng.
There’s a great scene in For Y’ur Height Only where he punches someone in the balls and runs between their legs! (laughs) And the scene where Weng Weng slides down a ferris wheel.
Right! He’s doing it all. It’s in Angeles.
In For Y’ur Height Only he has a jet pack – did you use a crane on that?
Yes, I had a crane, and a small gadget mounted. It’s in Sapangbato and Olongapo, the island in Olongapo.
So that’s where the lair of Mr Giant is? The idea of Weng Weng, a midget, battling Mr Giant, a dwarf, is a crazy idea! Is that Cora’s?
Cora Caballes’ idea, in cooperation with the writers, and my co-director, assistant director, my instructor.
Who is that?
Is he the guy who worked on D’Wild Wild Weng as well?
Assistant, stuntman also. He’s my instructor. All in SOS Daredevils.
Ruben Ramos, my instructor also.
He was in a lot of films as an actor. With his bald head and moustache, he’s very good!
Ruben Ramos, he’s a good actor. He’s very good playing with a knife!
He passed away?
No, I think he’s alive, but very old.
The girls from Dolphy’s Angels (1980), they were cast in For Y’ur Height Only – Carmi Martin, Yehlen Catral, Anna Marie Gutierrez…
Yehlen Catral, I think she’s abroad. America I think. She’s a designer. But Carmi Martin is here. Beth Sandoval, she has already passed away. The ending, when Tony Ferrer arrives…
What can you tell me about Rodolfo “Boy” Garcia?
He’s in a lot of films, because here he is number one like Paquito Diaz, number one contrabida. He’s a big name, like Max Alvarado, Rod Navarro, Paquito Diaz, Romy Diaz…
How about Romy Diaz?
He’s passed away. Tongue (cancer).
He’s one of my favourite bad guys. I heard he and his brother Paquito were professional basketball players, but chose to become actors instead.
Romy is a good actor.
And a good friend?
Yes, he’s my kumpare. His role is always the bad guy!
Is it true Weng Weng lived in the Caballes’ home?
Yes, in Pandacan (an upmarket district in the City of Manila).
Boy Vinarao told me he was dressed by them, and he pretended to be a little mega-rich superstar. Did they pamper him?
Did he used to wear his white suit around?
All in white. Sometimes I also wear only white!
The casting of Tony Ferrer (as Agent X-44, the Filipino James Bond of the Sixties) was a stroke of genius. Did he mind playing the sidekick to a 2 foot nine midget?
He was happy because the Caballes are a kumpare.
So Tony did a favour to the Caballes.. I believe Weng Weng became quite famous from For Y’ur Height Only. Did he make a lot of TV appearances?
As guest, not like the others in TV. Because when it comes to an interview, Weng Weng did not know how to answer the interviewer. He needed an interpreter.
He couldn’t speak Tagalog?
He could speak Tagalog, but even in Tagalog he cannot answer. Because he is like a small boy. Sometimes he’s angry…
Like an uncooperative child! But what was he like as a person?
He is cooperative. When we are going to shoot a movie, he wakes up in the morning, and then, “Weng Weng, get dressed. The costume is like this.” “OK!” Breakfast, he’s on the set. “You’re going to jump through that bridge.” “OK!”
He was happy to be there?
Yes, very happy.
If you consider he was very small, the opportunity to do something outstanding was slim. Yet he became an international actor – that’s an amazing thing. Someone else told me he never became arrogant. Would you agree that fame didn’t change him?
I think he’s quite a tiny man, he’s very quiet. When I said run, he’d run, when I said jump he’d jump. When we were off camera, he’s very quiet.
He was often mistaken as a small boy, how did that make him feel?
Maybe sometimes angry when they say he’s a small boy. “No, I’m already a man!” That’s why when you say, “Weng Weng, this girl is mine,” “No, this is my girlfriend.” “No, this is MY girlfriend!” He makes jealous. “Where’s my gun?” (laughs)
He does seem very innocent.
Like a small boy.
Is that why people took him into their hearts?
He’s a very friendly guy. But Pete Caballes, “Don’t talk to Weng Weng.” Because Weng Weng maybe knows everything. The only ones who could talk with Weng Weng were me or the instructor. The others, not talk talk with Weng Weng. He kept him only in the room.
What kind of relationship did Weng Weng have with Peter – like a father?
Like a father, but when outsiders come to their house, (they treat him) like a dog. “Go up!” When there is a visitor, he go up(stairs). So the boy, when the visitors are coming, he run to the top (of the house), he’s scared.
Because he was yelled at by the Caballes?
“Go to your room!”
But Weng Weng didn’t mind?
No, Weng Weng didn’t mind, because Weng Weng is like a boy.
Physically he’s like a little boy – tiny head, perfectly small body. He’s very unique.
You’ve never seen another person like him.
It’s the first time, I saw him. The other (short) persons, they’re like a crab, but Weng Weng is proportioned in the body.
All your films have big endings… My favourite ending is in D’Wild Wild Weng where Weng Weng has a gatling gun, and there are guys in sombreros…
…like Mexicans! (laughs)
…mown down with the machine gun. How long does it take to shoot a scene like that?
I think three to four days. That’s in Pampanga, in the desert. Like Mexico.
Everyone’s dressed as Mexicans, it looks like the Wild West, but they’re driving a jeep, and it’s modern day Philippines!
It’s like a Volkswagen, a jeep.
This is a crazy idea for a film!
With a big man, Max Laurel.
Weng Weng is a small size, Max Laurel is twice as tall. So when they’re walking through the desert, it looks incredible!
“How can we enter that house?” (Makes a throwing motion)
He throws him like a football!
Like a javelin throw – pow!
And then at one point Weng Weng’s in a bag around Max Laurel’s neck, and Weng Weng sticks his head out, looks around, then ducks back into the sack! And at the table he’s eating bananas like a little monkey! (laughter) In The Impossible Kid he walks between two buildings – is that on a tight rope?
That’s a tight wire. Also piano wire, he’s on a small motorbike, he jumps to the other cliff. I had a gadget of piano wire together with the motorbike. I hung it from the bridge (makes sliding noises). But it’s very tiny, you can’t see it in the camera. Now it’s done already by computer, but at that time you do it actual.
At the end of The Impossible Kid, the credits promise "License Expired"?
It was not made already, because Cora Caballes was elected as a Councillor in Manila, so they stopped producing.
Everyone has a Weng Weng story, and some are about him in public with girls on his arms. Did he believe he was a ladies’ man?
It’s only his dream. When he embraces a woman, the woman says, “C’mon, Weng Weng…” Sometimes he makes you jealous – “Weng Weng, she’s MINE!”
He loved the idea of being like James Bond?
Like James Bond. Embrace a couple of women, two or three.
Did Weng Weng ever see any of the money? Was he well paid?
Not very well, because the producer did not give so much money. But when the brother came to the producer, one thousand or two thousand.
That’s for For Y’ur Height Only. I think it made one million dollars.
So Weng Weng only saw a fraction of that money?
Hmm….The last one I made (The Cute, The Sexy & The Tiny), with Berting Labra, Weng Weng, Pia Moran – the last film with Weng Weng, he is a convict, like an Al Capone, he’s in prison and he gets out.
You don’t remember what else happens?
I think Cora has a pile of scripts and photos in her office. But she is in America now.
And Peter is…?
Missing! ‘Cos he’s married to another girl. He split with Cora.
Do you remember when?
I think ten years ago.
When Weng Weng stopped making movies, was that because Peter decided to stop? Do you know what happened to Weng Weng after he stopped making movies?
They stopped the movies because Cora Caballes was elected Councillor in Manila, I think three or two times in six years. When she is already Councillor in Manila, she cannot have a business of making movies. Because she is a public servant. That’s why Weng Weng brought my stuntmen, they’re drinking in the clubs. That’s why the heart attack.
From too much drinking?
I think so.
Do you know when he had a heart attack?
The year? Maybe 1996 or ’95. (I found out days later Weng Weng passed away in 1992)
How long after did he pass away?
Only a couple of weeks, I think. Very quickly.
When was the last time you saw Weng Weng?
In the 80s. ’89 I think.
You didn’t see him when he got sick? Someone said they remember his family on TV asking for help.
Maybe, I think so. I did not see the television.
Franco Guerrero saw a TV program, “Where Are They Now” – already he was starting to get fat and couldn’t talk from the stroke. It seems there was no fund to help him.
Maybe the Actors Guild could help him, but I think they didn’t know that Weng Weng had troubles. The producers can help, because Weng Weng was living in the house of the producers, Cora Caballes.
That’s a question for Pete and Cora – why was he left alone? He was so famous, and then suddenly forgotten. No one really knows what happened to him in the last few years.
If you can talk to the producers, to Cora, maybe she will tell you, “It’s OK for me…” But the people know they maltreated Weng Weng in their house. They earned money, but they did not give the share of Weng Weng.
You really believe Weng Weng was treated badly?
Not really that (badly), because Cora is a friend of mine. When I go to the house, Weng Weng is very (smiles), he is going to embrace me…
Your last film til now, what year?
1996 (the film was Kokey, released in 1997). You know Mahal the midget, in Baguio with Carlo Aquino, the boy now is big. At that time I became Captain (of Taytay village), I was elected as a Barangay Captain here, so I served here almost en years. I have no time to go to Magnatech (a post production facility in Quezon City) to make a movie, because there are many problems here in my place.
What kinds of jobs do you do as Barangay Captain?
My job is to explain the consequences of what the (government) project is to the people, health, to improve the barangay. Now already after ten years I’ve quit.
At the moment you’re looking after the barangay elections?
Maybe this coming election I am a candidate also, a Captain in this barangay.
That’s the time movies go down.
I see a lot of the old guys drinking coffee at National Book Store and Tropical Hut. It’s quite sad to see the industry shrink so much.
You see Magnatech is already closed down? At the time Magnatech was many people making pictures. Now it’s like a ghost office.
There are hardly any films now, only television.
That’s OK, but… That’s why our main actors are in TV, like Eddie Garcia, Rudy Fernandez…
Everyone loved Filipino films in the Sixties and Seventies. That must have been a huge boost, that there were always movies to be made?
Now I think people consider movies, how much – it’s a hundred pesos plus. At that time in the Sixties, only five pesos, or two pesos.
Now shopping malls are the only places to see movies!
A lot of money to see movies. And Jollibee!
That’s the only one? You were also on Siege Of Firebase Gloria (1989). That was the time when foreign producers were still coming to the Philippines. Then in the 90s it stopped. The presidents after Marcos weren’t as welcoming?
For me, Marcos is good. When it comes to the movie industry, he helped, because the Americans came to make movies here. After that, Cory, Ramos – it’s only once a year. In the 90s they stopped.
So the end of the Marcos era is the start of the decline of the film industry?
The presidents now are not helping the movie industry.Rather than like Marcos with Imelda, Imelda having a Film Centre, the American producers come here. Now, no mind.