Exploring Mexican Narco Cinema


[MUSIC – THE NORMAL,
“WARM LEATHERETTE”] SHANE SMITH: Drugs,
we like ’em. Films, we love ’em. Put ’em together,
narco cinema. [MUSIC – BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE,
“THE CLAP”] SHANE SMITH: Narco cinema’s
a film genre coming out of Mexico, and it’s just that. It’s drugs meets films. The films have in them drug
dealers, good cops, bad cops, cocaine, women, and trucks. [SIREN] [GUNFIRE] SHANE SMITH: Now we didn’t know
that much about narco cinema, and we didn’t want to
show up in Mexico not knowing anything about it, so we stopped
off in North Austin, which is a big distribution
point for narco cinema in America. And we went to a video store
there and tried to get a primer on what narco cinema
is all about. OK, so first of all, what
is narco cinema? EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
It’s exactly that. Drugs, cinema. And it kind of ties into
what’s going on in Mexico right now. You have a lot of drug cartels
trying to take over, the police department doesn’t do
this, that, and the other. So they’re kind of making
movies about that. SHANE SMITH: For example,
“Coca, Inc.” EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
So there you go. SHANE SMITH: And you
call narco cinema, also it’s called videohome? EDUARDO BETANCOURT: Yeah,
yeah, in Mexico, they call it videohome. SHANE SMITH: Videohome, because
it goes straight to– EDUARDO BETANCOURT: It goes
straight to video. Yeah. SHANE SMITH: So is this kind
of a B-movie kind of thing? EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
This is basically considered a B-movie. And basically, the biggest
difference, of course, you’re talking budget. SHANE SMITH: And is there one
sort of standout hit, sort of the biggest narco
cinema title? EDUARDO BETANCOURT: Basically
the ones that have like a number five and a
number six and a number seven, the sequels. SHANE SMITH: So “Dos Plebes.” EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
“Dos Plebes.” Yeah, that’s part five. SHANE SMITH: That’s a big one. EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
That’s a big one. SHANE SMITH: That’s
a franchise. EDUARDO BETANCOURT: That’s
a franchise movie. SHANE SMITH: That’s “Mission– Impossible.” EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
Pretty much. SHANE SMITH: OK. EDUARDO BETANCOURT: Anything
with any type of a truck. SHANE SMITH: So the trucks
are a big deal? EDUARDO BETANCOURT: The
trucks are a big deal. Yeah, I’m sure it’s– SHANE SMITH: “La Hummer Negra,”
“The Black Hummer.” EDUARDO BETANCOURT: Yeah. SHANE SMITH: So here we have
kind of a classic. This is actually the one that
started the whole truck themes, “La Camioneta Gris,”
“The Grey Truck.” And now, of course we go on to “La Ram
Blanca,” “La Hummer Negra,” “La Durango Roja.” Now we have
all of the different trucks. So hyperviolent, sexy, drug
dealers, bad cops, and trucks. EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
And trucks. SHANE SMITH: Narco cinema. EDUARDO BETANCOURT:
Narco cinema. [GUNSHOT] [MUSIC – BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE,
“NORTENA DEL SUR”] SHANE SMITH: We’re here in the
Zocalo, the main square in Mexico City. We’re here because we’re
fascinated with Mexico and we’re fascinated with drugs. “Vice” is all about sex, drugs,
and rock and roll. And there’s a lot
of drugs around. Mexico produces the majority
of the marijuana that comes into the States. The majority of meth
in America is being made in Mexico. The majority of poppy that comes
into the States from the south, and all of
its derivatives. And it’s the main superhighway
of coke. It’s about $100 billion
business a year here. And 30% of that money is
estimated to go into paying off the government
and the police. Drugs as a culture have
permeated every facet of Mexican society, where they’ll
have their own patron saints for drug trafficking and then
we have narcocorridos, which is songs about being
a drug trafficker. And they’ll have movies, narco
cinema, which we’re going to check out. And we’re going to
get on the set. We’re going to check out
the guns, helicopters. We’re going to shoot
some people. And we’re going to get involved
as deeply as we can into the drug culture
in Mexico. [MUSIC – BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE,
“NORTENA DEL SUR”] SHANE SMITH: We’re at about
10,000 feet now in a mountain pass. We’re going two hours south of
Mexico City to Cuernavaca, where we’re going to
meet Mario Almada. Mario Almada is 86 years old,
and he’s starred in more films than any other person
alive today. [GUNFIRE] MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Most of them are
narco cinema films, so we’re going to ask him about narco
cinema, how it gets funded, what they’re about,
how they get made. He’s written them, he’s
directed them, he’s starred in them. And although he’s 86, he’s
still making them. He’s kind of like the John
Wayne of Mexico. Last night we tried the narco. Ouch. Today, we’re going to
try the cinema. Put ’em together,
narco cinema. Can you tell us exactly how many
films you’ve worked on? MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: And do you usually
play the good guy or the bad guy? MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: So we left Senor
Almada and headed back to Mexico City, where we really
wanted to meet Jorge Reynoso. Now Jorge Reynoso is another
big star of narco cinema, who’s acted in 500-plus films. But unlike Almada, who plays the
good guy, Reynoso always plays the badass. [GUNSHOT] SHANE SMITH: And we caught up to
him when he was editing his latest film. JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: So you’re saying
that Mexicans celebrate their drug dealers? JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Now I’ve heard that
actually, some of these movies are financed by– MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: It was interesting
to hear them talk about Caro Quintero, who in
the ’80s was one of the biggest drug dealers in Mexico,
if not the world. In fact, he was so big that
when they caught him, he offered to pay off the sum total
of Mexicans’ foreign debt if they let him go. They didn’t let him go, and
he’s still in jail. Caro Quintero’s a perfect
example of the dichotomy that is narco cinema. Because on one side, they’re
making movies about him and celebrating him. On the other hand, he’s a
criminal who actually killed DEA agents and police
and everybody else. And today, that’s really
evident, because the drug wars that are going on
there, the narco wars, are out of control. I mean, when we were down there
in Mexico, every day on the news, you hear about
tortures and beheadings and killings and corruption. So not only are the cartels now
warring with each other, there’s a new government in that
is trying to fight the corruption within its
own government. This started sort of
more violence. The cartels were fighting the
government, the government were fighting the cartels,
the cartels were fighting each other. So every day now, there’s
killings, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse. In fact, 2008 was the worst
year for violent crime in Mexican history. With 5,600 narco-related murders
last year alone, the situation is totally
fucked up. [MUSIC PLAYING] [CHEERING AND WHOOPING] SHANE SMITH: From the 1930s to
the 1960s, Mexican cinema sort of mirrored what was going
on in American cinema. It was a golden age, everything
shot in black and white, everyone went
to the theater. But then right around the ’60s
and ’70s, they started making more B-movies, more
campy stuff. El Santo, who’s a very famous
wrestler, started starring in these movies, and they were sort
of about wrestling, and then people from outer space,
and then all kinds of stuff. And along with the wrestling
science fiction movies, there were the sexy comedies, which
were kind of ribald romps through the dancing whorehouses
of Mexico. And then in the ’80s, there
was a split between new Mexican cinema– “Like Water for Chocolate,” for
example, and videohome or narco cinema, which became
increasingly about action, guns, trucks, cars, helicopters,
explosions, women, and drugs. In fact, narco cinema’s probably
watched by more people than the standard or
status-quo filmmaking that everybody knows, like “Y Tu
Mama Tambien” or “Amores Perros,” because a lot of people
can’t afford to go see films in the theater. So what percentage of the
population can actually afford to go see films in Mexico? HUGO VILLA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: So more people are
seeing this subcultural cinema based on drug lore than
are actually going to see movies in the theaters. So we became fascinated by it. At this point, all I could think
about was, how do we get into one of these movies? Ooh, we should get outfits. We should really get outfits. If you wore those blue ones,
would you be considered kind of a pussy, or a badass? [SPEAKING SPANISH] I gotta get an outfit to
be in narco cinema. I want to be in the movies. I’m gonna try to fit in. This is a good one. It’s fake, right? SHANE SMITH: Oh, shit. SHANE SMITH: So who buys
elephant-skin boots or manta ray belts? -[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: How’m I doing? I think I’m fitting in. We’re going to go check out some
narcocorridos right now. Gonna try to fit in with
them, maybe get a song sung about me. And then try to get
in a movie. [MUSIC PLAYING] SHANE SMITH: So this is kind of
like the hooker’s walk, but instead of whores up and down
the street, it’s mariachis. And they’ll run up to your car
and they’ll play a little quick lick for you on the
guitar, and you’ll go hire them for your party or for
whatever you want to do with them, actually. We’re gonna see if
we can get some narcocorridos to sing about– [SPEAKING SPANISH] [NARCOCORRIDOS PLAYING] -[SINGING IN SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: So I’m asking,
what’s a narcocorrido? Well, a corrido is a song,
originally from the Mexican Revolution. But now a narcocorrido is a
song about drug dealing. And what happens is if you’re
a big drug dealer, you go across the border with 100 kis,
you come back and get a song written about you, saying,
I’m the best drug dealer in town, man. My name is El Jefe Shane. So we’re gonna hear some now,
and I’m gonna get drunk. [NARCOCORRIDOS PLAYING] -[SINGING IN SPANISH] MARIO ALMADA: [SPEAKING SPANISH] [GUNFIRE] JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] [GUNSHOT] [GUNSHOT] JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: It may seem like
Jorge is making it sound a lot more dangerous than it actually
is, but in fact, in the past three years, there’s
been 25 violent killings of musicians, most of which have
been attributed to drug cartels, killing them for
singing in the wrong territory or for singing about
the wrong person. Now the most successful narco
cinema film of all time, or the one that made the most
money, is called “Chrysler 300.” And of course, it’s
based on a very popular narcocorrido. And what we found out there
was, yes, these films are incredibly popular in
videohome in Mexico. But where they make the most
money is in America. In fact, “Chrysler 300” made all
its money from selling in Walmart in the States. So we called the guys from
“Chrysler 300,” and they said, hey, we’re actually filming
parts two and three in Tijuana right now. Do you want to come down? And would you like to
be in the movie? And we said, yes, please. [MUSIC – NORTEC COLLECTIVE,
“TIJUANA SOUND MACHINE”] SHANE SMITH: Now most people
think that Cinco de Mayo is the big party night in Mexico. Nothing can be further
from the truth. In fact, the real party night
is the celebration of the independence from Spain, which
is on September 16. We arrived in TJ on September
16, and TJ was in full swing. I mean, it was party, it was
crazy, it was food and booze and music everywhere. But while we were partying in
TJ, we heard that in Morelia, another town in Mexico, that
the Zetas, who are actually the army of the Gulf Cartel,
had just started lobbing grenades into the crowd during
Independence Day celebrations. And they killed eight people
and injured hundreds. So this is the type
of atmosphere– party, fear, tension— as we arrive to shoot parts
two and three of “Chrysler 300.” [MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC – NORTEC COLLECTIVE,
“TIJUANA SOUND MACHINE”] SHANE SMITH: So we’re here in
Tijuana, the epicenter of narco cinema. We’re going to be shooting
tonight. We’re going to be getting
in some trouble. We’re in front of
a whorehouse. Narco cinema. Our man in Tijuana was actually
one of the biggest directors in the videohome
industry. His name is Enrique Murillo. ENRIQUE MURILLO: Hi. [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: I think the best
thing about being involved in a narco cinema film is realizing
how much fun they are to make. They write their scripts
on the fly. They shoot the whole thing in
a couple weeks, so it’s just bang, bang, bang, bang. The locations are all real. If you want to shoot in a
whorehouse, you go to a whorehouse. If you want to shoot in a cop
shop, you go to a cop shop. So are you guys real cops? Or– -I have a security company. And this is the reason we can
provide all these gadgets. SHANE SMITH: So you have the
security business, and on the side, acting. Action. -Yeah. JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: You know what? They’ll take anybody. They took our cameraman, who
ended up getting shot, and the director’s like, oh,
he died so well. He was such a good actor. They took Santi, our producer,
and put him in the film as well. -[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: And action. [MACHINE GUN FIRE] JORGE REYNOSO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] ENRIQUE MURILLO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: The shooting of a
narco cinema film is sort of an exercise in logic. It’s like, hey, we want to have
a gun scene where this guy gets shot. OK, well, shoot him. Just shoot him with a paintball
full of red ink. OK, great. So they shoot him
with a blank. Bang, they shoot him
at the same time with a paintball gun. Boom, he’s shot. Bang, on to the next shot. And it costs you about $10.00 It’s kind of genius. And when we were watching them
shoot this film, we kept on thinking, look at Hollywood with
its two-year-long shoots and its $100-million budgets
and its special effects and its CGI. You can go out and shoot a film
in two weeks, and it kind of looks great. [GUNSHOT] SHANE SMITH: So they took us to
a garbage dump in 40-degree heat, in one of the poorest
neighborhoods of Tijuana, where I waited all
day to get shot. And just as my scene was coming
up, the director comes and says, Shane, Shane, we have
to go, we have to go. We have to get to
the whorehouse. So they take us to the cathouse,
but they haven’t hired any actresses to
play the whores. No problem. They just go inside,
say, hey, come out. You want to be in a movie? Give them $100 or whatever,
we start shooting. ENRIQUE MURILLO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Hi. Shane. SHANE SMITH: [SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Actually, being in
the film was quite funny, because they move so fast. It’s just like, you’re
an American cowboy. You’re pissed off. You come out of here. Do it on three, go. And you kind of feel
like Brando. You’re like, well, what’s
my emotion? What’s my range? What’s my motivation? But actually, you don’t know
what the hell you’re doing, and you’re just trying to hit
your mark on time while the guns hit your face. ENRIQUE MURILLO:
[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Hey! What the fuck is going– -[SPEAKING SPANISH] SHANE SMITH: Whoa, whoa, no
problemo, no problemo, man. By the time the guns get out of
your face and you’re out of the scene, you’re like, whew,
glad we got through that. Didn’t show my acting skills
very much, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. ENRIQUE MURILLO: Thank you. SHANE SMITH: Thanks, buddy. ENRIQUE MURILLO: Thank
you, my friend. It’s a pleasure. My pleasure. SHANE SMITH: It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much. ENRIQUE MURILLO:
OK, thank you. SHANE SMITH: So that’s our
narco cinema wrapped. We gotta go back to
the States now. So we had a lot of fun making
the narco cinema film. But on the flight back, we read
that 40 people had been killed in Tijuana that
week alone, and it kind of sobered us. And we thought, well, as long
as there’s a huge demand for drugs in America, there’s going
to be blood, drugs, and these kind of movies flowing
out of Mexico. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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