Gareth Huw Evans does not look like the type of guy who has directed an awesome Indonesian action movie. For one, he’s Welsh. On top of that, he’s a giggly tall man with proud roots as an action fanboy, especially for the films of John Woo.
Evans’ third feature film The Raid: Redemption tells the action-packed tale of a SWAT team that becomes trapped in a villain-filled apartment complex they originally expect to walk in and out of. The film uses the martial arts styling of Pencak Silat, and features Evans’ second film with Silat champion Iko Uwais. Already set for two sequels and an American remake, The Raid: Redemption is a monumental moment for the action movie genre.
I sat down with Evans to discuss the reception of the film, how scenes came together on-set, and what movie really excites him as a true action fanboy.
The Raid: Redemption opens in limited theaters on March 23.
I feel like you’re about to become an action movie fanboy deity. “The Raid” is especially going to be playing to a crowd that loves Christopher Nolan films, and “Oldboy.” How do you feel about that?
Wow. The whole experience since Toronto has really blown my mind, to be honest with you. We made The Raid: Redemption, and when we did we had no one to answer to at all. In the company that I work for in Indonesia, I’m the creative director, and my wife is the person who gets all the money to pay for everything – she has the harder job than I do. We never could have expected the film to get the kind of response that it has had. Me and my producer, Ario Sagantoro, we were in the post-production lab and we had one week before Toronto. We both looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, there are bits we like in it.’ We were both really pessimistic because we could only see the small details at this point. All we hoped for were poster quotes. ‘This year’s most mediocre action film!’ Our hopes were low. And then it played really strongly to the “Midnight Madness” crowd in Toronto. It’s been a forward momentum the last couple of months. It’s been overwhelming, and bizarre.
I have only started to approach [filmmaking] from the perspective of, ‘OK, I’m a filmmaker now.’ This is only my third film total, but my second in Indonesia since I started working professionally. I have formed my background from that. But I also have five copies of John Woo’s The Killer in my house. My wife hates my DVD collection, because it overtakes the house. But that’s where I come from. So to get that type of reaction, from technically ‘friends’ in a way, is a strange feeling but it’s really great.
When you’re mapping out an action sequence, how much of it comes from your ideas, and how much of the ideas come from your extras? Do you know a lot of Pencak Silat [the martial arts form used in the movie]?
When I did the first movie, Merantau, I learned about Pencak Silat so that when it came to the choreography I would have a little background knowledge on it. I know I will never have the same understanding that the main guys do, but I wanted to at least be able to bring suggestions that weren’t just, ‘This would look cool on camera.’ Although, I often do that too.
But when it comes to the stunts and the gunplay, usually that comes from ideas that I have, and then the guys who are involved in the choreography workshop with me so that we can see what kind of new ideas and techniques we can come up with. If we’re in a good mood, maybe the fight scene will be more intricate. When we’re in a bad mood, maybe it will be more violent. We try to mix them together.
There are some great closing kills to these fights.
The guys who did the choreography are very nice guys, and very humble. So when people think this movie is extraordinarily violent, they always point to me [laughs]. To a certain extent, it usually comes from the three of us. But then they’ll do something that will inspire me to think of a way to do a certain kill. For example, they’ll come up with the idea of slamming a character in a light fixture. But then I’ll say, ‘Let’s slam him all the way down.’ We would be in a corridor with the machete gang, and we’d be like, ‘We’ve already had a fight scene in the corridor, let’s kick someone through a door.’ Then when I realized that the door had broken, I started to think about how to use that broken door. Which was also inspired by Dead Alive, when the zombie gets his ribcage slammed on there.
How long would it take you to film a sequence? Also, what drove you to disregard the “usual” length of an action sequence?
What we tend to not do in the fight scene is slow motion. We are showing off, but I want people to see it in real time. And if you miss it, you can catch it on the second viewing [laughs]. That’s the kind of thinking that keeps my investors happy. But I want people to witness the fight in real time so that it doesn’t take them out of the experience. We also wanted to keep the fights grounded in a certain amount of reality so nobody does triple twists and a kick, or elaborate moves. You also don’t see a stunt guy waiting to take a hit. We wanted to have the audience able to relate to a fight, and to everything that happens on screen. As soon as you use slow motion to showcase something, then the audience is aware that they are watching a film. Another thing that we tend to do, we tried to do it with every fight, is that the moment someone hits another person, they don’t stop fighting until someone is completely out. We don’t have these long moments in which they catch their breath and look at each other. So, the final fight, they don’t really stop until they’re both really badly injured. It’s relentless.
We try to ground it in reality so far as the moves that are done, but there’s no way that someone could take that many hits to the head. We really ramped that up, with the light tube. That’s something that other audiences would think, ‘Oh, it’s over.’ But for us, it was not.
Along with slow motion, there’s not a lot of unintelligible handicam work to be seen in your film.
Well, we shot about 90 percent of it on fig rigs (balancers). We had a controlled handheld [camera].
It’s very different from how we do things in the States.
We wanted to create a dynamism with the camera, but also have some clarity about it. My biggest influence when it came to gunplay is John Woo and Sam Peckinpah. The thing that is great about those guys and those films, is that whenever you are in an action sequence, you have total spacial awareness of where the film is being set, what’s going on, who’s doing what to who, how many bullets have hit a person, and how many have not. That’s the kind of detail you get from a John Woo action film. It’s just so detailed that when some straight fires, you see every bullet point.
For me, whether it was gunplay or martial arts, it was very important to treat the action sequences like they were rhythmic. When the guy gets shot three times in the face, it’s not because, ‘Oh, that’s super violent!’ We did the pacing of the sequence like a clap. We tried it with one gunshot, and it felt like it lacked. But then it had that three hit drum roll that we used in the film, and it carries the film off to the next shot.
Was a lot of this rhythm focused on in the editing room, or more when you were actually shooting the film? Do you storyboard a lot of these segments?
We do a lot of pre-visualization design. We do entire video storyboards for all of the martial arts scenes. Shot for shot, edit for edit, like 90 percent how it will end up in the final film. For three months we make the pre-vis, then the next three months we have rehearsals with the fighters, and then three months of shooting, and three months of post. This one was a bit crazier to put together. I didn’t get half the amount of time that I could want.
Did that rushing in post-production affect the pacing of the movie itself?
Yes. A big part of why we do storyboards is because we can’t afford to come back and do another day on location. We haven’t got back-up days. We were on such a low budget that once we’re done with shooting stuff in the corridor, that wood had to be re-used to build another set. We were recycling wood, we were very eco-friendly. That’s a new thing we can talk up about the The Raid.
You could put that on the poster.
“The most eco-friendly action movie in decades!” But we were on such a tight schedule, that we were editing as we were shooting. We have those pre-vis storyboards loaded up on the edit, and as we shoot things, every shot that comes in, we load in right away. We can see them gathered together. If one of the edits is clunky and we can’t get them to sync up, we go back and do one more shot to patch that together. And then suddenly, it’s done.
So basically you’ve got chunks and chunks and chunks of footage before you even go into the editing room.
Yeah. And when we were filming, if there was any down time, because I was the off-line editor of the film as well, while a light was being fixed another editor would drop the footage into the computer, I’d look at it, and then we’d go.
What was one of the harder things to shoot for this film?
The hole-drop scene, when the guys go down a floor by going through a hole. We shot that whole thing without having a storyboard, and I didn’t have a shot list. I kind of wanted the actors to be able to move around a bit, but not feel too restricted. We said, ‘You guys burst through the door, this guy’s going to get hit and go down, arrest him, put the couch up,’ and then I orchestrated the two cameras in a way so that I could piece them together. The luck I have is that because I am doing the off-line edit, I can focus on the in and out points for each camera.
With the hole-drop shot, we didn’t have a rigging set-up. The way we did it was very … kind of cheap, but it worked. We had one camera on top – he’s got a wire on him, and there’s a wire on the camera. As he drops down, he falls onto the floor, and pushes half of his body out of the fig rig. On the bottom floor, we had a second camera operator who grabbed it and took it from there.
Do you have any interest in doing your own cinematography for your films, considering you’re also editing them as you direct them?
My director of photographer is a British guy who I went to university with. The two of us will usually sit down and go through each page, and make a shot list of the entire film. We usually have a huge thing in which a producer will say, ‘Cut a couple of shots,’ but we do have an understanding of how we want it to look.
Do you have more ideas for shots like this in your upcoming sequel to The Raid?
For the next one, we’ve got this ridiculously ambitious shot where I want to do four pass-offs in one shot. So we’re going to have figure out how the f**k we’re going to do that.
With the sequel, do you want to make the story even bigger?
Yes, absolutely. It’s going to be in Indonesia, and shot in Jakarta again. The budget is much bigger, but because the scope is much bigger. We’re going to be taking it outside this time.
Are there two buildings this time?
Yeah [laughs]. With a walkway. They go back for the neighbors! But for this time, we’re going to meet the people who let the lead bad guy have that building, so it’s going to show the higher-up of the gangs. Because during this one, we really tried to shoot in every corner we could find, and every place that we could go in that building. If you really put down the whole structure of the building, where the atriums are and the corridors, and the L-sections, it would look like a f**king mess. We tried to draw it once and it just looked like the sh*ttiest building ever made. The guy with the machete and the big eyes, he’s an architect in real life. After we finished shooting, he went off and built a building.
Where did you find these extras?
A lot of different martial arts disciplines. After the first film finished, [Merantau], we had a big casting call of 400, and whittled it down to 80 who could actually fight. It was like the “American Idol” of martial arts movie casting. They come in, and it turns out they’re just making it up as they are going along. Some of them are just horrible and embarrassing. There are just some priceless moments in that collection, but it would be too cruel to release it. And then once we got 80 extras, we used all of them. We decided, if we had 80 fighters, let’s use all of them, instead of re-use them and have someone pop up later.
What about the amount of extras in the sequel?
The thing with this one, is that maybe we’ve blown our load. We have to find a new batch. We have a huge prison riot and we’ll need about 100 people just for that. I don’t know how the f**k we’re going to find them [laughs].
Do you have any interest at all in appearing in your own films?
I have a small cameo in The Raid. I am on one of the CCTV monitors. In my first film, I walk around in the background of the shot. In this one, you can barely see it because I just go around a corner. I was probably wearing trousers with Raid written on the bottom.
What are the action movies that you could re-watch over and over again?
Police Story, Hard Boiled, Killer … I really like GI: Samurai. It’s a Sonny Chiba movie from the ’80s. It was called Time Wars in the UK when it was first released. It’s an amazing film. It’s about the national guard in Japan, and this military group gets sucked back in time to feudal Japan. So they side with a samurai group. It’s so cool. There’s this one battle at the end that’s 40 minutes long, and there’s all of these samurai extras all battling against each other. It’s amazing, and it’s really violent. There’s a scene at the end which is kind of like the pulp movie equivalent of the ending of Throne of Blood. It’s insane. You’ve got to watch it!
Last CD you bought or downloaded?
Bought? Not for a long time. I’m more of a film guy than a music guy. But the last CD I bought was the newest Coldplay one. Before then it was the remix of the latest Nine Inch Nails album.
Favorite summer movie of last year?
Probably Super 8.
Age of first kiss?
Twelve, I think. My first girlfriend, it lasted about two days.