In part two of our exclusive interview with Vice Versa: Chyna director Marah Strauch, we continue to explore one of 2021's best wrestling films. In this part, we discuss the film's fantastic spotlight of Chyna's stint wrestling in Japan, as well as Marah interviewing Masahiro Chono and Antonio Inoki over Zoom. In addition to this, Marah discusses Mick Foley's interview in the film, women from the Attitude Era refusing to be interviewed, and her biggest takeaways from Chyna and the wrestling business.
You did get some fascinating interviews from the Japanese wrestling portion of her career, a part I would argue has never really been discussed in great detail. What was it like interviewing Masahiro Chono and her trainer, Ken Yasuda?
“I loved those guys, particularly Ken. He was incredibly helpful. I wanted to put more of him in the film, but again, we didn't have time. I think that whole portion in Japan, I would have spent like thirty minutes on had I had my three-hour documentary. It was amazing, and these characters are so interesting. Even Mr. Inoki, I mean, jeez, I get to interview him in the middle of the night on Zoom because I wasn't there. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I had local cinematographers shooting it.”
Were you there with Ken and Chono?
“I was there with Ken, but I was not there with Inoki or Chono. They were in Tokyo, during the pandemic, so I was not there. But they showed up with their outfits on. They were just frickin' cool, and Chono was so reverent of her [Chyna] and had such a respect, and I didn't know that until after the interview because there was no translator translating what he was saying. I only had like an hour each, so I didn't know what they were saying. So I got these little packages of what they were saying later. Chono, he had so many good things to say, and he's just a really generous person, I think. So, yeah, that was one of my favourite parts and the fact that she got to learn this hard style of fighting, and she became a badass at that point. It's such an amazing thing that she did there, that people don't talk about at all, and that's after the WWE that she went and did this thing that was like, “whoa!” I was totally impressed, and that footage is fantastic.”
How much do you think it added to the film? Because like you said, it's never really touched on, and I remember thinking how cool it was when it happened.
“I think it adds a lot because I really think it does show her as that fighter, and she is that character still, but also, she keeps going. She's outside of that system at this point, and she's still working and still going to a new level. I think it adds a lot because it doesn't just make her into Chyna. She's something else now. She's Joanie Laurer, the badass Japanese wrestler with blonde hair. I think it's fantastic, but it's also, unfortunately, kind of the beginning of the end. There are a lot of difficult things that happened in Japan, and that was hard too.”
I'm glad you highlighted Japan as a bright spot in the story because it's unfortunate to think about it now, but in Japan, she seemingly found that validation she was looking for, outside of WWE. But even though she had it, it, unfortunately, went down.
“She was too fucked up internally to accept the goodness at that juncture. I think the moment when she left the WWE, and particularly losing Paul, was a huge thing for her. As kind of shitty as he could be, I mean, again, Kathy, her sister, said it, Paul was the love of her life. This was her guy, and the fact that happened was really devastating.”
In 2015, female wrestling phenom Chyna returned to the U.S. after four years of living abroad. Her team was planning a comeback.
Another voice that is really important in the film, I think for many reasons, is Mick Foley. He's not in it a lot, but every time he is, his words have such an impact and are very, almost poetic or foreshadowing. He also really shines a positive light on Joanie, the human being.
“And Eric Angra did that interview; I have to give him credit.”
Oh, that wasn't you?
“Yeah, before my time. I think he did a beautiful interview with Mick Foley. I think it was a beautiful moment when they saw each other at the Comic Con, and it was just like, “Wow, this is really beautiful.” Some of the stuff he captured was gorgeous, and I think Mick Foley's interview was a really beautiful interview.”
Have you ever heard from Mick? Because long before her passing, he was always a real advocate and supported her.
“I asked so many times, but I think there was so much weird stuff that happened with the documentary and with her passing and Eric Angra, I think some people who were part of that project were like, we don't want to touch this. So I reached out to Mick so many times, and I never got a response.”
You accepted that this film would have various reactions due to it being such an unfortunate story, and while it does shine some negatives on wrestling because Chyna had some negative experiences, I think it's showcasing the dark side of filmmaking more. Would you agree?
“Yeah, I think that's very accurate. I think it's the dark side of people. It's the dark side of everybody (laughs). I think Kathy is the only person that I didn't feel had a lot of dark side. But there wasn't very many people that I interviewed that I felt like there was no dark side to them. There just was, it was just that kind of story. I think it was the wrestling world, the filmmaking world – it was everything. I think Rob even says that at some point, he's like: “It's everything.” Dark side of Chyna, you know. There is a dark side to everyone in this story, for sure.
“The fan reaction has been really good. I was really surprised. I think the film, amongst the fans, did very good. It's great that it got a good reception in the wrestling world, but I do wish it would have gone a little further into the general public. But the wrestling fans, I think felt like they had gotten something from it. I felt like it was a good reception actually.”
Absolutely. One of wrestling's most stubborn personalities, Jim Cornette, who for the longest time had nothing nice to say about Chyna, reviewed the documentary and actually sympathised with Chyna, which I think shows how impactful this film is.
“Oh, good. I think my ultimate goal was for people to have empathy. For everyone. Even for Anthony, I think there is some small empathy that I tried to have. I think that was my goal with each person in the film. Not Triple H. I didn't really have a lot of empathy with him or Vince McMahon (laughs). People with zero empathy, I didn't have a lot of empathy for. But I think people who were just humans trying to do their best, I tried to have empathy for them. I really wanted people to feel empathy for Joanie because the cards were kind of stacked against her from a very early age I would say.”
To your credit, the documentary really allows the viewer to form their own opinion of these people.
“Yeah, and I would say that she – there is a lot of things I didn't include of her talking shit about a lot of people, because I felt like it wasn't necessary, and I felt like it wasn't really her. She was hurt a lot by people in her life, and I also feel like the drugs took a lot of toll on her relationships. She talked a lot of shit about her mum and her sister, and I didn't include all of that because I don't think she would have gone there the way she did if she was of a clear mind.”
Thx for all the love and support on the Chyna documentary. I miss her terribly
She was a warrior, and a loveable dork. Made this tribute called She-Ra with some clips of her…
RIP Chyna ❤??
— Rob Potylo (@quietcry) June 18, 2021
You said that there was a four-hour version of this. If you had your way, that's what this documentary would have been. What would that have looked like?
“I mean, I felt like I was trying to be so quick with everything because of the format of television. Like, I think I spent like 30 to 40 seconds on her converting to Mormonism. That's a pretty big deal. There are a lot of things that are pretty big deals, that in television, become moments. Rather than getting into the why? So I think if you took a lot of the things and said: “Why?” If you wanted to talk more about her not being a reliable narrator – I would have liked to have gotten more into that because I think it would have told you a lot more about her.
“Doctor Drew talked a lot to us about her and how she might have had dissociative disorder, which we couldn't get into any of that because it's a whole can of worms to get into mental disorders and what that would mean to the film. You can do things like that over four-hours. You can't do that reasonably in that short of amount of time. So I chose certain storylines over others just because her life was so dense. Her mum asked me why I didn't show more of the positive part of her childhood, and honestly, we didn't have time. We could show a little bit, but we couldn't show all of it. Also, I don't know if that would be her perspective, it's her mother's perspective. But I would have liked to have given her mother that. There were things I'd have liked to have given people that I didn't have time to give people.
“Vince Russo kind of criticised me for not going harder on the WWE, and I would have gone harder on the WWE had I had more time. Honestly, I didn't have enough time. There was not enough time to get into everything, but we can only do what we can, and maybe that's for the next time I make some scripted version of this or whatever.”
Maybe we have a DVD release of some sort?
“There is enough material, there really is. She really had a very elaborate life. I mean, there's also her whole filmmaking career, which I know is not, she wasn't the best actress, but she had these crazy roles in Anna Nicole Smith films. I didn't have time to show that.”
From the wrestling side of things, what could have fans gotten more of?
“More of her successes obviously and just showing more of her evolution, and I loved all of her stuff where she's the bodyguard. I could have spent a little more time on that. I think Kevin Nash, we had to cut a lot where Kevin Nash was talking about her as a bodyguard and Kevin Nash as a bodyguard. I love some of that stuff, where he was comparing her to him, which I thought was great. Kevin Nash was amazing. He's wonderful, and he was really a no B.S kind of person. I think there would have been more of these guys talking about how she fit as a woman, in comparison to them. I was really surprised by some of their thoughts on her, which were really good and strong about her as an athlete.”
She was also in an era where women were really disrespected, and it was a very male-dominated industry.
“Yeah, and I think really sexualised. I think there was a lot about that, which was hard to get into too. None of the women would interview with us. This was one of the hardest things. Nobody wanted to talk to us about Chyna, who was female and in the WWE at that time, which actually made me mad. I felt it was not nice.”
Did you ever try interview females that were perhaps with her at that time but not in the WWE?
“We tried to interview everybody. We reached out to almost everybody. No one wanted to talk about it. So that made me sad, and I think she did not have a lot of friends that were women in the WWE.”
She was billed as the Ninth Wonder of the World, but her name was erased from wrestling history.
CHYNA. Tonight at 9p. pic.twitter.com/7cOnbTMbRh
— VICE TV (@VICETV) June 17, 2021
From what I've heard, she did alienate herself from the women, and perhaps that broke relationships.
“I think Kip Sopp [Billy Gunn] was, in terms of someone who was a true friend, I felt like he was a very intimate and true friend to her at that time. I will say this, I think a lot of people who were at the WWE at that time, who still wrestle in any capacity, did not want to talk to us about that WWE time. There was a lot of fear, maybe? They didn't want to talk about it. So it was challenging to get anyone who was brave enough to actually talk about what could have happened to Chyna, but nobody would talk about it or take her side on it at all, and nobody would back up her story because I think they didn't want to be exposed saying that.”
My final question is, what was your biggest takeaway from Chyna's story, and also what was your biggest takeaway from the wrestling business after immersing yourself in it?
“Chyna's story… you know, what is that saying, hurt people hurt people? You know, people who are really hurt, hurt other people. And I think everyone in this story is kind of a victim of that, so I think the empathy we can feel for, even the villains in this story, it's really important. There is no black and white like there is in wrestling. There is no bad guy or good guy, it's just not the story. I think a lot of people around her didn't know what to do. They didn't know what to do with this person, who was experiencing addiction and masking a lot of trauma. So I think people did the best they could. As a filmmaker, I'm going to allow myself to have a lot of grey characters because I think it's the way that people are. So that's probably the biggest takeaway from her story.
“I would say from the wrestling stuff, I love the fact that there is this fake and this real. I think it was really interesting to contrast that to the characters within the film themselves. It's a visually stunning world. I mean, even though people were really bad to her in the WWE, I did love that she had the opportunity to be the character Chyna. I think that time, and I don't even know wrestling well enough to know, but I've tried to watch wrestling in current day to see what I thought of it, and it was just these larger-than-life characters. There is something that's almost like a tragedy, or it's like an opera or something. It's so interesting to me. I have a lot more respect for wrestling, wrestling writers, wrestlers – all of these people that went into, especially the Attitude Era, which is just crazy in my opinion. It's a great world to work in, and I would do more stories in that world, and I may in the future do more stories in that world. I have a lot of respect.”