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Film / El Mariachi

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El Mariachi is a 1992 independent neo-Western action film written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. It is his first feature length film, and the first of the Mexico or Mariachi Trilogy, followed by Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

A mariachi searching for work in Mexico ends up getting mistaken for gangster Azul. Azul has been marked for death by a former associate Moco, and Azul is trying to kill Moco first. Things get much worse for our protagonist when he starts living with Moco's love interest and his guitar and case get switched for Azul's guitar case of guns.

This film is quite well-known for being made on a budget of a mere $7,225, which is very low by Hollywood standards — Rodriguez states that the Columbia Pictures logo that appears before the movie cost more than the movie itself took to make. Rodriguez made almost half of this money by volunteering for experimental clinical drug testing. In the extras on the DVD, Rodriguez explains the techniques that he used to save money during the making of the film, including using a wheelchair in place of a dolly and using the actors not involved in scenes in place of a regular film crew.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: El Mariachi. The vast majority of the action sequences he takes part in mostly consist of guys with guns chasing him, and him running away trying to figure out why these guys are trying to kill him.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of low-budget Spanish-language action movies from Mexico, most of which were released Direct to Video stateside. The music played by the keyboardists in the bar is meant to sound like the exact kind of music in such films. This concept was lost on most American audiences, however.
  • Anti-Hero: Azul is a hitman who worked for Moco and was perfectly okay with making his own little business from the little prison cell he was in, but Moco just had to send people to try to kill him. Even then, he shows some more standards than Moco in a couple of scenes.
  • Bedmate Reveal: El Mariachi keeps waking up from his nightmares to Domino's pet pitbull.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Moco, Azul, and Domino's names. Moco in particular seems a touch less threatening if you know what his name means in Spanish.note  Lampshaded by El Mariachi who asks why someone named Azul note  would wear black.
  • Bodyguard Babes: The actor playing Azul said he'd only appear in the film if he could be seen in bed with two women. Rodriguez said they weren't making that kind of movie, but if he could find the women then Azul could have a couple of female bodyguards instead.
  • Break the Cutie: El Mariachi starts off as an innocent, cheerful young musician looking for work. The events of the movie turn him into the cynical, vengeance-driven vigilante we see in Desperado.
  • Crippling the Competition: At the end of the film, El Mariachi is shot through the hand so he can never play the guitar again.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Moco spends much of the movie striking matches off The Dragon's face. When he is shot dead by El Mariachi, The Dragon's reaction is to strike a match off Moco's corpse and walk away.
  • Downer Ending: At the end of the film sure, Moco is dead, but El Mariachi has lost Domino, lost his guitar, had his hand shot, meaning he may never play the guitar again (although he still can, as he does the sequels), and is left with Azul's cache of weaponry, and the final shot of the film is him riding alone and depressed down an empty highway, with only the weapons and Domino's dog accompanying him.
  • Dream Sequence: El Mariachi keeps having ominous nightmares, hinting to his growing discomfort in town. Rodriguez admitted to having planned more of these as filler if the 90 minute time requirement wasn't met.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: El Mariachi only drinks soda to show his role as a naïve everyman (In-Universe it's to protect his singing voice). Azul orders beer a couple of times throughout the film and angrily insists that it be kept in the bottle, showing he's a rough-and-tumble badass.
    Azul: "En botella, Guey!"
  • The Dulcinea Effect: "She was the most beautiful creature I've seen today. Next to the turtle, of course."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Azul may be a vengeful hitman, but he's shocked and appaled when Moco murders Domino.
    • Moco's henchmen aren't too thrilled to see a woman die right in front of them either, and having to see El Mariachi get his hand shot by Moco only drives their disgust towards their employer, so much that they don't bother avenging Moco once El Mariachi retaliates with Azul's revolver.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": El Mariachi is only ever known as such.
  • Hell Hotel: The manager of the cheapest hotel in town is a sleazeball who readily complies with obvious cartel members and tries to fleece as much of a down payment as he can from El Mariachi.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. The MAC-10 still sounds incredibly loud when it fires, and thus the silencer is used more like a barrel extension/handgrip.
  • Impaled Palm: El Mariachi is shot through the hand by his lover's vengeful ex, preventing him from ever playing guitar again. El Mariachi responds by shooting the man through the chest.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Two of the goons trying to kill El Mariachi miss him when he passes between them, literally inches from the barrels of their guns... and shoot each other in the chest.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Sets up the final tragedy of the movie.
  • Ironic Echo: See The Dog Bites Back.
  • Lifesaving Misfortune: Although Azul is more than a little upset after the fact, he still gets saved from being blasted by Moco's goons at one point when they have him dead to rights and check the guitar case, but seeing there is only a guitar inside they let him go because he obviously is not the man they are looking for.
  • Market-Based Title: The film kept its Spanish-language title for its American release simply because The Guitar Player wasn't catchy enough.
  • Mighty Whitey: Moco, a gringo drug dealer who seems to have this entire town in his pocket, and is otherwise insulated in his ranch outside of town.
  • Mistaken for Badass: The focus of the plot.
  • Mistaken Identity: Azul and El Mariachi are constantly mistaken for each other. Both wear black and carry guitar cases. As for what's inside the cases...
  • Recycled In Space: North By Northwest...IN MEXICO!
  • Rule of Three: What Rodriguez refers to as The Kindergartner's Method of Script Writing. You'll see Running Gags pulled off thrice, with a twist at the third use.
  • Satchel Switcheroo: When you have two characters who are mistaken for one another because of their guitar cases, something like this is bound to occur.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After his abusive employer is killed, The Dragon simply lights up a smoke and leaves.
    • Moco isn't too popular among even his employees. When El Mariachi raises his gun to shoot Moco, none of his men try to defend him. Instead, they all jump back away, giving El Mariachi a perfect shot.
  • South of the Border: Beaten to death. The proudly-Mexican (well, Mexican-American) Rodriguez wants to show you the real Mexico (at least as real as you can get while making this sort of film), as experienced by Mexicans, not some imperialist romantic gringo bullshit.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: El Mariachi looks nothing like Azul, but the only description Moco's men have been given is "wears black, and carrying a guitar case".
  • Technology Is Evil: The surly bartender of the (unbeknownst to El Mariachi) Bad Guy Bar decides to humiliate El Mariachi by showing off another mariachi he already has hired. That is, his mariachi is just one guy with an electronic keyboard he barely puts any effort into playing. El Mariachi's narration bitterly waxes about the dehumanizing element of technology as he leaves the bar.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Poor Domino was just an innocent bystander in this whole mess.
  • Tsundere: Domino is initially pretty cold towards El Mariachi, but gradually grows friendlier, especially with how good he and his music is for business at her bar. She ends up staring in awe during one of his songs too.
  • Untranslated Title: See Market-Based Title.
  • White Shirt of Death: Moco. Azul even Lampshades this early in the film, saying he'd feel guilty ruining a perfectly good wardrobe out of revenge.
  • You Are Too Late: The title character arrives too late to save his love interest, who is gunned down by Moco in a fit of jealousy shortly before Azul also buys it.