The opening credits of “Lucha Mexico,” an informative and engaging documentary about the Mexican professional wrestling world, proudly displays the colorful stage names of the wrestlers in big blocky letters, instead of using the real names of the subjects it examines. This choice makes more sense as we learn about the wrestlers who go above and beyond to maintain the illusion of their alter egos in order not to disappoint their fans who believe in the characters they’ve created.
Many people who don’t know much about Mexican wrestling would immediately imagine a Luchador as an over the top showman with ballooned up muscles who wears a goofy mask and a cheap cape while putting on an elaborate and exuberant performance disguised as a wrestling match. While that description might be fairly accurate, and could easily be applied to American professional wrestling, “Lucha Mexico” shows us that, for the Luchadors, what matters first and foremost are their fans.
Early on in the doc, a famous masked wrestler named Blue Demon Jr., son of the legendary Luchador Blue Demon, confesses that even though the fans think he’s surrounded by crazy parties and gorgeous women, a wrestler’s life is a fairly lonely one, since they have to stay in character pretty much every waking moment of their lives. He says that sometimes, he has to keep the mask on while acting like Blue Demon Jr. a whopping eighteen hours a day. We throw around hyperbolic words like “brave” and “dedicated” when a method actor stays in character during a film shoot, which lasts, what, three to six months? Here are performers who aren’t afraid to stay in character almost 24/7 during their entire professional careers. If that’s not dedication to your craft, I don’t know what is.
Apart from the loner lifestyle that one must adopt, Mexican professional wrestling turns out to be far more dangerous than the American counterpart. Early on in the doc, we’re told by people who design the rings that the floors are hard, the ropes are tough, and the beams are made out of real steel. During one of the matches where you’re being thrown around like a rag doll, if you hit the ground especially hard, or smash your face into a beam, that’s it. In fact, just during the production of “Lucha Mexico,” four of the wrestlers that are subjects of the documentary die due to injuries sustained during a match.
The dedication and bravery that’s required to become a professional wrestler is intense, with a wrestling instructor telling the filmmakers that around ninety-five percent of all students wash out before they even perform their first match. So why would anyone be mental enough to pursue such a dangerous and demanding career? The answer that we sense from the doc is that the adoration of the fans is so intoxicating, that a wrestler would do anything to maintain that natural high.
Remember the final shot of “The Wrestler,” where Darren Aranofsky held onto the deafening sound of the fans cheering for an uncomfortably long time? Watching “Lucha Mexico” made me appreciate that decision so much more, since I can easily imagine any of the wrestlers in this doc sacrificing their health and a happy personal life in order to hear that cheer ringing in their ears, just like Randy “The Ram” Robinson did. As much as directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz revel in giving the audience an unprecedentedly close look at the equally flamboyant and violent matches (I could unapologetically watch hours of this willful insanity), they spend as much time on footage of the wrestlers meeting with the fans after the fights, so the obvious glee expressed by all involved completely justifies the manic violence we witnessed beforehand.
“Lucha Mexico” is more of an informational documentary, rather than an emotionally captivating one with a clear focus and narrative. It does a decent job of inviting the audience into the intimately personal world of the Luchadors, while dispelling some of the stereotypes previously uninformed people might think about the tradition, but it also spreads itself a bit too thin as it tries to give equal time to all of its subjects.
To be fair, almost all of the stories surrounding the wrestlers are interesting: Two female wrestlers with a real life rivalry, a group of hardcore wrestlers who throw glass and thumbtacks into the ring, the suburban home life of an American wrestler who frequently fights in Mexico (the most adorable part of the doc takes place when his daughter asks him if he plays the good guy or the bad guy, and he replies, “It depends on where I am”). But since we don’t get enough time with any of them, it’s hard to form an emotional connection. In hindsight, this project might have worked better as a miniseries, where each episode focused on one of the wrestlers.
An attempt at a narrative emerges halfway through, as an old school legendary wrestler named Shocker injures his leg and has to retire from fighting for almost a year. Hammond and Markiewicz occasionally return to Shocker’s story in order to chronicle his attempts at a comeback as he makes a living running a taqueria. The final scene of the doc is supposed to infuse Shocker’s tale with a “Rocky”-esque inspirational ending, but since Shocker wasn’t the focus of the finished film, it becomes hard to feel the perseverance we were obviously supposed to empathize with.
That being said, “Lucha Mexico” is a loving, honest, and downright fascinating look at a passion-filled tradition that’s mostly foreign to a lot of the non-Hispanic American audience. If it inspires a bunch of film buffs to seek out some of these crazy wrestling matches on demand, it probably did its job right. [B-]