"Lucha Mexico", the new documentary being released theatrically and via Video on Demand platforms today, is the best documentary ever released on lucha libre, the world of Mexican wrestling.
Directed by Ian Markiewicz (a lifelong wrestling fan) and Alex Hammond over the course of several years, the film does an incredible job of authetically documenting the world of lucha and allows audiences not just to observe life in a world where heroes and villains don masks to do battle but to inject them into the very bloodstream of the genre. The film does an excellent job of using not following the lives of it's cast but in using them to educate the audience not just on the history of lucha libre but why it's so engrained in the culture of Mexico.
In that respect, CMLL announcer Julio Cesar Rivera is one of the unsung heroes of the film. While not one of the major principals the film follows, Rivera provides tours of different venues, including Arena Mexico and breaks down why these fabled locations are so important. He tells interesting stories about the "ghosts" who's history haunt the venues, how even earthquakes don't shake the foundation of the venues and how the lucha product is very much a reflection of the frustrations and anger that pervade life in Mexico. He's very much the college professor of lucha libre and we get quite an education and insight from his appearances.
The filmmakers do an excellent job of showcasing lucha in all it's forms and presenting it in a way that doesn't overwhelm an audience new to wrestling, much less the lucha genre. We are introduced to AAA, CMLL and even the more hardcore Perros del Mal promotions. One would be hard-pressed to find some aspect of the lucha world that is overlooked here.
While "Lucha Mexico" opens up with scenes from a press conference that (shocking, I know!) turns into chaos, the film explores the life of luchadors from every nook and cranny, including footage of Arkangel and Tony Salazar putting students through their paces as they toughen them up and prepare them for potential careers. While wrestling schools in the United States would gladly welcome cameras from a YouTube channel, in Mexico, where things are kept far more protected and wagons are always circled, so to speak, getting this invitation is unique and allows for some great insight, especially from Salazar, on what makes a great talent and why some will never have that hunger to succeed. Some of the training scenes are the highlights of the film.
The film takes us all over Mexico, from great venues like Arena Coliseo to lucha fan festivals to tiny stores set up in alleys with masks and action figures aplenty to small independent events that pop up anywhere from fair tents to fields to courtyards. If you build a ring, they will come in Mexico - the crowds may be of varying sizes, but they will come and some of these scenes are delightful to explore. The cinematography for many of these scenes pop off the screen, to the point you almost hope that the eventual DVD features endless hours of the b-roll from the film.
The heart and soul of the film, traveling through all of the chaos to make his next booking is "1000% Guapo" Shocker, a name best known to American fans for his short tenure in TNA a decade ago. A well traveled veteran in the lucha world by the time "Lucha Mexico" is being documented, Shocker is as much a nomad as he is a family man. His journey never ends - whether it be driving as his wife is sleeping in the back seat, getting on a bus for a show, finding the highway he needs is rained out, asking locals for help finding venues - his journey never ends until he's heading to the ring. As soon as the three count is made, it begins anew.
Shocker has a perpetual exhaustion matched only by a perpetual drive to perform and provide for his family. The next show isn't the way out, it's the next means to an end and even though he is dealing with knee problems (we follow him to a grueling physical therapy session) and he has set up a restaurant for his family as he begins to slowly transition out of lucha - he never complains and enjoys the life he lives. Some of the frustrations of his day (traffic!) are not unlike ours, although he lives on a different clock and travels a different realm from most. Of all of the talents, one comes out of the film with the most respect for Shocker, who is every much the everyday Joe, doing his job to provide for his family - although in his case, that job includes diving out of the ring and clobbering masked enemies.
If Shocker is the star of the film, Chewbacca to his Han Solo in many ways is American strongman competitor turned pro wrestler Jon "Stongman" Andersen, who after encountering the filmmakers in Mexico, pointed them to Shocker, who helped open many of the doors for the documentary. Andersen, although he leaves the film due to injury, has several great scenes where he pretty much is in many ways the avatar for the audience as they discover their parallel universe that exists Mexico. As massive as he is, one can't help but really love Andersen, especially after scenes with his daughters where he's asked whether he's a hero or a villain in wrestling - he comes off like a muscled teddy bear. The only downside is his shortened time in the film due to injury.
Others featured in the film, to varying degrees, are Blue Demon Jr., Damian 666, Sexy Star, Halloween, Faby Apache, Kemoninito and even current WWE NXT Head Coach Matt Bloom, working in Mexico at the time as Giant Bernard.
It's a colorful cast of characters but make no mistake. "Lucha Mexico" is not a rainbow-bright fluff film in the least. It shows the sadder side of the business, including the mental toll that the end of the highs that come with performing bring on the luchadors, especially Fabian "El Gitano", who at the time of the film, has moved on from lucha in favor of opening a gym that a number of stars, including Shocker and Andersen frequent. The film ties some major losses and the beginning of the end of Fabian's run on top with sad events that unfold over the course of the film. Portions of the film featuring Hijo del Perro Aguayo are also especially sobering.
Beyond all, however, The film takes viewers on an authentic journey through all the experiences, good and bad, from the happiness of the death-defying flights of luchadors as they perform all over Mexico to the sadness of what one's future might be as they perform in a world where the next mis-step could lead not only to the end of their career, but the end of their lives. Indeed, not all of the principals in the film make it out alive.
If one ever wanted to experience what wrestling was life in Mexico but never had the opportunity to travel South of the Border, Hammond and Ian Markiewicz provide a first-person perspective, not just on watching lucha, but living it. That's the mark of a great documentary, especially in a world where such films have been perverted by the advent of "reality" programming.
By the end of the film, you'll feel like lucha is ingrained in you and you'll want to know what happened to these talents. You'll also have far more of an understanding of what drives these real life masked men than you'd have expected when the film begins. Viva la Lucha Mexico, indeed. Highly recommended.
For more on Lucha Mexico, visit www.luchamexicofilm.com.
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