Filipino Grindhouse –Mu-Mesons Archives. Friday 24/10/08
By: Mr Intolerance on November 5, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
There are stages, when it comes to being a fan of horror, cult and exploitation films. You start out as a noob watching things like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Evil Dead, maybe do a bit of research into the classics of the genre and head back to the old Hammer, Amicus and Universal flicks, and as you get drawn deeper and deeper into the dark side, graduate into more underground kind of films, the Fulcis, the Matteis, the Lewis', maybe even some Jack Hill WIP films, possibly even a Pete Walker or two, like Frightmare or House of Whipcord. By this stage you're hooked, and that's when things start getting really weird, and the shelves lining your walls start to display titles like Poor Pretty Eddie, Fight For Your Life or Mad Foxes. You also start to develop such a specific taste in a genre or two that it makes even the most hardened of your equally obsessive film fan mates go, "What the fuck is that?" And you will dedicate your life to owning as much of this shit as you possibly can, given your resources – you will not rest until your collection is the most complete there is. For some, it's the humble zombie flick, for others it may be the post-apocalyptic, for others again, it may be sexploitation, or maybe blaxploitation – for me it's Nazisploitation and the Italian Cannibal films of the late 70s. For Andrew "Stumpy" Leavold it's the B-movies of the Philippines.

Stumpy is probably one of the most dedicated people I have ever met. He is (and has been for some time now) creating a documentary on the Filipino B movie industry entitled The Search For Weng Weng, and this search has led to an international chase for answers (and films), and has allowed him to speak with and interview all manner of exploitation greats – do names like Jack Hill, Bruno Mattei and Monte Hellman mean anything to you? But, there'll be more of this soon, as Stumpy has graciously agreed to be interviewed for this very site in the not-too-distant future – believe me, it's a story worth reading. And how did it start? Through fascination with a 2 foot 9 midget James Bond clone called Weng Weng.

Stumpy, letting us know about the wonderfulness that is the Filipino B-movie industry.

The Mu-Mesons Archive is a Sydney underground institution. Did I mention dedication before? The Mesons have movie showings (both at the archive and on Monday nights at the Annandale Hotel), theme nights DJ-ing at local bars, a radio show and other events for the great unwashed five times a week. Run by Jay Katz and his partner-in-crime Miss Death, the Mesons have been running for over ten years, keeping cinematic weirdness alive for the discerning film fan – if you call yourself a fan of horror, cult or exploitation films and you haven't been to any of their events, and you live in Sydney, shame on you. These people, like Stumpy (who runs Trash Video, possibly the greatest video rental store in the country) in Brisbane, are the lifeblood of our scene, such as it is, and if you see them in the street, you should fucking well salute them for the service they provide. Without people like these, the world of the cult movie fan would be a poorer place indeed. What these folks do is not done for profit (particularly given the current laissez-faire attitude most movie viewers have – e.g.: "Oh, I'll just get it on DVD", never leaving the house for fear of exposure to the outside world), it's done because people like Stumpy, Jay and Miss Death love film, and they want you to love it, too.

Let me explain to you what a night at the Mu-Mesons is like. You turn up on a Friday night, slavering for exploitation goodness, at 7:30, the first feature beginning at 8pm. You pays yer money at the door (and if you can't afford ten bucks, sometimes less, you are a tightwad or a cheapskate) takes yer seat, and for that first half hour are treated to awesome exploitation or horror trailers (we got some amazingness last night which I'll be hunting down: Blood Beach, Cheerleaders Gone Wild, Summer School Teachers, Hot T-Shirts, and of course, almost inevitably, King Frat, among other sexploitation Z-graders – gold!), then you get your first feature, often briefly introduced by a fella in the know – someone who's unearthed what you're about to watch, or an expert in the field, an intermission (more trailers – huzzah!), and then and then it's round two. You're sitting in a converted warehouse space (if you get there early, you get the comfy sofas up the front, otherwise it's kitchen chairs and plastic chairs at the back), the walls lined with VHS and 16mm films and all other kinds of paraphernalia – my favourite being the rather large tiki. Tea and coffee is provided as part of your admission. And you're in the company of like-minded types (which can make the nights when they show the conspiracy theory docos a little bizarre), so during intermission and after the show the more gregarious among you can talk with total strangers about the goodness of cult film, and maybe get turned on to something new and cool.

Jay Katz; no, I don't know what he's holding there either.

So then: Filipino Grindhouse. Stumpy gave us a brief run down on the history of Filipino B-films – basically they do what B-movies all over the world have done since time immemorial – they exploit A-list films on a miniscule budget. Weng Weng's first film, for example, featured him as a midget secret agent in Agent 00 (which unfortunately doesn't exist in an English language version). Ring any bells? At least it was a bit more subtle than films starring anorexically thin actor Palito (it means 'matchstick' or 'toothpick') as secret agent 001 in James Bone, or the same actor in a violent, comedic revenge story called Rambuto ('buto' being the Tagalog word for bone). I would not say that I'm exactly au fait with Filipino exploitation films (I've seen maybe just over half a dozen of 'em, and 3 of those were Weng Weng films), but I'd say that fits with the sense of humour these films display – carny exploitation huckstering with a bad joke thrown in for good measure.

Our first film: W For War is, well, a gaypocalyptic rape-revenge film (Stumpy's term, not mine, and he should know given his encyclopaedic knowledge of Filipino film). If you thought the overtly camp homo-eroticism of Enzo Castellari's The New Barbarians was a little heavy handed – check this shit out immediately. From the word go, the leather and spike clad bikers (looking like the world's worst Judas Priest cover band mixed with Wez from Mad Max 2 with some face-paint thrown in, probably done at some kiddies fair) mince about with about all the macho attitude of the Mardi Gras. Nosfero (*groan*) is the leader of this surprisingly quite sizable army of malcontents, and his outfit has to be seen to be believed – a gay Darth Vader, basically, without the helmet – which is a shame because given the hair-do and make-up, the helmet might have covered a multitude of sins. The audience reaction when Nosfero starts strutting about with his two bodyguards, who are badly bearded midgets in similarly poor attire, was almost a riot – I thought I was going to crack a rib I was laughing so hard. Stumpy had told us before the film that in filming his doco he'd interviewed the director Willie Milan and well, let's just say the word pompous was mentioned in terms of both the director and the film (apparently when being interviewed, he'd had all of his awards statuettes (!) around him, and began the interview with a 30 minute diatribe about how great he was – this is self-aggrandisement on a scale to make even Fred "The Hammer" Williamson look like a rank amateur). Pompous doesn't do this film justice – and the audience reacted accordingly, a-hootin' and a-hollerin' at the film, rather than with it.

So Nosfero and his pusher (who looked like a punk rock Donald Pleasance) are trying to smuggle drugs and guns into the country, but uber-cop W2 (they all have code names like this, I felt sorry for the guy who lumbered with B1) has other ideas. In the process of breaking up some punks having a dance (not looking like any punk slam-dancing I've ever seen), a fight breaks out and W2 ends up popping a cap in some dude's crown – he gets suspended from the force, and the bikers want revenge. I was reminded very much of The New Barbarians with this storyline – even down to the body being laid out in a kind of ritual; that person having been the boss's favourite. Nosfero decides that something must be done in reprisal and so after W2 marries his long-suffering girlfriend (who has disturbing eyebrows) in an otherwise empty church (which provoked unintentional laughter from the crowd when the priest is talking about "all those gathered here today" – where the fuck were they? Hanging from the rafters?), Nosfero captures W2, and gives him the unkindest cut of all. That's right fellas, cross your legs (given my reference to The New Barbarians, you've gotta wonder – would it be worse to be buggered within an inch of your life by George Eastman in that film, or have your tackle cut off by a Darth Gayder in this one? Decisions, decisions…).

Time for revenge! Of course W2's wife wants a slice of that pie too, as she ain't getting' any from the husband – there's a scene that provoked howls of laughter from the crowd, when she's in the pool talking to W2 and the camera reveals he's wearing some rather tight Speedos, but there's no package on display – they must have taped his shit down tight. It sort of becomes a bit of a tit-for-tat revenge tale at this point (the rape aspect isn't what you'd expect, by the way – this isn't I Spit On Your Grave, after all), and the err…"tension" is upped by the friction between Nosfero and Punk-Pleasance – Nosfero's dealings being constantly thwarted by W2 and the police (can I just point out at this point that this is the most developed post-apocalyptic society I've ever seen? The non-gang members live in a city with authority still in place much like our society today). Anyway, push comes to shove when Nosfero's boys kidnap a whole bunch of little kids from a church, and W2 and the cops raid Nosfero's camp (while his army are doing some kung-fu training a la Enter The Dragon) to rescue them, W2 in a souped up armour-plated Camaro. The action scene that ensues is long, and despite the sheer weight of numbers Nosfero has, extremely one-sided. Bam! The movie ends. It's sudden to the point of abruptness.

A mate of mine pointed out two pretty salient points while watching the film: firstly the editing. It's a constant series of one-shots (the entire movie is edited like this), leavened only by a couple of crash zooms that Jess Franco would be proud of. Secondly, can we give it up for the Filipino stunt industry? A number of the stunts, especially in the final action scene would have been positively life-threatening – case in point: a gang member on a trike nose-dives off a kind of mesa with no safety apparatus at all – if he walked away without a scratch, I'll eat my boots. Reminded me of the time I saw a photo of an Indian stuntman – they don't use candy-glass over there, they use the real deal – homeboy had a face like a patchwork quilt.

W For War is great fun, despite its obvious and numerous technical shortcomings. The budget seems to have been about a buck ninety eight, the acting is breath-takingly bad, the dubbing even worse (there's one scene where W2 is talking to his boss, and while on the soundtrack the boss is talking, his mouth remains firmly shut the entire time), the gay subtext is intrusive to the point of hilarity, the special effects will make your eyes bleed with their awfulness, the camerawork could be bettered by a five year old with a mobile phone, and yet I loved it. Don't watch this film alone – you need to see it with a bunch of folks, maybe a bit pissed up. You'll be laughing your arse off.

A moment of awesomeness from W Is War – look out kids, it's here to threaten your sexuality!

During the intermission I was beaten to the last Weng Weng t-shirt that'd fit me (Stumpy always travels with merch to flog, and at good prices) by a mate of mine (D'Oh!), and we were treated to another couple of trailers (nothing that really impressed me), and then Stumpy gave us the low-down (sorry, couldn't resist) on Weng Weng, specifically on D'Wild Wild Weng. This was the Wengster's breakout film – no more secret agent 00 for him. Nope – now he was going to be secret agent Mr Weng. Yep, a big stretch indeed… But, this was going to be a western. Right, so we're about to watch a secret agent western featuring dwarf Indians. I see.

Mr Weng travels around the countryside righting wrongs with his thyroidally large mate Gordon (who carries Weng around in a sack he carries over his shoulder – rather undignified, I would have thought). They happen upon a town ruled over by *ahem* bandidos (read: Filipino guys with toxically bad moustaches and sombreros), and decide to put things to rights. That's pretty much the plot right there. I've seen this film twice now, and it still makes me nearly embarrass my trousers, as a friend of mine put it, I laughed so hard. To say this film has a few anachronisms would be to put it mildly – the dune buggy Mr Weng, Gordon and their mute mate, the scene-stealing Lupo travel about in for one.

It's worth talking about Lupo at this point – formerly a servant of the old mayor, Lupo has his tongue removed by one of the bad dudes so he can't tell anyone who's responsible for the murder, his having seen it. He now communicates via a series of wild gesticulations which are in constant danger of having someone's eye out or taking out a low-flying bird, and a truly bizarre series of noises which had the entire audience practically rolling in the aisle. He doesn't so much chew the scenery as try to absorb it via full-body osmosis – imagine that, trying to upstage Weng Weng! It works, too. The scenes where Lupo finds the terrible bastard who mutilated him and his constant efforts to throttle the guy are hysterically funny – his acting turns on a dime – normal, normal, normal – MANIAC!!!

I was enthralled again by the scene where Weng Weng tries to serenade the daughter of the only townie with the guts to help the little fella, with the most tone-deaf love song I have ever heard. This was seriously the most excruciating film moment I've experienced in a long time – whoever dubbed the Wengster's voice couldn't hold a tune in a bucket. Awful, awful stuff – revel in it.

Much like W For War, D'Wild Wild Weng is the kind of film you watch and admire for it's jaw-dropping levels of incompetence and ineptitude, kind of like an Ed Wood film – therein lies the charm. The production values are non-existent, the acting, to paraphrase Calculon from Futurama, is worse than that of extras in Godzilla films, the camerawork is sub-remedial, and yet, this is one of the most entertaining films imaginable. Unlike W For War, you laugh with this film, because at no point does it take itself seriously. Tongue placed firmly in cheek to the point where you think it's going to pierce the damned thing, D'Wild Wild Weng is an absolute hoot. If you can't enjoy this, you have no sense of the absurd, and probably no sense of humour.

Stand back, ladies! Your fearless correspondent, Mr Intolerance (left), and Andrew 'Stumpy' Leavold (right).

By the end of the night, I'd laughed so hard I'd probably ruined quite a few peoples' night, and thought I'd damaged internal organs. If Stumpy's travelling sideshow ever comes to your town, you really must go and have a look at what he's showing – it'll be worth your while. If you live in Brisbane, you should give his store your patronage, too. And for you Sydney-siders, get your monkey anus down to the Mu-Mesons – they deserve your support and gratitude for hosting fantastic nights of greatness like this. Keep an eye out here for my upcoming interview with both Stumpy about The Search For Weng Weng, and with Jay Katz and Miss Death about the history of the Mu Mesons Archives – like I said before, without dedicated people like this, there's a lot of movie goodness that we'd never otherwise get to see. Long may they reign.

Special thanks also go out to my mate Geoff Roberts who took the photographs accompanying this article – cheers, mate, much appreciated – and who first piqued my interest in a certain 2 foot 9 secret agent.

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