It's understandable why somebody would want to become a professional wrestler. There's the promise of riches, fame, and a chance to live a dream as a real-life superhero or villain inside the squared circle. But the reality isn't quite what many expect it to be, whether that's here in America or in the world of Mexican Lucha Libre. Lucha Mexico is a documentary that takes an inside look at what Lucha Libre is really like, and while it's probably Mexico's most popular form of entertainment that doesn't involve a goalie, it can get awfully lonely under the mask.
Directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz capture the spectacle and the mystery of Lucha Libre, although they don't really add anything new to the conversation. But what they do very effectively is look at it from an outsider's perspective, because wrestling is very different down in Mexico than it is up here. There are some similarities, of course, particularly in the theatricality of it all, but whereas WWE superstars' lives are an open book nowadays, the babyface "technicos" and evil "rudos" of Lucha Libre live their lives in relative secrecy.
Many of the luchadores wrestle under masks, and those who do commit to a legacy that stretches back to the beginning of the 20th century. For a luchador to lose his mask in a match is to lose his identity. The results can be emotionally and professionally devastating. In the case of Blue Demon Jr., the son of the legendary Blue Demon, he admits to spending nearly every waking moment underneath his mask. Everything he does out in public must be under his mask; it's a lonely way to live, one where he's instantly recognizable and yet nobody truly knows him.
But there are others who wrestle out in the open without masks. Shocker, who refers to himself as "1000% Guapo" is one of the most popular luchadores in Mexico. I remember him from watching Lucha Libre on Universidad television on Saturday nights. He was one of the few who made it from wrestling in the street venues all the way to the historic Arena Mexico, an always-packed stadium designed strictly for Lucha Libre. The film mostly focuses on Shocker as he deals with the glories and agonies that come with his fame. Although he's one of the most recognizable faces in the sport, you never get the sense that Shocker is wealthy. He lives modestly, works in his own restaurant during off hours, and struggles when an injury puts him out of action for months. Again, the question is asked whether the fame is worth the financial and physical hardship.
Hammond and Markiewicz do a good job cluing in those who may not be familiar with Lucha Libre by breaking down the terminology and the different match types. There are obviously comical elements that are as much a part of the presentation as in-ring action. There are dwarf grapplers whose job is to delight the kids, and there are popular female stars, such as Lucha Underground's Sexy Star, who frequently battle their male counterparts. You won't find that in the WWE anymore. Sexy Star openly talks about her suicidal tendencies and how wrestling is basically what keeps her going each day. Where the film stumbles, other than in its lack of fresh insight, is in its handling of deaths caused by the grueling life of a luchador. There seems to be genuine confusion on how to approach them, like the in-ring death of Perro Aguayo Jr. during a match against Rey Mysterio Jr. To be fair, the interview subjects don't seem to have a clue how to address it, either. Death just comes with the territory. There's also a missed opportunity in the form of muscle-bound superstar, Jon Strongman, who brings a unique perspective as an American inside the world of Lucha Libre. While the film takes us inside his demanding physical regimen, he perhaps would have been a better guide to the sport as someone coming to it from the outside, which is how much of the audience will be approaching the film.
Fans of Beyond the Mat and Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler probably already have Lucha Mexico on their radars, and if not then they should. Others who may just be feeling their way through Lucha Libre will want to check it out as it unmasks a cultural phenomenon that isn't going away anytime soon.
Rating: 3 out of 5