Interview: The Raid: Redemption Director Gareth Evans

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A film that turned quite a few heads when it premiered earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Raid: Redemption hits theaters in a limited release this Friday, bringing to the big screen the hyperkinetic Indonesian martial arts style known as Silat.

Iko Uwais stars as Rama, part of a special forces team tasked with bringing down a crime lord located on the top floor of a 15-story apartment slum. When he learns that the team has arrived, he puts out a call to every criminal lowlife in the area to take down the police by any means necessary.

The work of writer/director Gareth Evans, The Raid: Redemption is the first part of a planned action trilogy and is already targeted to be the basis of an English-language remake. ComingSoon.net sat down with Evans to discuss how The Raid came to be, it’s focus on Silat and the current status of the proposed follow-ups and retellings. Check out his thoughts in the interview below and read ComingSoon.net’s review of the film by clicking here.

CS: You’re a Welsh filmmaker creating martial arts projects in Indonesia. How does that come about?
Gareth Evans:
Basically, what happened is that I was based in Wales and I always wanted to be part of the film industry there. But I never did much to get noticed. I never pushed to get myself out there. My wife is Indonesian and Japanese and what happened is she put in a call with some contacts that she had back in Indonesia and got me a directing gig doing a documentary on Silat, which is a martial arts discipline. I always watched martial arts films since I was a kid and I knew about Kung Fu and Karate and Aikido and everything else. But I had never seen Silat before. When I did that documentary, I finally got to see Silat and I became obsessed with it. In the course of that documentary, it was six months of work on it and I learned all about the tradition and the culture and the practice of it. I also came away meeting Iko [Uwais], who was the lead actor in the film. At the time, he was a delivery guy for a phone company. He did Silat on the weekends. We were filming his master and we got to see him perform. When we got to see him perform, it was one of these things where we could just feel like there was this intense transformation in terms of his character and his screen presence. I called my wife and said, “We gotta work with this guy. We gotta figure out a way to keep in touch and to use him in something.” So that was the starting point. From there, we moved to Indonesia and have been making movies with Iko since then.

CS: Silat definitely seems to have a brutality to it on-screen, but what’s the key element that separates it from another style?
Evans:
I think all martial arts have a brutality to them. Martial arts tend to share the same style and movements. Its just the packaging that’s different. My cousin studies Kung Fu. I could show him a wrist-lock in Silat and he’d be like, “Oh! That’s the same as this wrist-lock!” It’s just the way that you get from point A to point B that’s different and the way it looks and the way it’s presented is different. For me, I kind of fell in love with Silat and the idea that I can explore this in a more detailed way on film. For me, what sets it apart is that it’s very adaptable to different situations. You can be in a wide open space with a large group of people coming at you or you can be in a confined space one on one. There are different techniques and different styles and different approaches that you can use to fight your way out of something, but there’s also a very low center of gravity to it. You could be fighting eye-to-eye and then, in the blink of an eye, they come down and take your legs. That’s something I really like about it. It’s a very fluid martial arts discipline.

CS: Is it very organic to blending with your own writing process for the story side of things?
Evans:
It’s not so much that. When I’m writing the script, I tend to just put bullet points in there for the important plot developments of fight scenes. So, when we’re in the corridor, I’m writing down that Iko’s got a stick and a knife. Those are the weapons that he’s gonna use in the scene. He has a guy who’s injured on his shoulder. When people are coming up from the front or the side or from behind, he has to shift that guy’s body away to protect him. He’s got to fight the guys but, at the same time, keep the other person’s balance up because he can’t stand on his own two feet. Those are the things that are in the script, but the actual detail of who gets hit and where and when, that happens when we workship with Iko and Yayan [Ruhian] and plan the choreographer.

CS: Is it ever a case of having to rework the starting elements because there’s just no logical choreography for, say, fighting off 20 armed men with just a stick?
Evans:
Yeah, we have moments when we struggle to come up with stuff. But usually it’s more about struggling to come up with ideas for exchanges in the fight. Sometimes it’ll be more about how to kind of take that fight to a new place. For example, we had the machete fight and we realized that we had just done the fight scene in the hallway. I didn’t want to have a fight scene that took place entirely in the hallway again. We needed to go into one of the rooms. Then it was about figuring out how to get the fight into the room. We didn’t want him to just open a door and run inside. It’s too cheeseball. We thought, “Okay. Have him kick this guy and he’ll break through that doorway.” That lead to a whole thing of jumping backwards and slamming the guy’s neck on he door frame. Once you reach that problem, you find out how to take that fight scene in to the next step forward and you come up with a different, cool idea of how to transition yourself. It’s the same with the two-on-one fight. Once you get stabbed, usually that’s the end of the scene. He’s going to die from being stabbed and that’s it. But I was like, “No, f–k it. He’s bleeding from the neck, but he ain’t dead yet. Let’s have him in this thing whereby he’s gonna come at them even harder.” His character is such that he’s not going to give up just because he’s got a piece of glass sticking out his neck. He’s going to make sure that he destroys these two guys before the blood stops dripping from his body. That was the thing, then. It kind of takes on this intense, over-the-top feeling that keeps the audience going, “What the f–k is going on? I thought this should have finished two minutes ago.” But we keep going and keep pushing. Those are some of the creative things that really help us.

CS: Are you fan of sitting in on screenings and seeing how the audiences react?
Evans:
I’ve done it way more on this film than I have previously. There’s certain key moments where you kind of want to see how the audience will gauge it. I’m almost reaching that saturation point now where I can’t watch the film anymore. I just don’t want to watch the film anymore. But it’s still cool to sit in there and do that. There’s no better feeling than sitting down and watching your film and hearing an audience respond to it. It’s the best feeling in the world. Those little decisions that you make in production, writing and editing, sometimes click perfectly. And if they click, it’s just the best. It’s great.

CS: Do you also get the reverse?
Evans:
Loads of times. There are little dark comedy gags that just don’t always work. We always get a great response out of the guy putting the gun on the guy’s shoulder and going off to get the hammer. That always gets a kick out of people. But then the junkie guy in the room who s–t his pants gets no reaction whatsoever. I’m always waiting when it comes up and, in almost 100 percent of the screenings I’ve been in, that never gets a response at all. When that’s coming up, I’m sinking into my seat going, “I didn’t make that part. That wasn’t my idea.” There are moments in the choreography, too, that are about figuring out the balance of things. The big balcony drop. There’s been such an intense fight before that that that stunt moment doesn’t have the same impact. People have just come down from the high of the fight before. They’re not ready to go back up again for that drop. I’m watching them and I’m learning from it, too. I’m listening for what the audience is reacting to and seeing what they’re not reacting to. I going, “Okay, that was maybe too much of a gap between that fight and that stunt.” Then there’s some stuff later on where I’m going, “They went for this stunt but not for this one. Why? Why didn’t they respond to that?” Everything is very grounded in reality and maybe we stretched reality a bit too much in some stunts. That’s kind of the learning process watching it with an audience.

CS: You mentioned being a fan of martial arts films growing up. What were some of your big influences?
Evans:
The first one I ever saw was “Enter the Dragon.” That was when I was about four or five years old. I was way too young to be watching that film, but I loved it and that love continued with Jackie Chan. Probably even moreso with Jackie Chan. I way prefer Jackie Chan films to Bruce Lee films. That may be a bit blasphemous, but, for me, Jackie Chan is the f–ing definitive martial artist in films purely because he got to do more. His content was a lot more. Bruce Lee was the guy who launched it and was the ambassador of it and has become the poster hero of it, but Jackie Chan is the guy who took it to a whole other level of it and explored martial arts in such a unique way. What I love about Jackie Chan’s work and also Bruce Lee’s work is that, when I watched it as a kid growing up, it was like watching real life superheroes. These were guys who could do things that no one else can. It felt so unreal that people could achieve that with their physical body. It’s just incredible.

CS: It’s funny that you prefer Jackie Chan, because he’s always had that sense of humor to his work, even in more serious films. In “The Raid,” there’s a very, very, very dark sense of humor.
Evans:
Yeah, we riff on it a lot. The one thing I’ve always loved about Jackie Chan in his films — and that I related to a lot — was the fact that they make his heroes vulnerable. They get a beating and he takes a kicking off people. It makes him relatable and it makes you feel like he’s a real guy. We wanted to cross that over into Iko’s performance as well. Iko is in control of certain situations, but other times he gets beaten just as badly as the people that he’s fighting against. That’s an important thing to have there, that vulnerability. Then the thing we kind of riffed on with Bruce Lee is that, in Bruce Lee’s films, he’d do something and, in the heat of the moment and that fury of violence — which is something that he was fascinated by, that rage moment where his characters lose complete control and he kills someone — you see this anguish on his face. Like in “The Big Boss,” he punches a guy in the stomach three times and you see the anguish on his face as his hand is f–ing shaking from that punch. Then, in “Enter the Dragon,” he steps on O’Hara and kills him by jumping up and crushing his ribcage. There’s this anguish on his face. There’s a moral thing in there. There’s a moment of, “Holy s–t! He’s just done something so sadistic and violent.” You see it etched on his face immediately. When Iko pulls the guy back onto the door frame, he realizes what he’s done. There’s a small moment where you see him look and acknowledge that he’s crossed a line. He’s become almost the same as the people he’s fighting in terms of the violence level. That was one of the important things to put in it because I like to riff on those elements.

CS: There’s already work underway on an American remake and you’re moving into two sequels. What’s going on with you on both those fronts?
Evans:
In terms of the sequel, I’m working on part two now. I’m kinda scripting at the moment. I’m almost close to finished now. I should have been finished a long time ago, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and do proper writing for a long time. That’s the sequel and that’ll be done soon. Then we’ll start shooting that, hopefully in January of next year. We’ll star pre-production sometime around September or October of this year. For the remake, I’m exec-producing. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with that one. I’m not going to direct because I can’t think of any more ways to kill people with door frames and walls and stuff. I think that, whoever does it, needs to be given the same kind of creative freedom that I had on mine. I had nobody looking over my shoulder or telling me that I couldn’t do this or that. I was only restricted by budget. That was it. It’s exciting to see what someone new will bring to it. The good thing is that they are treating it with a degree of respect as well and they want Iko and Yayan to do the choreography with them. There’s a lot of respect to the original and I appreciate the approach on it.

CS: It’s exciting to see a big martial arts film coming to theaters, too, in this version.
Evans:
Oh, yeah. When we were making this film, we were making it on a cut budget. We were making it for a lot cheaper than we did our first movie. In a way, it was kind of seen as a step back for us. It was kind of like, “Oh, f–k. We can’t do something on the same level as we did the first movie.” We had to think on our feet a lot. We had to kind of fight through the film to get it done and get it made. It was a tough shoot. It was a really tough project to do. We never anticipated that it would get the response that it has. We had no idea what the response would be or what the release would be like. When we finished post-production on it, we were like one week away from Toronto. All I kept thinking at Toronto was, “F–k. How are they going to respond? How are they going to react?” My producer and I were so sick of watching the film at that point that all we could see were the floors in it. It’s just been an incredible, humbling experience to see that it’s being received the way it has. To see it getting released in the cinema here just blows my mind. I thought it’d go straight to DVD.

The Raid: Redemption hits theaters in a limited release this Friday, March 23rd.

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