Welsh director Gareth Evans is not a name you would expect to associate with an Indonesian martial arts film.
Welsh director Gareth Evans is not a name you would expect to associate with an Indonesian martial arts film. Movies Plus (M+) sat down with the writer/director of the critically acclaimed film The Raid: Redemption – which won both the audience award at the 10th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and the award for Best Film from the Dublin Film Critics Circle.
Where did the story come from?
GE: We made a film called Merantau first, that was my first film in Indonesia and then after that I wanted to do another movie, which was a much bigger budgeted film. We spent about a year and a half trying to find finance for it and the climate in Indonesia at that point for film finance was really poor so we couldn’t get the money in place for that movie. After a year and a half we were sick of waiting, sick of being in the office and sick of not doing anything – especially Iko, because he had not done anything since Merantau – so The Raid; Redemption was actually our Plan B project; it was a back up plan. It was a synopsis idea that I had tucked away somewhere and then I thought ‘let’s do something low budget, something contained in one building… Let’s do The Raid: Redemption’. We knew that we could bring it in at a certain budget level that we could raise almost instantly so then we went back to the investors before and said ‘If you invest X amount, it is now worth 50% of the budget as opposed to 20% of the budget’ so that was a no brainer. It was just one of those things; you spend a year and a half trying to get one thing funded and nothing; then one afternoon with another investment and all of a sudden we were in production. Obviously it has proved a bit fortuitous now because we are in a much better place now that we have had such a strong reaction to The Raid: Redemption than we probably would have had with the other one.
The film is set almost entirely in a contained building, what were the challenges of shooting in such an environment?
GE: The challenges from an art design perspective, were that we had such specific choreography that we needed to do in those spaces. We couldn’t find real locations for a lot of it so about 80% was studio set. We had to build the atrium with the two floors and we had to build rooms where we could cut a hole in the floor and jump down. Corridors were all built as well. In terms of the logistical aspect, that was tough because we’d shoot all the corridors scenes, then we would tear down the set and use the wood for building rooms because we didn’t have a budget to have more than one set built at one time. There were little things like trying to figure out how to connect these two completely different studio shots, on different days with different continuity, lighting and everything else. Those kinds of things are the things the audience doesn’t see, but in terms of what the audience does see it was more along the lines of maintaining an aesthetic to the film where it is still interesting without it being corridor, atrium, room… Back again. We had to make it visually interesting and explore every little space in terms of the choreography and use of walls, lights and doorframes. We were using all of those little things to keep it interesting for the audience and to keep the camera moving.
The film is almost told in real time, was that choice you made from the beginning?
GE: It felt it just had to be. It wasn’t really a conscious decision; it was more a natural progression while we were writing it. That kind of situation… I didn’t want it to let up, I didn’t want there to be a moment where it becomes night-time, they go to sleep and we fade out and they wake up the next day. I hate those moments because I always wonder what the f*** happened in those five hours when they napped [laughs]. I thought we had to keep the story moving so it runs from dawn until about 5pm or something. It is very contained in space and time. It just felt natural; there was no point where I could fade out or anything.
How have audiences responded to some of the extreme violence seen in the film?
GE: I have been asked a couple of times… People always comment on how violent the film is and genuinely – I genuinely, genuinely feel this – it is violent, I know it is, but I don’t feel like it is up to the point of exploitation. We did have a shot planned for that scene with the light bulb where we were facing the guy and while we were shooting I thought ‘This is gross, let’s not do this’ [laughs] So we stuck to a wide profile shot and it was mostly in the mind – you know what’s going on but you don’t see detail but it’s enough to make you go ‘eugh’.
It is odd for a Welsh director to be working in Indonesian martial arts movies…
GE: Really!? [laughs]
…How did you get involved in it?
GE: Basically my wife is Indonesian Japanese, so when I was based in Wales I didn’t really do enough to get noticed in the industry, I could have done a lot more actually and it is my fault that I didn’t get noticed. I stuck to localised. I made my own little independent feature film but I didn’t seek it out anywhere as much as I probably should have. We got married and we were living in Wales, but my wife hadn’t really settled properly and she found me a job in Indonesia and she found me a job on a documentary about Silat. I got to spend six months in Indonesia and that documentary was an eye-opener. I had never seen that martial art before; all of my childhood I had spent watching Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee films; my dad would go off and rent these films for me all the time and anything that had… If somebody was wearing a ninja outfit on the DVD cover I had it. I was like ‘We’re renting that!’ [laughs] It could be the worst film in the world with one martial arts fight in it – or it could even be a practice session – and I would watch it. [laughs] I was always fascinated by martial arts, but I never thought that I would actually do stuff with martial arts. Then when I did that documentary about Silat, I had never seen it before and it was super exciting to see it. I was just blown away by how adaptable it was to different locations, different set ups and stuff. I met Iko while doing that documentary and learned about the traditions and cultures [of Indonesia] and it was one of those things where the move to Indonesia was quite normal; it didn’t feel like a big step or anything. I just got very lucky, I feel like Indonesia has given me my career. It never feels weird to me being a Welsh guy out there making these films, until somebody tells me. Then it becomes weird. [laughs] It’s good fun and I really enjoy working with Iko and the guys as well. We have become like a little family… For want of a better cliché [laughs]
Words – Brogen Hayes