When Gareth Huw Evans completed his first feature film Footsteps, based upon a cameraman who films beatings, murders and rapes in an abandoned underpass, back in 2006 – the little reception it received made him turn away from film making. It wasn’t until his Indo-Japanese wife Maya persuaded him to take a documentary project in Indonesia about Pencak Silat, a little known school of martial art, were he was introduced to one of the students that would change his life forever. Six years on from his first film, Evans is promoting his latest feature – The Raid – hailed as possibly the best action film to be released this year for reintroducing hard-core martial art action that has been sorely missed from our cinema screens. Cult Hub was able to take a candid interview with the director asking how he came up with the concept for the film, how he felt when The Raid premiered in Wales and the on-going development on his sequel(s).
The Raid – Gareth Evans Camera
In the heart of London’s Soho, at the offices of Momentum Pictures, Gareth Evans greets me with a warm smile and a firm handshake. His umpteenth of the day from a grueling promotion tour filled with screenings and media interviews. And yet he seems extremely calm; joyous almost from the positive reviews his film has received. I ask if he knew he was creating an international hit when he began writing the screenplay. “Not really,” Evans replies with his signature Welsh accent, “There’s no way you really can tell and if you can, it becomes very arrogant. Truthfully, when we finished making this film we did our first check print of the final product where the producer and I took a pessimistic view on it. We were very proud of certain scenes but because we were too involved in the film at that point, we couldn’t sit back and see it objectively. Instead of watching the story unfold, we sometimes focused on the corner of the screen where the pixels were broken up. When Sony Picture Classic bought the international rights half way through the production, we knew we had to produce a product that was good enough for them. It wasn’t until after the world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was viewed by over 1,200 people, was it so well received that the audiences’ reaction totally blew us away. It knocked us off our feet”.
Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, and Escape From New York. All of these movies played on the concept where the hunter becomes the hunted. I learnt a lot from them. – Gareth Huw Evans
The Raid subsequently won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival last year where it also managed to secure a global release platform to any country that would screen it. In the UK alone it’ll be shown in over 300 cinema screens, the biggest national release for a foreign language film. Which is amazing considering the concept of the film mainly takes places inside a criminally infested building that offers nothing but carnage – all of which cost just over a million dollars to make. “My first Indonesian film, Merantau, was small in size but reasonably successful,” claims the MA graduate from the University of Glamorgan, “and we hoped it would allow us to think a little bigger for our next feature. Failing to secure sufficient funds, I decided to think of plan b where the production costs would be minimal if it was shot in a static location – like a building, where I wouldn’t be disturbed by rain or external factors. I then went away and researched other films that revolved around a building like Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, and Escape From New York. All of these movies played on the concept where the hunter becomes the hunted. I learnt a lot from them. I analysed everything from how much screen time was allocated to the bad guys, what worked and didn’t work structurally and how much action became too much action.”
And there’s certainly a lot of action for you to absorb. A mere ten minutes after the opening scene does the raid into the building take place and the body count starts to rise. Evans smiles. He’s been confronted about the issue of violence and pace in his movie before but he feels it’s very much justified. “In Merantau we spent a long time building the characters and the situation that it took approximately 45 minutes before Iko got into his first fight – which for an action film fan is too long to wait. I was like, if they didn’t bite into that one then lets try something different so we went straight into the action with The Raid. When the audience follows the SWAT team into the building I wasn’t going to let go of them. I was going to hold onto their collar and pull them along for as long as I could. Referring back to the films I researched for The Raid, none of them had any martial arts in them. If I extracted the action away from the films all I was left with was a survival horror story. Once I realised that this film could be really, really visual I was able to give the action the attention it deserved but equally it allowed me to bridge the sequences with moments of horror or suspense; divulge into claustrophobia and build tension. The psychology of the film also had to be different. Every single situation was kill or be killed. So we had to be more aggressive with the action this time.”
I thought, maybe I can help with the choreography and the fighting. I didn’t think I could be the leading actor. – Iko Uwais
None of this however would’ve been possible without the main star of the show. Iko Uwais, who was that student Evans met nearly five years ago, originally worked as a driver for a telecommunication company when he was first noticed. Impressed by his screen presence when performing Pencak Silat back in 2007, Evans knew Uwais had the cinematic potential to become an action star. “I hate complimenting him,” he says while gushing, “I consider him my little brother – but it was one of those things where after I saw him I knew there was something he could offer the camera. I was only in Indonesia for six months shooting the documentary but I wanted to stay in touch with Iko with the hope of returning to make a movie with him”. Uwais thought it was all a joke until the first day of shooting for Merantau where he also learnt how to act for the first time. Sharing his experience at another press event he said “I didn’t really believe him [Evans] at first,” says the Jakata born Silat Championship who’d been practicing the art since 1993. “I thought, maybe I can help with the choreography and the fighting. I didn’t think I could be the leading actor“.
The Raid has been critically acclaimed mainly for its fast paced action sequences that will surely make you squirm, shudder, flinch and move your head to avoid one of the punches hitting you – Evans, however, thinks otherwise. “I don’t think we did anything that was innovative. All we really did was took a few steps back from where the action was taking place. I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan’s work from the 80s and the 90s as well as John Woo’s work in Hong Kong. One thing that’s evident about those movies is the sense of clarity. If you watch a Jackie Chan movie like Armour of God, or even Police Story, every single shot looks like it was designed to show off that piece of choreography. It’s to give enough information to the audience to appreciate what’s happening. Eventually they’ll understand why a guy is doing back flips or falls over because they’ve seen the mechanics of the punch or the kick that led to it. I spent three months with Iko (29) and Yayan Ruhian (aged 43 and plays Mad Dog in the movie) meticulously preparing all the fight sequences – and if we’ve spent that much time designing it then it’s my job to ensure the execution is well delivered to the audience. That was very important to me”. Iko added that “Before the shoot began, myself and all the other fighters had to attend a boot camp where we saw the Indonesian army, imitated their stature and learnt to get into the character of someone in a SWAT team.”
The Raid – Iko Uwais
When rock superstar Mike Shinoda of Linkin’ Park was approached by Sony to rescore the music soundtrack for the western market he requested the assistance of Joe Trapanese, who helped Daft Punk while working on Tron: Legacy, to set the tempo of the film. It was a marriage made in heaven for Evans. “We originally recorded an Indonesian score however when Sony came on board, they had a different idea for promoting the film and wanted a sense of familiarity for their western audience. This was before they even heard the original so they sent rough cuts of the film to Mike who immediately said he wanted to be a part of the project but emphasised he didn’t want it to be a Linkin’ Park compilation piece on top of the film but something that was original that had its own feel and flavour to it. When Mike said he’d also be bringing in Joe – I knew the music side of things was in safe hands and they produced something that was amazing. But I’m still 50/50 on the soundtrack. I love the original Indonesian score but also love the American version – they both work very differently but very much in tune with the film.”
There’s already hot debate that a small, eastern martial art movie is teaching the big studios how an action movie should be made. It’s been discussed the success of The Raid was mainly due to Evans’ good understanding of the genre rather than embellishing it with CGI and expensive actors of which Hollywood is guilty of. The New York Times recently compared Evans’s movie to what the Americans had recently produced and commented how bad their action films have become in comparison – but Evans seems to disagree. “I think there are scenes in big budget Hollywood films where I am totally left in awe and saying to myself, ‘How the f*** did they do that?’. If you look at films like Bad Boys 2, it has incredible action sequences. The car chase along the freeway is stunning. The 360 camera movement during the shoot out with the Haitians was incredible, and what the American stunt teams and action guys do is phenomenal work. Not only do they raise the bar, they control it. We do things on a smaller budget with punches and kicks because its martial arts – but what they achieve on a pyrotechnic level is so incredible”.
When asked about his future projects and where he sees his career progressing Evans seems optimistic. “Indonesia will be my home for the immediate future while I work on Baranta, the sequel to The Raid which I may flesh out into a trilogy as I’m working on ideas for a third. I know where it’s going to go, but I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and work on the crux of the story. I’ve got a basic idea but nothing I can really tell you. I think the third one won’t be until a long time yet. Finally we have a much bigger budget so we can expand on the world Iko’s character Rama lives in however I would certainly be open to offers to make an American film at some point in the future so hopefully that’ll happen.”
Gareth had only recently returned from Cardiff where he attended the Welsh premier that was also screened in twelve different cinemas across Wales. “It was very important to the bring the film back to my roots,” he told the BBC, “it was here that I spent my childhood going to watch the Rugby matches with my father who later rented an Asian action film to watch in the evenings”. Brian, Gareth’s father, was also in attendance at the Cardiff premier and said he was “ever so proud of Gareth that he was fulfilling a dream he began when he was a child. It’s good to see him receive the rewards that he deserves. It’s the start of a brilliant career for him”.
Vaskar S. Kayastha is Cult Hub’s contributing film writer focusing on blockbuster movies as well as independent and world cinema. Vaskar graduated with a BA (Hons) in English which focused on the Classics, Medieval, Shakespearean and Ancient Literature. He also has a keen interest in Photography, History, Technology, Theology, Poetry, Ballet, Art, riding his Vespa and eating Gelato. Vaskar is also the Creative Director for TheStyleColumn - a portal for showcasing talented new fashion designers as well as covering global fashion weeks. Find out more about Vaskar on his blog or follow him on twitter.