As The Raid opens in cinemas nationwide on May 18 - it comes with a certain degree of expectation, as a film that has been described as one of the greatest action movies in years - and ahead of its big release The Fan Carpet's Stefan Pape caught up with director Gareth Evans.
The Welshman - who now lives in Indonesia, is still somewhat surprised at the critical acclaim his third feature film has so far received, in what is a relentlessly compelling martial arts thriller - telling the tale of a group of police offers attempting to infiltrate a notoriously dangerous council estate.
Evans admits to being humbled by the films response, whilst also discussing his brotherly relationship with leading star Iko Uwais. The talented young film-maker also cites his greatest influences, whilst filling us in on his plans for a sequel...
Firstly, I'm not one to say this just for the sake of it, but The Raid is one of my favourite films of the year so far - how did the idea for it first come about?
Thank you so much, that's a huge thing to hear. Weirdly, it was actually a plan b project, it wasn't supposed to be the thing I was going to do next. I made a film back in 2008 called Merantau and when we finished that we released it and we had a different idea of what we wanted to do next - which was a prison movie morphed into a gangster movie called Berandal, and that was a much bigger project with a higher budget and what happened was, after a year and a half of trying and failing, we couldn't get the budget in place so I felt I needed something new and I needed to do something which would be lower budget for a start, and something I could bring in on one million dollars - and that's what The Raid was, it was born out of frustration and a need to do something different.
When you first started it did you ever expect for it to be as critically-acclaimed as it has been?
Absolutely not, I'll be honest. It's been a surprise to us and when we finished the film, myself and my producer were doing a check print a week before we went to Toronto, and when we finished watching it we both just kind of looked at each other and just thought, "Meh. It's okay, its got its moments", but we didn't think anything of it, we were quite pessimistic actually. But when you are that close to a film all you do is question every little judgement, focus on the little corners of the screen where the picture breaks up a little bit, you know, instead of actually watching the film flow. So when I got back from Toronto and I told my producer about the reaction, and how people responded, the first thing he said was, "Really?!" because it was just totally unexpected for us really.
As a Brit yourself, does it mean quite a lot to you to know that it has been so well-received back home?
Yeah it's blown my mind and its cool because I'm getting messages on Facebook and Twitter from my friends back home and they're telling me that they keep seeing advertisements for the film on television and in cinemas, and it's brilliant. I've got to tip my hat to Momentum as they have been doing such a brilliant job of pushing this film and making it stand out and I'm very, very happy with how it has gone and I hope the audiences will be there to support it as well.
What do you think it is about The Raid that makes it so accessible to such a broad audience, because Indonesian martial arts films are often the sort to take off over here. For example, I'm going to take my Mum to go and see it next weekend and this definitely isn't the type of film she is usually in to, but I just know she'll love it.
Well that's brave you're taking you Mum to see it! Although my Grandmother loves it, she's become something of a go-hound lately as well, so she loved the film. But I don't know, when I was making it and designing it I didn't really look at it as being purely a martial arts film, I definitely didn't look at it being an Indonesian martial arts film either, it was one of those things where all of my influences came from a number of different sources and when I was writing the film, pretty early on, I realised that if you took away the action and martial arts elements of it you're left with the skeleton for a survival horror, and so I realised that I could bring in these different elements from different genres, and that they would fit, they would find an organic way to have a martial arts sequence followed by a thriller sequence, followed by something that played around with claustrophobia and tension and suspense and I think martial arts, and action and horror, all three of them, they tend to be very universal in terms of finding an audience, they're the easiest for a cross-over appeal for an international audience, so as we bleed from one genre to the next and we start to mount up the tension and adrenaline with a fight scene or action sequence, the audience can relate to it. They don't necessarily have to read every word that appears on screen, they can follow it because it's much more of a visual medium.
Are there any directors, or films that you really took inspiration from?
Oh, tons, loads of different films. I watched a bunch of movies in single location settings for inspiration, like Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, Rec One and Two, then I took a look at stuff like Escape from New York and Wild Bunch, Hard Boiled... I just consumed a lot of different films and tried to figure out what is it I love about these films? What are the little moments and beats I took away from them, that stuck with me?
The martial arts style is that of silat, which we don't know too much about over here. Is that a form of martial arts you've always been passionate about, or did that derive from making the film?
I grew up as a kid watching martial arts films, watching Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li and knowing all about muay thai and kung fu and everything but I had never heard about silat before, until I was hired to do a documentary after my wife put a few phone-calls in and that documentary was about silat and that was the first time I had actually heard about it. It was a big learning curve for me, an eye opener if anything. I just realised straight away that this was a martial arts discipline that deserved to be on the big screen, it has a unique look to it. What I loved about it was this juxtaposition, this idea that when the person is going in for an attack they look beautiful and graceful, but as soon as they land their hit and the impact of their hit, it just turns so ugly and violent and aggressive and that was something that fascinated me about silat and something that I wanted to explore or pursue in film.
As for Iko - he is a fantastic talent, to be able to combine such skill in martial arts with an almost rock-star persona - how did you find him?
For me he is like the perfect guy for us to use in these films and the perfect person to present silat on screen because he is very knowledgeable and aware of what he looks like on camera, he knows what each move looks like and the way he presents silat is unlike anyone else I've met so far. I met him through the documentary - he was a student at one of the places we were filming and at the time he was actually a delivery guy for a phone company and so he did silat at the weekends but he wasn't famous for it, or well-known for it. When I met him I said to him,"Look you've got some kind of ability when it comes to silat - there is something about you, a screen presence. I want to make a film with you", and he was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever" and didn't really believe me, but all of a sudden we came back to Indonesia and asked him how long he had left on his contract and he said two months - and we said, "Okay, you quit after that and come and work with us" and so it was a bit of a strange transition for him, but he has handled it very well and stayed very humble, a good guy. He hasn't gone crazy, or become a diva or egotistical on me yet so thank God for that.
No, not yet! Thing is, we've worked together so long, for like four years he has become like a little brother to me. I'm always protecting him and looking out for him, every now and then if I feel that his ego is getting big I'll bully him and make fun of him until he comes back down to earth. We hve a very good working relationship.
He's only young, just how bright a future do you see for him? Does Hollywood beckon perhaps?
Yeah, I think that's inevitable that at some point that's going to happen. We're trying to prepare him and make him ready for it - we're teaching him English in the office all the time, he's doing like three lessons a week. We are preparing him for it and we know that we'll do another film together in the future but he's gonna start climbing soon and there will be a moment when he starts stepping outside of what we're doing and we just hope that he's prepared and ready for it, that's all we can hope for really.
Talking of taking language lessons - how is your Indonesia? Was that ever a problem on set, or are you fluent?
On the first film it was a problem as I didn't know any at all and I relied entirely on my crew to translate for me, but for The Raid I learnt a lot of Indonesian and I had picked up a lot from Iko and the choreographers. But they told me a lot of bad stuff first, so my skill set in Indonesian was pretty much that I could handle some direction but I could insult anyone's mother very, very well. So that seems to be the thing that they want to teach you first. Apparently, that's all I need.
It isn't just Iko that excels in silat - you seem to have assembled tons of extras who all seem to be wonderful athletes - was there a rigorous training regime, or did you pick them from classes?
We did a big casting session where we saw about 400 odd people I think and we had to whittle it down to 80 who could actually do screen fighting. It's very tough to find the right people because when you see something who is very good at martial arts, someone who could be the best in the world, a master of what they do - but they could be one of the worst screen fighters ever because they are two totally different disciplines, there is no guarantee that on thing is going to prepare you for the other, so it's a different skill set entirely. And in those 400 auditions we managed to get around 80 people that we felt were good enough and strong enough to take on roles within this film and they came from all sorts of backgrounds and different martial arts disciplines. Some did taekwondo, some did muay thai and some did silat as well, but yeah it was an interesting process.
Lastly, what's next for you now? More martial arts movies, or perhaps try something quite different?
The next film is going to be the sequel to The Raid, and that is definitely going to be martial arts, and almost of the work I do in Indonesia will be martial arts based and exploring silat - but outside of Indonesia I'm going to explore different styles and different genres, so some of the western work I might do in the UK or US will be a little different to what I've been doing so far over here.
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