Gareth Evans is back in the director’s chair this week with the highly anticipated action film The Raid 2. Evans grabbed everyone’s attention back in 2012 with The Raid, and now he is back.
We caught up with Evans to chat about the film, reuniting with action star Iko Uwais, and what lies ahead for him over the next twelve months.
- The Raid 2 is set to be released this week, so what can fans of the first film expect from the sequel?
It is a bit of a departure from the first one: the one thing I wanted to do was make a film that wasn’t a rehash of the first one. I didn’t want it to be sixteen floors instead of fifteen.
The goal was to take it out of that building, explore the universe and the characters, make it a much more evolving plot this time, while keeping the same kinetic action that we had in the first film.
- That very much leads into my next question. You expand the characters and the universe with this movie, so how much of a challenge was that? And how much pressure did you feel under to up the ante this time around?
It was one of those things where I actually had a script for this one before The Raid existed: I actually worked on that about two years before the first film. That didn’t come through, as we couldn’t get the funding in place. When I was working on The Raid, I started to look back on that old script thinking ‘what can I do differently with it? What can I do to fix the character’s motivation?’ Making him an undercover cop did fix all of the problems that I had with it. It naturally became The Raid 2.
While we were writing The Raid, we started putting hints that there would an expansion later on; we mentioned a couple of names that don’t appear in the film like Bunawar and Razor, and they become a major part of the sequel. There was obviously there was going to be some nerves, expectation and anticipated for what we would do in part two to make the fans happy and make sure that we didn’t disappoint.
Iko was asking ‘what are we going to do as the surprise element has gone?’ I sat down with him to talk about it, and I said ‘we should just make this in the same way that we made the first one.’ we had a closed off creative space when we made the first one, where we didn’t have to worry about anyone looking over our shoulder at what we were doing; on the first one no one really cared about what we were doing. Therefore, I was keen to continue to rely on out gut instinct on what we wanted to see in the film.
None of us really expected the first film to have the reaction that it did, and none of us expected it to connect in the way that it did. We just though ‘we need to rely on our gut instinct and make the film that we want to make. Hopefully, audiences will come along for the ride, enjoy it and he happy with the direction in which we have taken it’.
- As you said, you already had this script, so how much did it change from the first draft to what we now see on screen?
We probably changed about 25% or 30% of it. All of the inter-gang politics were already in there from the first draft. It was more of adding the police investigation element and putting in more connective tissue from the first film to the second film; addressing the situation with the brothers for example.
Also realising how that main character in that original draft now had to be a cop, who goes undercover, but also there are family elements. Rama has a wife and they have a child now. It was very much about factoring all of those things in.
It was a time-consuming process because every time I made a change of wrote a line of dialogue that could have a knock-on effect, I would have to go back and check eighty pages of that original script, to make sure nothing contradicted it.
- You have once again penned the screenplay, so how early do you start working on the choreography and how involved are you in the choreography side of things?
That tends to depend on the timing, where we are in terms of production, and when we are hoping to start shooting the film. Ideally, I like to finish the script completely before we start working on anything in terms of fights. I am pretty detailed when it comes to doing to treatment; I never start the script until the treatment is locked.
That just means that the structure of the film is locked down. By then, at least I know all of the motivation and the psychology behind all of the fight sequences. That is something that is really important to us: we like to figure out exactly how desperate is the fight? What is the skill-set of the fight?
Once I have that treatment, I am usually good to go and we can start designing fight sequences with Iko and the fight choreographers.
- Speaking of choreography there are a couple of really great moments - the fight in the prison toilet at the beginning and the fight in the car. Can you talk a little about shooting those scenes in very confined spaces?
My DOP, Matt - he is from the UK but is now based in the U.S. - is claustrophobic, and he hates it when I shoot in these tight spaces. When it came to the toilet fight, I wanted to start with something that nodded back to the first film.
I wanted a small action scene that was in a very tight space, so that seemed to be an ideal situation. It was good enough to have it tight, and you can shoot a decent fight, but I wanted to really sell the idea of the space.
I wanted that camera to move into the toilet cubicle, and swing around Iko while it was happening. To do that we had our art department to design the walls of the toilet cubicle on a hinge system, so that when we were going in we could swing the walls wider to get our camera in, and swing them shut whenever we were going to see the walls again.
It was quite a hard process for the art department and the camera team, as well as the choreography. However, I feel that that kind of dynamic approach to shooting was more interesting to me.
- When you are watching this film, you really do almost feel the hits during the fight scenes. How do you go about filming that so audiences get the maximum impact?
It comes down to me being with the choreographers when they start designing the fights, and I can jump in there and know exactly the details of the choreography an I know what the intention is of every block, kick and punch. Knowing that, it puts me in a better position to say ‘I am going to showcase the choreography as cleanly as possible’.
Many people do comment on how we shoot the action, but I don’t think we do anything innovative with it. For me, it is more of a case… my biggest influences have come from Sam Peckinpah and John Woo. Old films such as like The Wild Bunch and Hard Boiled, the way they shot action back then was so crisp and so beautiful. The end of The Wild Bunch is over forty-five years old, and it is such a great movie and still holds up.
I look back on those films and it is about having a clear geographical knowledge of the location and having a certain degree of clarity helps make these scenes pop more. It is basically just going back to that, and not using the latest bells and whistles when it comes to effects and editing, and just letting the scene breathe and let these moments occur.
- You have mentioned Iko Uwais already, and he is back as Rama, in what is a more demanding role for him from a dramatic perspective. How great was it to work with him again? And how do you feel he has developed as an actor between the two Raid movies?
I am really proud of Iko. This is our third film together: our first film Merantau was his first film and my first professional film as well. To see the growth in him has made me really proud, he has become like a little brother to us all. In the first The Raid film, the character was a lot more stoic and I didn’t really give him that much in terms of dramatic depth for him to play with. This time, I knew that I wanted to really challenge him.
He had got married a couple of months before the shoot and by the time we were shooting, he and his wife were expecting their first baby.
Therefore, these real world experiences really help you find those find those emotional arcs. It was much easier for me to give him direction on a psychological level, as opposed to before, when it was a more show and tell environment.
- This film saw you film in Jakarta, so what kind of challenges and practical issues did you face filming on location?
I think all of those challenges were probably in the car chase (laughs). It was such a brutal shooting experience because it is just so hot; we are shooting in the daytime, which really is the worst thing that we could have done.
In addition, the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet to be able to do these scenes; we are the first Indonesian production to do anything on this scale and on those roads as well. These are busy main roads that are used often, and suddenly we are asking the police to close them for us.
We would get our permits, but when it came to the practicalities of closing it down, it was harder. We found that we were losing 40% to 50% of our shooting time every single day.
- You said earlier that everyone involved in The Raid was surprised at the way that the film was received. So far, this second movie has been met with great reviews - it really has been hugely positive. So how have you been finding the reaction?
Overwhelming, to be honest. We do get bad reviews every now and again, but I expected it to more divisive because it is so different from the first. The worst thing as a filmmaker is that vulnerability of making something and then putting it out there, because you start questioning yourself ‘was this a good idea? Should we have played it safe? What could we have done differently?’
It is one of those weird situations where when I watch it with an audience, it doesn’t matter if I get a great review or a terrible review, I can guarantee that I love it more than anyone else and I hate it more than anyone else.
- You have mentioned a few times on Twitter that you already have ideas for a third Raid film. What ideas are you having? Have you begun the writing process of that yet?
At the moment, it is all in my head. I have a bunch of ideas and character layouts. The Raid 2 picks up about two hours after the first film finished; it carries on from the moment when Rama and the guys take that box of tapes to Bunawar.
For The Raid 3, I want to do something a little different and go back three hours in the timeline, before The Raid 2 finishes. I am looking to go back to a set of decisions that are made by one of the gangs, and we will branch off and follow the fallout and the consequences of that decision.
- Finally, what's next for you going through this year?
This year, I am going to be producing only. We are in pre-production on a film that we are doing out in Indonesia called The Night Comes For Us. It is a neo-noir hitman thriller, with Joe Taslim, who is in The Raid. He is going to be alongside Yayan Ruhian and Julie Estelle - who played Hammer Girl in the Raid 2. We love her to bits, she is great. We are working on choreography design right now, and we are hoping to start shooting in June.
Next year, I have two projects in development for me to direct; there is one in the UK with Universal Pictures and the other is with MRC to shoot in the U.S. The goal is to do two films outside of Indonesia, learn from them and figure out any new tricks and tips, and bring that back to Indonesia.
For me, Indonesia gave me my career, and so I feel like I owe it to them. When I get back, we will make two more films in Indonesia and put everything that we have learnt outside of that industry into use.
The Raid 2 is released 11th April.