My review of The Raid, the new Indonesian martial arts film opening March 23rd, directed by Gareth Evans, who I think you will all be pleased to discover is just as big a movie-nerd as any of us.
Josh Miller: Correct me if I’m wrong — you’re Welsh.
Gareth Evans: Yes.
Josh: So, first question: how does a Welshman wind up making an Indonesian action movie?
Evans: Long story short, I was based in Wales until I was 27, and I didn’t really do enough to get into the industry there; didn’t kind of push to get myself noticed at all in the UK. I kept too localized. And what happened was that my wife is Indonesian-Japanese. So she had family back in Indonesia, and she had contacts there. She put a call out and managed to get me a gig doing a documentary on Pencak silat, which is the martial art from Indonesia. So while I was doing that documentary I ended up working [in Indonesia] for six months and I got to learn all about the culture, practice, and the traditions there, and I also got to meet Iko [Uwais] who was one of the students of a master we were filming. So in the six months I came away from it knowing that I wanted to do films in Indonesia. I wanted to move there, work there, and hopefully introduce silat to a mainstream audience. Cause I was always a huge fan of martial arts films. But I’d never seen silat before. It struck me as this thing where I felt, this needs to be in films.
Josh: From your perspective, as someone who is a fan of martial arts films, how would you distinguish silat from other styles?
Evans: I think all martial arts tend to have similar movements, and its just the package and changes that is different. Silat has a very unique identity, in terms of the way they move their body and perform the technique. For me, one of the cool things of it is the fact that it is very adaptable to different situations, different circumstances. You can be in a tight claustrophobic space and still maneuver your way out of it. You can be attacked by numerous people, and there are ways you can deal with it. And they do this thing where you can start fighting eye-to-eye and then all of a sudden they’ll drop down and take your legs from you. I just really like how adaptable and quick it is.
Josh: That kind of answers to a degree another question I was going to ask, which is why you chose to make a movie with almost no story and just fighting. So that was presumably your inspiration, to make a huge showcase for silat?
Evans: Yeah. It’s like this – I wanted, when we go in there, we go in there with the [characters]. So the camera is following the SWAT team as they go in, everything they discover we discover with them. And I think at the same time it was one of those things where because of the events being as they are, from dawn until maybe 5pm, in one day, you can’t overwhelm that story then with a bunch of different plot-points and character arcs. It had to be much more stream-lined. And it had to work on a basis of — we have enough meat on the bones to satisfy the audience, but we’re literally there to do a showcase, to be a thrill-ride. It needed to be driving forward all the time. One of my favorite action films is Commando, and I say that with no shame. I love that film so much. And what I love about it is that once it starts it doesn’t stop. From the first three minutes, it sets itself up, then BOOM, it carries on all the way until the end. And it never stops to go, “Oh, let’s do a flashback.” It keeps moving forward all the time.
Josh: Many of our readers share your love of Commando. Were there other films that more directly inspired The Raid, beyond just pacing?
Evans: Oh absolutely. There were lots of different films that inspired it. Once I knew I was going to set it in one building, then I go back and watch Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, [REC] 1 and 2, you take a look for the gunplay at the whole ending of Hard Boilded, where they’re in the hospital for like fifty minutes. And it is about how to maintain and sustain the audience’s interest. In the action scenes you have, how to differentiate each one, what’s unique about every scene of action. And then how do you maximize the use of one single location. What could we do in an architectural way to keep it interesting visually and make certain choreography specific to each location that we had. When it came to the atrium it was all about playing around with the light. The whole idea of when the lights go out and their stuck in that one space, it’s playing around with what kind of things can we do that I haven’t really seen in a film before. So I was thinking about the idea of when you look somewhere and then suddenly you can only kinda see something in the darkness. And the feeling of wanting to translate that into film. And so it was quite the challenge to try and figure out when we needed to take a fight from the corridor into a room, and what will the rooms be like.
Josh: When you were writing the movie did you ever have to draw a map for yourself of the building, to keep things straight?
Evans: Actually we did a little layout, a bird’s eye view of what that building would look like. And if you piece it all together, in terms of the way we designed the corridors — if you really put that all together it would look like the fuckin’ shittiest building in the world. Of course, when you’re watching the movie you can’t tell! We sell that it is a big square block!
Josh: Let’s talk about Iko Uwais. When you were working with him on the documentary did you get a sense that he could act, or were you only thinking about his fighting abilities?
Evans: We did some cheeky tests, that he didn’t know about at the time. So we were like, “Oh, let’s film him go to work and see what he does at work.” So we’d just follow him for a bit, and you know, you set certain things up in a documentary, it is almost never 100% natural, cause you’re creating events along the way. So we did this one meeting where he had to go to the office to pick up documents, do a little bit of work, but he had to stay straight-faced and all the guys working with him were trying to put him off. So they were all shouting at him from across the room, trying to make him laugh, and he stayed focused — in character almost, you might say. And so it was one of those moments where I thought, “Well, at least he can do that.” And when you see the focus of him when he does the martial arts, it is kind of the same discipline. And when we did the first movie [2009’s Merantau], a lot of the time he’d work off a sort of photographic memory of things. So a lot of the time of the first movie I’d have to act it out for him, and he’d watch me and then try and replicate that in his own way. So for him it was kind of like remembering choreography. Now though this is his second film and he’s in a much better position in terms of acting. Now we can give him more direction, as far as what is required from him emotionally and psychologically. Hopefully in the next movie we’re going to challenge him even more.
Josh: Speaking of a “next movie.” When I saw the film it was just called The Raid. What is the idea of The Raid: Redemption? Is that to set up a franchise?
Evans: The whole thing with adding “redemption” — we already knew we were going to do a sequel. I knew there’d be a sequel before we even shot the first one. In Indonesia the second one is possibly going to be called Brandal (sp?), which is an Indonesian word that doesn’t really work if you translate it to English.
Josh: What’s the crap translation to English?
Evans: Like “thug” or “delinquent.” It doesn’t really work so well [in English.] But so we were talking about the sequel and that we’d probably call it The Raid: something or other. And then what happened with this, is that we wanted to keep the first one just called The Raid. And it was right up until the last moment and we were trying to get legal clearance on the title, and we just couldn’t get it. Once we realized we were going to have to change it –
Josh: Wait, you legally couldn’t call it just The Raid?
Evans: It is more the case that the title was owned by someone else. We just couldn’t get it. So we had to change the title, but we’d spent five months raising awareness of this film called The Raid. We couldn’t just go call it something completely different. So we looked for that one element of the storyline that we could use, and we chose the subplot of the redemptive qualities of one of the characters. There was quite the on-line response when we announced the title change. I got so many fucking emails and Tweets about it!
Josh: On the subject of on-line responses. Message boarders don’t seem very happy to hear that an American remake is already in the works before your film has even come out. Does that make you happy, or what is your feeling about the situation?
Evans: For me, I come to it like – well now I’m a filmmaker – but I come to it from the place of a guy who owns five different version of Ichi the Killer at home, cause I wanted the definite version of it! The Hong Kong version is cut by like 20 minutes, the UK version was cut by like 10 minutes, the Japanese one was uncut but there were no subtitles, the fucking Dutch one had subtitles, and the American one hand commentary! So I come to it from a fanboy background first, and when it came [to the remake] I understood the sentiment. I understood why people went against our new title and went against the remake. But coming to it now from within the industry — the remake could still work. The original is always going to be out there. The remake, what it does for us, is put the original into a new bracket of an audience, a whole new group of people who would never be aware of our film will maybe now check it out, even if it is only 10 or 20% of the people who see the remake, well that is 10 or 20% more people who were ever going to see our film, you know? So there is a benefit to that. And the approach to the remake is so far very respectful. They want Iko to do the choreography. So there is that aspect.
Josh: So the remake will still be silat?
Evans: Yes, so far. As long as someone gets the same chance to go off and run with this idea the way I was able to, I think it could work. I think storywise, it is so streamlined, so straight-forward, there is a lot of room to take it in different directions as well. For me, there is only a benefit to it. On the most base, base level, the fact that we sold the rights for the remake means that we’re in a strong position to fund the sequel. I get the negativity, but there are more shades than what appears.
Josh: What is the Indonesia film industry like?
Evans: It is kind of weird. We were considered independent. But the independents tend to make the most expensive films in Indonesia. The studios make very cheap movies. The studios will make a movie for like $100,000 and they’ll cram out like ten in a year and dump them out in cinemas and hope to make a little cash off them. That’s it. Sadly, lately, the studios have churned out so many of these films that it kind of killed the audience for local films. So the market got flooded to the point where people thought, “Well if the quality of the films is going to be the same as the TV, fuck it, I’ll stay in.” But we’re hoping there might be a turnaround this year. A good film opened recently, and we open next month. Then the month after that is a movie called Modus Anomali, and we’re hopeful there will be a continuing new trend of local audiences going back and supporting local films.
Josh: Do you have any plans beyond the The Raid sequel?
Evans: Yeah. I’m hoping to do something English language. Maybe out here, maybe in the UK.
Josh: Hints? What genre?
Evans: Maybe within the action genre, but not martial arts. I want to take a break. I’d like to bounce back and forth between territories. Do something in Indonesia, then something outside, and back. And keep thinking of ways I can get Iko to beat the shit out of people!