There was a time when Pinoys were known as copycats. Anything America has, there was sure to be a local version. There’s an Elvis Presley of the Philippines (Eddie Mesa), a Johnny Mathis of the Philippines (Bert Nievera), a Liz Taylor (Amalia Fuentes) and even a Cliff Richard (Jose Mari Chan—you just need to listen to his “Afterglow.”). In the 1960s, there was also a James Bond of the Philippines. Oh, sorry, make that there were many James Bonds.
When "Dr. No," the first James Bond movie, made waves in 1962, and was followed by a new James Bond title every year until 1965, this spawned a wealth of secret agent films around the world, ‘Pinas included. According to the movie blog Video 48, “the popularity and success of James Bond in the 1960s—'Dr. No' (1962), 'From Russia With Love' (1963), 'Goldfinger' (1964) and 'Thunderball' (1965) gave rise to numerous so-called Pinoy James Bonds, serious or otherwise.” These would be played by actors such as Eddie Fernandez, Alberto Alonzo and Bernard Bonnin, in varying interpretations of Ian Fleming's fictional hero. Even comedians got in on the action. Dolphy appeared in a movie called "Dolpinger," and Chiquito played Secret Agent 02-10 in “Mr. Thunderball.”
“It was the era which local movie scribes during that time described as Bond-o-mania,” according to Video 48. And some of the abovementioned actors didn’t have just one secret agent film. The King of Comedy alone had more than 10–and that’s just in a span of two years, 1965 and 1966. Among these movies are "Dressed to Kill," "Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six," "Dolpong Scarface, Agent 1-2-3," and “Dr. Yes,” this last one a clear nod to the maiden Bond movie. More actors would also jump in on the trend of playing spies, even matinee idols: among them Eddie Rodriguez, Zaldy Zshornack, Nestor de Villa, Romano Castellvi and Romeo Vasquez.
But the most successful of the guys who would play secret agents during this era was Tony Ferrer. The spy role was heaven sent—the guy had a lackluster career and was languishing in supporting roles. After playing second fiddle to the likes of FPJ and Erap for quite a while, Ferrer got his first starring role in an action film in 1964. But the boost his career really needed came in the form of role of a spy. His name: Tony Falcon AKA Agent X-44. He would become Ferrer's alter ego, and appear in movies such as “Interpol,” “Trapped,” “Sabotage” and “Modus Operandi.” The last two were the biggest box office draws of the first and second Manila Film Festivals.
"It’s because of Tony Falcon that I became very popular with the public," Ferrer told Mario Bautista in the Philippine Star in 2007, the year he came out of hiding and appeared in a new X-44 movie, this time as a retiring secret agent who would relinquish the title to his inaanak played by Vhong Navarro.
"Let’s face it, I’m not as handsome as the other matinee idols of the ’60s, but because I’m Agent X-44, girls got attracted to me. I thought of wearing all white suits in these movies and they became my trademark." Indeed, the white suits became one of the things that would distinguish X-44 from 007, although both have their own slick moves and string of beautiful women.
Of all the local 'James Bonds,' Tony Falcon was also the favorite of Simon Santos, the man behind Video 48. "He personified the character of a Pinoy super spy agent very well—dashing, ruggedly handsome, well-dressed, excels in martial arts and action scenes," says the Bond fan. "I read he [Ferrer] did his own stunts and disliked using doubles." Santos says Tony Ferrer made more than 30 Agent X-44 movies. "An incredible achievement!" he adds.
In the 80s, the secret agent as lead star will be brought back to life in Philippine movies in the form of a little man called Weng Weng. His first starring role was as Agent 00 in a film called “For Y’ur Height Only,” obviously poking fun at that year’s Bond title starring Roger Moore, “For Your Eyes Only.” In the film, our diminutive hero’s goal is to rescue an important scientist and his invention from the evil hands of a warlord named Mr. Giant. To assist him in his mission, he employs his own ‘state of the art’ gadgets such as a remote-controlled hat, a tiny jet pack and a quick-to-assemble machine gun—all created especially for his size.
At the first Manila International Film Festival in 1981, Weng Weng's appearances and demos of his martial arts moves would attract a lot of foreign attention. "For Y'ur Height Only," it is believed, outsold every film for international distribution in that festival, which would make our two-foot-nine action hero an international star.