Chyna

A review of the Chyna documentary from Vice, although it’s not part of the Dark Side of the Ring series. Chyna’s one of those stars who I wasn’t following on and off for all the gory details of her personal life falling apart, although I knew it wasn’t going well a lot of the time.

Strange beginning with Mick Foley recapping the TV debut of Chyna, mauling Marlena. Billy Gunn and Vince Russo chip in with how physically impressive she was, before we cut to an early pre-WWF promo backstage in some club. Gunn overstates things by calling her the female Stone Cold. Kevin Nash then joins us for a bit of philosophy: “You can’t survive too long on the top of Everest; the air’s too thin…” – Deep, man! Then some unflattering footage of her drunk or high with a friend talking about how she can’t talk about her as Chyna, because she preferred her as Joanie.

After the title card, we go to 2015, with Joanie in Japan, ready to return to America, doing some vlogging in preparation for a redemption documentary which was never completed due to her death. The director, based in New York, comes across as pretty sleazy initially, then confirms it with a line about how “We wanna see her getting naked, both figuratively AND literally!”. The producer, recorded then and now, seems like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, f----- up on drugs. Not a good sign. Chyna talks about how she needs to have the right people around her and denies using Xanax, but jokes offhandedly about using halcyon and rohypnol to get to sleep.

Chyna’s plan was to do the comic-con circuit to get her name out there, although her manager talks about how it was a pretty limited approach and not enough for what they wanted to do with her. She then makes an admission about never having been happier than when she was a wrestling star.

Archive footage of her from 1995 as a rookie looking especially muscular and tanned. Sister Kathy talks about how she was always strong, but the ultimate result of that was she was transforming into something that would end up with her getting called a freak or a lesbian. She wanted to be an actress, but the look she had was pretty limiting and she had nothing going for her.

Gerry Blais, Chyna’s boyfriend in the early days, trained her for a bodybuilding competition and became her lover. At the same time she discovered wrestling and trained with Killer Kowalski. Kowalski used his connections once she was ready to get her an in with the WWF. However, an early friend and peer, Karen Simpson, AKA Fantasia, in the business from the North Carolina independent scene knew it was a lifestyle she couldn’t keep up with.

Back to the 2015 documentary director, who talks about how her manager was just trying to get her working as much as possible to make as much money as possible. At her first signing she meets up with the equally tragic Ashley Massaro and Mick Foley, who she looks to very reticently hug, which is funny because he looks like he smells like a basket of dirty linen. In the interview he talks about how she trusted people too much, even if they weren’t the right people to trust.

On a podcast with Vinnie Ru, Chyna talks about wanting to be a success story, with Russo talking how about she IS/was a success story. With some of the enablers seen in the show, he actually seems like an angel by comparison. Gerry talks about how she envisioned being a valet, but more of a bodyguard, so meeting with Triple H and Shawn Michaels helped, but Vince McMahon was the one that needed to be convinced.

Triple H steps in in the present to talk about the struggle they had at winning Vince over. Eventually, he went for it. Chyna was chosen as a name because it had connotations of fragility, when she was anything but. Working with Triple H and spending all that time together brought about the end of the relationship with Gerry and the start of the one with Hunter.

There was also the matter of the birth of the Attitude Era, which being shocking and being different allowed for her to rise. Sean Waltman joined D-X and comments on how Hunter and Chyna were totally straight, while the other guys were drinking and doing drugs, himself included. In a Kayfabe Commentaries interview she talks about how he was the love of her life.

Talk turns to her plastic surgery, with Howard Stern asking without any diplomacy if she had it to look more like a woman. She unconvincingly responds with how it was to correct an underbite, but the pictures tell a different story, including adding big boobs. She gravitated away eventually from D-X and began wrestling men more regularly, although she wasn’t for it, even though she was the most believable woman to be able to beat a man, leading to her becoming the first IC champion.

Chyna’s mom, Jan Laque, who she was estranged from for 27 years, talks about her shock of seeing her as an adult. Then one of the documentary makers talks about a fallout with Chyna’s manager and telling the pair of them to go f--- themselves until he came back asking for a second chance for them.

On Off the Record, post-WWF, Chyna talks about how her career started going backwards when she started wrestling women, so it was the beginning of the end for her there. Her early wrestling friend talks about how it coincided with the end of the relationship with Triple H, when he started getting close to Stephanie McMahon, with it breaking her heart. They had a big house in New Hampshire together and Chyna confronted him, with it almost becoming physical, so she left, but also found a love letter from a year before written by Steph, which absolutely ended it.

Jim Ross talks about the decision to not renew her contract. She wanted either Stone Cold money or to go, and she wasn’t going to get Stone Cold money ever, so she went. WWE then erased Chyna from their prescribed history. In 2016, a tired and emotional Chyna talks about how both she and they made Chyna.

Leaving the WWF in 2001 meant she lost a family of sorts, with nobody making contact with her and denying her the name Chyna. She tried out China Doll as a name, but that wasn’t going anywhere. She hoped to transition into acting, but was only getting stunt and typecast roles. Chyna admits on the Vince Russo podcast that she began drinking heavily, then Waltman, newly divorced from his first wife, turned up on her doorstep, beginning their relationship. Nash talks about how they were never good for one another, as much of friends they were. Waltman was hiding his crystal meth habit from her and she was hiding her habit from him.

Chyna headed to New Japan, with Masa Chono, her opponent, talking about how nobody wanted to wrestle her. In kayfabe, he talks about how she was tougher than he expected, so he wasn’t able to beat her as quickly as he expected. Antonio Inoki, likened to the Japanese Vince McMahon, was keen to feature her. Her personal life was going to hell, though, with Waltman bringing coke and meth into Japan on his person for her. Trainer Ken Yasuda talks about how she became flaky, so they fired her. This is proven on the Howard Stern, many appearances in, she turns up with her boobs hanging out and her makeup running, completely slurring her words (“I wanna party and I don’t wanna be the designan [sic] driver!”).

Chyna’s manager, Anthony, talks in the present about how rehab was in Chyna’s future in 2015 and he wanted to chronicle her journey through it. Kathy hates to admit it, but her problems were uncontrollable. She tried to get her into rehab during the Waltman relationship, but they got as far as just through the door before turning around and disavowing her, with that being the end of their relationship for the rest of Chyna’s life.

On the Stern show, she talks about how she’d just got out of prison for slapping Sean. They still ended up back together, leading to One Night in Chyna. Waltman says they had a horrifically codependent relationship.

Zipping back to the 2015 documentary, the director took her to Las Vegas to film her involvement in a celebrity poker tournament, despite the fact she didn’t know how to play poker. They would then bond over taking pills while he was snorting heroin and meth.

Her embarrassing The Surreal Life appearance was actually the start of the business relationship with the manager, who knew she was mess with just the clothes on her back, but he still took her on, and tried to get her in as many outlandish things as possible, such as Fear Factor and Celebrity Boxing. It wasn’t long until she was making porn. Vince Russo is used to justify, even though he doesn’t agree with, her transition into porn. On Celebrity Rehab, even she admits it was a personal hell.

The manager talks about how there were a lot of problems, but he wasn’t doing anything to fix them. Dr. Drew appears to big himself up as someone that if you’re speaking to him you must have problems, likely childhood trauma, which leads us back to her mom. Mom and sister talk about how she was really outgoing, like her dad was, but the dad was a drunk and a drug addict. He once stabbed the mom with a butcher’s knife, which had to impact on Joanie. Stepparents were in and out of the picture, with lots of yelling and screaming. Russo talks about how she just wanted some affection.

Just ahead of turning sixteen, the mom saw a change in her, with her grades plummeting and hanging around with the wrong people. She moved to live with her dad, who wasn’t going to enforce any rules, which was the last the mom saw of her. The manager, who was trying to vicariously find some sort of redemption through fixing some issues with Chyna, tried to force some reunions and resolution, including forcing her to go to her father’s grave and filming it. Gerry talks about how it was no good for her to do that, making her worse rather than better.

Chyna was doing a porno She-Hulk movie in 2011, with no prospects ahead of her and looking at the bottom of the bottle, so she headed to Japan and became a teacher. She also joined up with the Mormons and became baptised.

Chyna’s name got brought up during a Triple H interview on the Network by Steve Austin. Hunter admitted she absolutely had Hall of Fame credentials, but if you look her up on the internet you’re going to see all the bad stuff about her first, mainly meaning her adult movies. Vince Russo sticks up for her by talking about how there are murderers in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Work dried up and visa issues came up in Japan. Her mom says she was never able to track her down, but eventually got a phone call, signalling her return. Chyna said she had to go back to California, but her mom warned against it because it would just lead back to old problems. She just wanted to be accepted back into the WWE fold, leading to an ill-conceived campaign by her manager to get her into the Hall of Fame, culminating in a visit to the WWE HQ, where they were thrown out. The manager said they’d keep on trying, but Chyna just seemed thoroughly embarrassed by the rejection.

Back to California with Rob, one of the documentary makers, who lived with her for three months. She was drinking to excess again and popping all kinds of pills. Anthony the manager kept on working her into the ground even when she wasn’t fit to. Dr. Drew pops in again to talk about resolving issues from the past, which should be a lower priority than fixing health problems in the present. She and the manager were hiding drug dependency from him while trying to get him to help her. Opiate addiction was about to overcome her.

Anthony tried to manufacture a filmed reunion between mom and daughter (“You will always get the straight shoot with me!”, he says, lying through his teeth on the phone to her), and while mom wanted to reunite with her she didn’t want to do it on camera, which didn’t make him happy. He manipulated it more to where she agreed, but mom got a terrible email from her and realised it wasn’t a good idea. Chyna got told she wasn’t coming either and lost it. This led to her going on an all-night bender.

The next morning, he turned up at her room and said “Sweetie, we’ve got to get you straightened out”. She roughed him up and told him he was fired. He responded “You can’t fire me, I’m not your manager – I’m your soulmate!”. That didn’t wash (shockingly), so that was the last time they met in person, but he kept his little birds trained on her.

The documentary carried on, even though all they were getting was rubbish because she was such a mess. The director was addicted to drugs, she was crying out for help, so it was as big a train wreck as you’ll get. At this point she was talking about how she wished she’d never gotten into wrestling and should’ve been a concert musician and, facetiously, a professional alcoholic. She admits she’s pushing buttons with the latter, but when asked if she’s been drinking that day she responds with the typical “Not yet” addict response. The director reflects on how his drug addiction clouded his vision and how it might possibly have not been the right thing to do. That was her last recorded interview with them.

A week later, Chyna put out a video with a black eye, so Anthony called up Intervention to get her on the show. She made a few calls to people, but then went silent. Her lawyer, Sam Perlmutter, started calling around to see if anyone had heard from her, so Anthony figured she’d just lost her mobile and went to her apartment with a cameraman to try and do something related to Intervention. He went into her bedroom and found her dead in bed. Rob from the documentary talks about how he was even boasting to having the footage for sale, when the only thing to do with it was destroy it.

Kathy thinks her death from an overdose was accidental, but can’t deny it’s just as possible it could’ve been an exit card she used too, just fed up with life. Nash says it crushed him to hear of her death and somewhat contrives a tear. Billy Gunn says he was infuriated to hear of her death, as was Fantasia. Anthony talks about how he wanted to heal her, including mind, body and soul, but her last text from her was saying how much she hated him and her mother.

Mom gave permission for her to be cremated, allowing three quarters to be spread in the Pacific and the last quarter to be returned to her. He scattered half, kept a quarter, then put on a tacky memorial service for her, with people taking photos next to her urn, which was black and covered in bling, then bringing it out during one moment and shouting “The bitch is in the house!”. He and Erik lost control of the documentary and the footage (thankfully) when Erik got arrested for drug dealing and possession.

Russo eulogises her as someone who never knew just how good or important she was. Mick talks about her as a hero to kids, again not knowing it, and Rob tries to put her over as a warrior with a problem, but not a victim (not sure I agree). Mick sums up by saying that she’s a person who needed a family around her and probably the most emotionally vulnerable and easily hurt person he’s met.

The Bottom Line: Not something I was going to watch, but somewhat glad I did because it had me feeling something throughout. Odd to watch a wrestling-related documentary of this ilk and have the wrestling people be the ones with the most class and character when Anthony the manager and Erik the director are guys you would want to kill for how much they exploited and manipulated Chyna. The mom is infuriating by being too passive in her strained relationship with her, when she should’ve gotten out there to get her back. So, a sad story of a very tragic person who experienced a massive fall and never recovered. Flawed by the back and forth editing choices, but enhanced by actually having all the key players mostly available to speak via current or archive footage.