Ring Of Dreams, written and directed by Willem Baptist, follows Dutch professional wrestler Tengkwa as he trains half a dozen or so potential new athletes. Alongside the progress of the up-and-comers, the filmmaker dives into what makes someone pursue such a dangerous career via interviews with wrestlers such as Michael Dante and Emil Sitoci. While the documentary is occasionally too in the weeds to fully engage folks unfamiliar with the entertainment wrestling industry, its theme of chasing one’s dream no matter the cost is universal and appealing.
While there are a handful of trainees, the focus of the hopefuls is Christian Ace. He knows how scrawny he is but believes that his iron will and heart can put him over the top. In-between the interviews and training, Baptist observes Tengkwa at his home as the wrestler plays with his cat and mentally prepares for the next day. The director also chronicles Ace’s homework, for lack of a better term, as he watches various films to learn taunts and putdowns to use in the ring. These interstitials allow the audience to understand everyone’s mindset and the values of disciple and athleticism the sport requires.
As alluded to earlier, aspects of what’s happening in Ring Of Dreams don’t always make sense, presumably due to my lack of wrestling knowledge. Sitoci hosts a training in the ring to showcase various holds and how to apply maximum pain in each of them. Instead of using a fully trained wrestler of roughly similar build/weight, Sitoci chooses one of the trainees, specifically Christian Ace. He puts the would-be wrestler in actual pain after minimal training. And yes, Sitoci knows exactly what he’s doing, is proud of it, and ignores the others’ pleas to realize Ace. The how and why Sitoci isn’t using a proper sparring partner is never brought up, meaning this just seems to be a case of a d******d hurting someone much weaker than him.
“…follows Dutch professional wrestler Tengkwa as he trains half a dozen or so potential new athletes.”
The documentary’s other problem is Tengkwa himself. Why was he chosen as the viewers’ gateway into Dutch professional wrestling? While the masked man certainly seems to know what he is doing and is very patient with the trainees, his accomplishments to be so sought after remain elusive throughout. Yes, a few matches he’s fought are brought up but not enough for everything to make sense fully.
However, Ring Of Dreams does get a lot right. Ace is a likable fellow whose passion for wrestling shines through every scene, and the audience roots for him to succeed as they watch him pour his heart and soul into fulfilling his dream. One fantastic moment observes Ace as he’s mulling over what to make his wrestling mask look like. The careful thought he puts into the size of the eyeholes and the mouth shape shows someone with a true love for wrestling and its accompanying pizzazz.
Also, while Tengkwa’s backstory is mostly nonexistent, his ideals and hopes for the future of professional wrestling are always felt. What he wants to achieve with these trainees makes sense, as is the intense sparring in the ring he makes them face. Also, the film effortlessly weaves between training, quiet moments with Tengkwa and Ace, and interviews with all the wrestlers. Tobias Borkert’s stunning score gets the pulse-pounding and will absolutely make all watching raise their fist in triumph.
Ring Of Dreams does not entirely explore its subjects and their careers with enough depth to make total sense to anyone who does not follow wrestling. But, Baptist ensures that the themes of overcoming adversity and following one’s dreams are felt in almost every scene. Plus, the audience will absolutely be rooting for Ace, and the other trainees, to succeed and become the next big thing in wrestling.
"…effortlessly weaves between training, quiet moments with Tengkwa and Ace, and interviews with all the wrestlers."