Having made a name for himself as an action helmer with 2011’s The Raid, writer/director Gareth Evans is back to up the ante with this week’s The Raid 2: Bernadal, continuing the adventures of Iko Uwais’ Rama as he infiltrates one of Jakarta’s most violent crime syndicates. The intense actioner lands theatrically in a limited release this Friday, March 28.
Not only does the new sequel expand the scope of the original, it proves that Evans excels at handling the films’ more dramatic elements, something he discusses in the below interview with ComingSoon.net, also detailing his approach to writing martial arts action and his utter deadpan sense of humor.
Evans drops a few details about a third entry in The Raid franchise as well, promising that his plans to conclude the trilogy will set the third film apart. He also offers a few updates on the status of the American remake, set to be directed by Patrick Hughes.
CS: It seems like a lot of first time directors who had a film as well received as “The Raid” would immediately head to Hollywood and pass along the franchise to someone else. Was “The Raid 2″ something you had been planning all along?
Gareth Evans: Yeah, I wanted to do this one. Part of the reason why is because I did get offered stuff. I got offered to come out here and do something. I was always a little bit anxious, though. When the first “Raid” came out, we had no idea that it was going to be received as well as it was. I had no idea that it was going to connect with people the way it did. I thought that no one else was going to have that same twisted sense of humor that I had. The fact that people did and took to it was a big surprise. I thought, “I think is fantastic! But what if it’s a fluke?” I didn’t want to jump into the Hollywood thing. As far as I can tell, Hollywood isn’t a “Three strikes, you’re out” place. It’s a one strike town. That pressure was a little too much after that point. I went from being somebody nobody knew, who nobody gave a s–t about, to suddenly people saying, “Okay, sign up with agent,” “Sign up with a manager,” “You’re going to be offered this project,” “You’re going to be offered that project.” My guys were so great about it. I just said to them, straight up, “I don’t want to do that yet. I want to do ‘The Raid 2.’ I want to do ‘Berandal’ first. I want to learn more from it and then I can put that into whatever I do in Hollywood.” They were like, “Okay, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to have a car chase in there. I want to have all these different things in there. I want to expand my language as an action filmmaker. I want to tell a story with more of a dramatic purpose as well so I can see if I can do this. Where my limitations lie. How can I learn from it?” Doing that at my own company in Indonesia, it was just the best opportunity to do that. It’s a creative safety net.
CS: It’s amazing to hear that you considered it a test, because it feels so confident. One of things I thought was pretty unique about it is that it doesn’t just stand up as an impressive sequel, it strengthens some of the character elements from the first film. Now it sounds like you’re completing a trilogy.
Evans: Yeah, I want to do a third film. I have some ideas for a third film. It’s going to be very different from the first two in the same way that the second is very different from the first one. It will hopefully compliment them both.
CS: Tell me a little about what goes into writing action scenes. How detailed does the choreography get within the script?
Evans: I usually try to treat fighting scenes in the script kind of like prose. My job is just to give a sense of atmosphere, tone and location. The skill-sets of the fighters and their opponents. Then it’s about the bullet point headlines of what comes from that fight. Does he lose his stick or lose his knife? How desperate does he get? What’s the outcome? Then, all that information is relayed to my fight team. My choreography team. They start to figure out how to design the fight scene. We take five people and start with that, figuring out what the fight would look like. Then we expand out. Give me another five people. Then we figure out all these different choreography movements based around that tone. That shift. That design. If I did it like, “Right punch. Upper cut. Left hook,” I’m the only one who knows what that looks like.
CS: There’s a sense of humor in “The Raid” that is sort of so deadpan that you have no choice but to laugh.
Evans: Yeah, I’m massively influenced by Japanese cinema, especially [Takeshi template=’galleryview’]–> Kitano and [Takashi template=’galleryview’]–> Miike. They have that deadpan humor. Sometimes something will come out of the blue and you’ll be like, “Where the f–k did this come from?” It kind of shocks you into laughter. Sometimes it might even be the violence. There might be an element of the fight scene where it shocks you so much, it elicits a reaction. When something elicits a reaction and you gasp and hear two other people gasp in the theater, it becomes a shared communal experience. You’ve all shared that same sound and you all released right after how dumb it was to make that sound. You hear it and think, “Oh, it’s a movie! It’s not real!” But it still shocks you. Then it makes you laugh and it becomes this communal moment where you’re now laughing at it and it’s all cool. I’d rather people laugh than be repulsed by it or disgusted by it. If you’re repulsed and disgusted by it, it’s just overkill. It’s just too much. What I hope to achieve is those oohs and ahhs that make those laughters and make the overall experience so enjoyable. It’s fine to laugh, even when it’s a really violent sequence. The humor is so deadpan and so dry as well that I love the fact that you’ve connected to it.
CS: This film is also remarkably lean for a two-and-a-half hour movie. Was that length always your target?
Evans: I think what it is is that there haven’t been that many two-and-a-half hour movies with that many action set pieces. When you watch an action set piece, you don’t feel the time. You just don’t feel it. The prison riot, for example, is seven or seven and a half minutes long. The stretch where Rama fights Hammer Girl and then fights in the kitchen, that’s ten-and-a-half to eleven minutes long. Then when you have the car chase, which is another seven minutes long, you’ve got 25 minutes already that’s just three set pieces. Then we’ve got 16 or 17 action set pieces in the film. There’s about an hour of nothing but action. When you think about it, the rest of the drama is about one hour and 22. It’s either a very short drama or a long action film. The fact that they kind of come together in this way helps with that runtime. I love “The Departed,” but it’s 140 minutes without a lot of action in there. Then you start to feel that it’s a bit of an epic.
CS: There’s also a big comic book sensibility to “The Raid 2,” especially with new characters like Hammer Girl.
Evans: Yeah, Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, they were always designed with a comic book kind of style. I always wanted to make something that was kind of a pop icon. I wanted to create a character that would be so memorable that it could become a Halloween costume. That’s all surface level stuff. I wanted it to stay within the confines of reality, too. So those comic book characters are exaggerated, but they don’t go so far that the logic band snaps. They push it very, very close, especially Baseball Bat Man with the Babe Ruth moment, but it’s just that. There were big concerns about that. We spoke about the script a lot and there was some concern. “Are you sure you really want to do that baseball scene?” I was like, “Well, why not?” “It could be seen as too comic bookish. As too crazy.” “Yeah, but let me try it. Let me see if I can film it. Let me see if I can do it in a way where it doesn’t feel crazy. It’s about the audacity of it rather than the far-fetched side of it.
CS: Speaking of that Halloween costume angle, what has been your favorite fan interaction so far?
Evans: Oh my god. I was blown away yesterday. A guy shot an homage video to Hammer Girl. The film hasn’t even come out yet and there’s an homage thing! There’s a piece of choreography out there with this girl — and she’s f–ing good, too — and she’s dressed like Hammer Girl. She takes out like five guys in a forest. I watched it and I commented on it saying, “This is so great.” It’s just insane the lengths people will go to create something based off something that has been created before they’ve even seen it. People would post videos where they recreated fight sequences from “The Raid.” The Mad Dog and Jaka fight in the first film? That one has been fan made by a bunch of people now. They go through the choreography and copy, shot for shot, the same fight. That blows my mind. That people go to that much effort with their free time to shoot it, edit it, prepare it and then send it to us. That’s crazy.
CS: There’s also an American remake of the first film on the way. How involved are you in that?
Evans: With the American remake, my involvement is very minimal. I’m an EP on it, but I’m not directing it myself. I’m not going to have a massive amount of say in terms of the creative side of it. That’s not because I can’t. I could totally do that. I just don’t feel that it would be right to do that. I think that what’s right for that project is having someone like Patrick Hughes, who is going to direct, should just be given free reign to go and do what he wants, just like I was given free reign to go and do what I wanted on my first one. He should be given the same kind of deal. He’s a super-talented guy. “Red Hill” is great. I haven’t seen “Expendables 3″ yet, but from what I’ve heard about it, the guy did a great job on it. I’m kind of interested and curious to see what he’s going to do with it. A “Raid” remake is not a remake in the same way that there’s an “Oldboy” remake where it’s all about plot and character and everything is tied in to the very bitter end. This one is like a ten-minute intro. It’s a concept piece. Once you’re in that building and you tell the audience how that building operates, the rest of the action sequences can be completely different. They can be completely new and choreographed by someone else. All it has to do is maintain the same tone and the same kind of mood and atmosphere that we had. That’s it. Content-wise, the fight scenes? It could be so different and so incredible as well.
CS: What’s next for you then?
Evans: I’m producing a film right now in Indonesia for Timo Tjahjanto to direct. It’s sort of a neo-noir action hitman thriller with Joe Taslim in the lead and Yayan Ruhian as one of the characters. We start production on that in June. It’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be crazy.