We chat to perhaps the only Welsh director making movies in Indonesia about his latest film
In 2012, THE RAID exploded onto our cinema screens, and made instant stars out of director Gareth Evans, and lead actor Iko Uwais. Two years later, Evans is back with the sequel to his surprise hit. We caught up with director Gareth Evans to find out more about the fights, the challenges, the violence and the film that has been a long time coming.
The last time we spoke, you said that THE RAID was your back up plan when trying to get this film made, so how do you feel now that THE RAID 2 is complete? Gareth Evans: Relieved now. For a long time it was the film I was dying to make and never got an opportunity to make, so once we went into production on it, it was like having three years’ worth of images in my head finally out. It was quite the experience and I am just glad that we have it done now.
The response to THE RAID was so strong – you won Best Film and the Audience Award at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2012. Did you feel any responsibility or pressure when making the follow up to such a beloved film? GE: The thing was that we had lost any element of surprise now, so a certain degree audiences watching it are going to be wise to some of the surprise elements that we had in the first film. We decided to try to ignore any of the anticipation and pressure, and the goal was to make the film within a creative bubble, the same way we did the first one; no-one knew what we were doing on the first one, no-one was really looking over our shoulders and questioning the reasons for this or that or the other. For the sequel we thought ‘let’s do the same thing again, let’s just rely on gut instinct’ and not try to make it while thinking about the audience, but just to make it for ourselves, the same way we made the first one for ourselves, and just hope that there is an audience out there that will follow us on the path we take it. Right now it’s pressure time, as we find out how audiences respond.
You also said that HARD BOILED and THE WILD BUNCH influenced the first film. What were your influences this time out? GE: Those two films will always be influences because they are just so incredible, they stand the test of the time; the fact is that ending of THE WILD BUNCH hasn’t aged in about 45 years now. For this movie I started watching a few other influential films, like INFERNAL AFFAIRS, THE DEPARTED, DONNIE BRASCO… A lot of undercover movies. What I wanted to do it, I wanted to tell an undercover story, but only so far. I didn’t want to go down that clichéd route of having an undercover story where it is all about this cop who goes an infiltrates and investigates and finds the one key element in order to bring down the whole empire around him. It was more about a guy who tries to investigate, but is overwhelmed by the introduction of a subplot that becomes the driving force of the rest of the film. I wanted to do something that played around with the people’s expectations of where it was going to go. It was kind of fun to watch those films and see what they did that was interesting, then play around with the family relationship aspect of it. I think the big driving force was about fathers and sons; that was a bigger theme in the film that I wanted to explore.
This was the film that you were trying to get made, but ended up going on a back burner while you made THE RAID for a smaller budget. Did you find that the story for THE RAID 2 changed after you went and made THE RAID? GE: It wasn’t a huge difference. The majority of it was incorporating the police investigation and also bearing in mind what we had already laid out in terms of Rama’s family life and his background. It was one of those things that I was able to draw on Iko’s own personal life for a change. It was helpful for me to see how much his acting has improved and his emotional performance has got better. He himself, before we started shooting, had got married and was expecting a child, so that meant that I had this whole world of experience for him that I could draw upon to get him into the right head space and start to approach acting and performance from a psychological standpoint. It was really interesting to be able to do that with him this time around.
You mentioned the family aspect of the film, and this is a much more personal story for Rama. Why did you decide to do that? GE: I wanted to give more weight to what was going on. I think in the first one, I was able to skim over such details because it was all in one day, and it was a survival horror film; it was more about the experience and the adrenaline as opposed to giving a huge amount of gravitas to the fight sequences. For this one, I wanted to fight sequences to feel like they were integral to plot and character arcs; that they would move the story forward. The goal was that by the end of the film, after all of these action sequences, that it feels like you feel you have gone on an emotional arc as well with Rama. It was important then to establish a much stronger narrative for him, so that you could feel vulnerable for him, and you could feel much closer to him than in the previous movie, which we established through that snapshot of him and his wife.
There are two incredible hench people in the film; Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. Where did they come from? GE: Hammer Girl comes from… In the first movie we did, MERANTAU we had this style of Silat called silek harimau, which is tiger style and the way youy do that is you hit with the palm of your hand, then use your fingers like a claw to be able to grab and pull or drag and rip. I wanted to do an extension of that style of Silat, but using a weapon for it, so I looked around and thought ‘What can we use as a weapon for that?’, and naturally, the really nice side of my character fell upon the idea of using two claw hammers [laughs]. The reason for why it’s Hammer Girl and not Hammer Man is because we always thought the first film was so male oriented that I wanted to have an opportunity to showcase a really cool female fighter; someone who could show the guys exactly how it’s done. It was a blast!
They are both great characters, and it is easy to see that you have back-stories for them… GE: I wanted to be really economical with the story telling and hint at their characters through some small scenes. It was always my intention not to make them the big main focal point, but for them to be memorable, and I think that Julie [Estelle] is very memorable in that role and so has Very [Tri Yulisman] as Baseball Bat Man.
There are some amazing fight sequences in the film, and they are all so different from one another. Which was the most challenging for you to film? GE: The prison fight was a nightmare. It was such a stressful shoot because it was so physically taxing. We were shooting in the mud, which was up to our ankles; it was so hot the entire time. That was probably the most physically taxing thing we had to shoot, but in terms of stress levels… The car chase. We had never done that before, Indonesia doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to do that kind of scene, so we found ourselves losing 50% of our shooting time every single day just to keep the roads closed, even though we had permits for it. It was literally an uphill battle from beginning to end. Thankfully, we had a really great team and it’s been a big experience for us and something we’ve learned a lot from.
The film feels much bloodier than THE RAID, was that something you strove for or did it happen organically? GE: I think it’s one of those things where it just happened organically, it wasn’t an intentional thing. When it comes to the amount of blood that happens, it’s all down to what the choreography demands, it’s not really an intentional thing of ‘Hey, let’s make this more violent!’ or anything. To be honest, for a long time, I thought this film was nowhere near as violent as the first one, because when I watched the second one [the violence] is more spaced out, whereas the first one is so compacted in that you don’t get to escape from it. We design these action scenes to play in as much a real world setting as possible – slightly exaggerated in places, and sometimes bending the rules of reality.
Were you ever concerned about the amount of blood and violence in THE RAID 2? GE: This sounds strange, but there is almost a responsibility when you make a film like this, especially with something that you know is going to be an 18 Rated action film, for you to actually feel the pain of the weapons, for you to know that those weapons hurt, that they cost lives and they hurt people in a serious way. I am more concerned about things like a 12A movie where you can have a guy fire a gun, empty his bullets into someone and just because there is no blood there, that it’s somehow OK for a 12 year old to see. For me, that’s the scary thing about violence in movies.