There's a great moment near the end of "Lucha Mexico," an insightful and wildly entertaining look at the wrestlers who ply their trade south of the border, where we see a child approach the legendary Shocker for an autograph. In the middle of a match. Just as he's about to reenter the ring and pile-drive an opponent into the mat.
Shocker (real name: Jose Luis Jair Soria) obliges the fan, of course, because that's how they roll in Mexico. The beauty – and the burden – of this particular profession, we learn, is that one day you're headlining a grand arena in Mexico City and then the next you're in the middle of nowhere, performing for a few dozen people at a street fair. That's the job. And the job never stops. As masked wrestler Blue Demon Jr., one of the movie's many subjects notes, it's a lonely life. Typically, he says, he's wearing his mask 18 hours a day. For those wrestlers who don't don disguises, the demands are no less taxing.
"Lucha Mexico" isn't interested in exploring the veracity of what happens in the ring so much as the truth of what it's like to practice this particular brand of entertainment. Filmmakers Ian Markiewicz and Alexandria Hammond shot 500 hours of footage over the course of four years. In a way, it's too much material: The movie suffers from some occasional lapses of clarity as it jumps from subject to subject and takes in the many different schools of wrestling. But you definitely come away with a feel for the life these men (and a few women – go Sexy Star!) lead.
Because many of the featured wrestlers hail from a line of luchadores, the movie is able to naturally fold in a history of the sport within its narrative. It also includes a snapshot of the relatively recent hardcore offshoot, Perros del Mal, with its aggressive, villainous rudos. Pedro "Hijo del Perro" Aguayo Ramírez, a Hall of Fame wrestler and founder of this group, died last year during a match in Tijuana. It was a freak accident. It could happen to anyone in the sport any time they step into the ring.
So why do the wrestlers soldier on through all the injuries and indignities and, in the case of Shocker, the film's charismatic star, creeping old age? (Shocker is 44. For this line of work, that's ancient.) "What you earn from Lucha Libre is injuries and a lot of love from the people," muses Ruben Soria, Shocker's father and a noted wrestler in his own right. It's the adoration that keeps these wrestlers donning their masks, day after day, even if the only reward sometimes is a little boy's smiling face.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: One hour, 43 minutes
Playing: In select theaters