Gareth Evans & Iko Uwais interview: The Raid 2, violence and more

Interview Ryan Lambie 8 Apr 2014 - 06:10

Ahead of The Raid 2's UK release, we meet its director and star, Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais, to chat about violence, Statham and more...

NB: The following contains mild spoilers for The Raid 2 and a smattering of spicy, potentially not-safe-for-work language. We've specifically marked spoiler bits you may want to avoid.

With their breakthrough hit The Raid and now the forthcoming sequel, Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor Iko Uwais have perfected their own type of cinema-going experience. Even the most low-key screenings are punctuated by gasps and nervous titters, and the films they make together are both ferociously violent and filled with anticipation and suspense.

The Raid 2 takes the claustrophobic action of the first film and throws it out onto the streets of Jakarta, where an operatic, knotty story of warring gangs and ruthless assassins plays out to Evans' staccato rhythm. The plot's more complicated and the set-pieces broader, but some of the most important core elements remain the same: Iko Uwais is a fearsome warrior yet still somehow vulnerable and likeable, while Evans' feel for pacing, framing and editing (as we'll soon learn, he's a stickler when it comes to cutting his films) is as keen as ever.

Mere days from the release of The Raid 2, we sat down with Evans and Uwais to talk about the making of their film, from planning its fights through to sitting with an audience and hearing their reactions, plus their favourite Jason Statham films...

A logical place to start, I suppose, is with violence. Could you talk about the planning process behind the fight scenes this time? Was it more elaborate to stage this time?

Gareth Evans: It depends on the fight scene. With something like the prison riot, it’s a lot faster because it’s split up into sections. There are multiple fighters, so you can break it up a bit more. It’s easier to come up with those, because you can go, we’ll have a guard fighting a prisoner over here. Then you can have Iko versus some of the guards. Then you can have Uco versus Bemi.

So when you can compartmentalise it into that kind of structure, it’s a lot easier to design, because you’re doing small pockets. When you’re doing one on one fights with Iko and Cecep [Arif Rahman, who plays The Assassin], it’s two people, and every single movement has to flow into another movement. And also to create that sense of the dynamics, it becomes a lot harder, more complex.

For example, the prison riot, we designed that in five days. The final fight took us a month and a half. So it’s way more complicated, and the shooting, where we do a video storyboard, a kind of pre-vis of it, that took us another month to do the final fight. So it’s a long process for some of it, and a lot easier for others.

Both in this film and The Raid, I get the impression that your approach to violence is quite ambivalent. I don’t know if I’m reading this right, but it feels like the violence is electrifying, but also something to dread.

Gareth Evans: Yes. Now, because it’s two films back to back, I get asked a lot about my feelings towards screen violence. In terms of the responsibility of it, I’ve never really felt that there’s a correlation in terms of screen violence and real-life violence. I grew up watching a tonne of movies, and I’ve been in three fights in my entire life. Even then, it was never an aggressive intent - it was child’s play, stupid stuff.

So for me, if a person’s inherently violent, they can take inspiration from anything - it could be a book, it could be an article in a newspaper, it could be a film, it could be a song. Our focus is always to present violence in as real a way as possible, where a kick or a punch or a stab or a gunshot feels real and feels painful.

It’s like the comparison between this film, which is for an 18 audience and above, it’s probably more responsible than a 12A movie, where a guy can unload a gun into someone and there’s no blood, and that’s okay. There’s no consequences from it. There’s no feeling of, “Oh my God, that hurt.” I think that’s a little bit more dangerous, a little bit more irresponsible, because you’re hitting a younger audience for a start - an audience too young to deal with the consequences and understand the reality of violence.

SPOILER BIT YOU MIGHT WANT TO AVOID

Not to get to bogged down in it, but it’s like, the way I approach shooting this stuff, I don’t want to dwell and linger on the gore for too long. When we show something, usually it’s over in a flash. There are only two moments in this entire movie where there’s a lingering shot on something. And those are designed purposefully to challenge you a little bit, too.

So we have the scene with the throat cutting in the restaurant. For me, that’s not about the pain and the suffering of the people. It’s a criticism of the two other guys who are just having a normal business conversation while they’re doing this horrible act, they’re casually doing it. It’s a critique on them - not a chance to dwell on the violence. For that, we chose to pull the camera back and get wider on it. If I was really going for the gore, I’d go in close and concentrate on the neck, but I didn’t want to do that.

The last one’s the shotgun blast, where the shot goes on for a while. It’s not necessarily a challenge, but there’s a question mark over it. What are you looking that in that shot? Of course you see the impact, because it’s dynamic and it’s visual. Then after that, where are you looking then? Are you looking at the guy who did the shooting, to see what his reaction is like? Or are you going to keep looking at the wound? It’s like a question mark: what are you looking at?

END OF SPOILER BIT

This whole remit came from my dad. Watching movies with my father, and the way he approached screen violence with us as children, he would have no problem with something being visceral, no problem with it being tough. But if it was focused on pain and suffering, like torture and things like that, that’s where he drew the line. And so I’ve tried to make my movies with my dad in mind. I try to think, “Would this offend him?” And if he’s okay, then fuck it, I’m fine with it! [Laughs] 

For you Iko, which scene in this one was the most challenging?

Iko Uwais: This time round, what made it more hard was, we made the choreography a lot more complex. It was a lot more intricate. That requires a lot more detail when it comes to the shots, so we can’t get away with hiding everything. The targets, the timing, everything has to be detailed - not just from my point of view, but also from the people I’m facing off against. Their reactions have to be good in those moments, so we can see where the hits are. But then, the drama’s much more complex this time around as well. There’s a lot more character this time.

So how was that, then, for both of you, to make a more grand-scale, dramatic movie? It’s almost operatic, isn’t it?

Gareth Evans: Well, thank you. [Laughs] That was what I wanted. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but I never thought of these as being martial arts films. The first one I saw as a survival horror film, but the action discipline was martial arts. So for this one, it was a crime thriller, but the action discipline was martial arts. It’s one of those things where, in the first movie it was all about tension and suspense and claustrophobia, and making you feel as though you’re trapped and being hunted.

For the sequel, I wanted to expand more, and tell this big story about these big, sprawling crime sagas. It’s about these families, and father and son issues, and it’s about all these different relationships. It’s all about setting up all these chess pieces, so later on, when it starts to kick off completely, then we’re ready to tumble down this rabbit hole of violence and the consequences of them.

Is it important for you to be an editor as well, to maintain that rhythm and momentum?

Gareth Evans: I’m a horrible control freak on shit. This is the worst part of me. Whenever I write a script - because I’ve tried to write a script before, where I thought I’d give it to someone else to direct - and as soon as I start writing it, I get the images in my head of how I want it to look. So then I start thinking, “I know how I want to direct this. I should do this.” Then as I’m directing and getting the shots in, I’m thinking, “I know how I should cut this. I’ll edit this.”

I’ve only ever worked with an editor once. That was luckily because I didn’t know how to use Final Cut Pro. So when it came to editing, I was thinking, “I should get an editor.” And I’m glad it happened then, because now I know how to use Final Cut, I would be the worst person in the world to work with an editor.

There’s an unwritten rule that, when you’re working with an editor, the editor’s the one who controls the keyboard and mouse. You don’t touch it. If I was in a room with an editor, I’d drive him up the wall. I remember it happened with the behind-the-scenes stuff, and I said to the editor, “Would you remind moving that shot over here and tidying that up a little bit?” And if the guy takes too long to do it, I’ll be like, “Let me help” and I’ll start doing it. It’s so disrespectful. I was such a prick to do that. And if that’s what I’m like with just a behind-the-scenes thing, then for my film, a feature film I’ve put all my fuckin’ passion into, I would be the worst piece of shit for another editor to work with, so I don’t want to do that. 

So with the projects you have coming up in America, you’ll definitely have to edit those.

Gareth Evans: I’ll insist on it, so yeah, because it would drive me nuts if I couldn’t. That doesn’t mean, though, with the script, direction and editing, that it’s entirely my vision or something. It’s not. When I edit the films, there are those moments where every shot becomes a baby of yours  - you don’t want to let it go. So then I work with our producers in the US, XYZ, and they would sit with me on the edit, and very patiently make suggestions for things I could cut, and convince me to cut them. That’s important, because then there’s an outside voice coming in and helping to highlight the things that don’t work. Because I could have potentially ended up with a three-hour movie otherwise. It’s helpful to have, and a really useful tool in the filmmaking process.

For you, Iko, how did this film compare with the first, because the first was very interior, very claustrophobic. Physically speaking, was this one more complicated or easier than the original?

Iko Uwais: It was a big difference, because in the first film, it was always a case, when we were designing the fight sequences, that it was corridor, corridor, corridor, sometimes a room, then a corridor again. So it got a bit monotone, in terms of what we could do and how we could use the locations. The difference here is that, because we have all these locations, suddenly we have a lot of different flavours, a lot of different colour schemes.

Also, when it comes to those fight sequences, we could retain some of the claustrophobia, like the one in the back of the car and the restaurant, but then at the same time, there’s more variety now. We’d look at the locations and say, “Well what would the props be? What should the layout be? How can we use that?” And so it was more inspiring, and liberating for the fight scenes.

You’ve already talked about making a Raid 3. Obviously, you can’t say too much, but would it be claustrophobic like the first one again, or will it continue to expand on the scope laid out by The Raid 2?

Gareth Evans: It will continue to expand, but in a different way. If The Raid 2 starts two hours after the first film, [The Raid 3] will start three hours before The Raid 2 finishes. We’ll go back in time a little, and then we’ll branch off. So for me - without giving too much away - I want to try a different landscape. I want to try to shoot something that’s very, very different from the first and the second one. So visually it’ll look completely different, tone-wise it’ll be very different. So there’s a lot going on there, a lot of ideas going around in my head, it’s just a case of putting them down on paper. We’re in the process of developing it for maybe two years down the line. 

Do you think you’ll go back to horror? You did the segment in V/H/S 2.

Gareth Evans: Yeah. I loved shooting V/H/S 2. That segment was so much fun, and I had a blast doing it. Tim [co-director Timo Tjahjanto] was a twisted genius when he came up with the concept for it. When we got hired to do that one, I said, "Okay, I want to do this, Tim, but I don't want to do it by myself." Then he was looking for something to collaborate on, and he said, "Why don't we co-direct?"

I said, "Do you have an idea, because I don't have anything yet." Then he said, "I've got an idea. What if a group of journalists with spy-cams went to the Jonestown massacre, but on the day of the massacre?" And I was like, "Fuck! Okay, let's do that."

So it was that seed of an idea that spiralled off into this crazy eight-day shoot of demons and blood and zombies and mayhem. It was good fun, and I do want to do a horror film at some point, but maybe something a little more understated - not quite the same grand guignol excesses that we had in that film.

There's something about horror, in the same way as action. There are universal themes, a universal appeal. If something's scary, it's scary on a visual level, not a dialogue level. So then, it's an easy cross-over to foreign markets as well.

You have a lot of anticipation and build-up to your fight scenes as well, which is something that sets them apart, and possibly something from the horror genre.

Gareth Evans: For me, it is like in a horror film. I'm a big fan of Takashi Shimizu, the guy who did Ju-On [The Grudge]. What I loved about the first Ju-On was the sense of anticipation, of the building up of horror and terror. It was so strong, you felt it. Not all the punch lines worked, but the build up was always strong. For me, it's the same thing with an action film. You want to build up that tension, that suspense.

The difference in a horror film is, you hit that punch line, and then it [describes a downward motion with hand] and you're done. But in an action film, you can build up that tension in the audience to breaking point, you get them to that adrenaline high, and then you - Bam! - and it just keeps going. It's almost mainlining an adrenaline shot or something, you know? You can stretch it out and elaborate on it and elaborate on it. You can keep piling on top, on top, on top, and it creates this frenzied environment.

That's why I love action cinema - you can have those moments where you elongate time.

Do you enjoy watching your films with audiences?

Gareth Evans: I love it.

There's always a lot of nervous laughing and gasping.

Gareth Evans: What I love about it - and Iko's the same - when we watch a film of ours at a festival, whenever the audience is into it, I'm going home with bruises on my arm. Because Iko keeps elbowing me all the time. There's something about that sensation where the audience responds, and you get that reaction when they connect to an idea.

It's a weird thing, but on The Raid 2, when we watch it, we know we're going to get a reaction from some things now, because we got them on the first film. So there are some moments and stunts and fights where I'm like, "That'll get a reaction, that'll work", and it does. The things that really excite me now are those little dramatic beats or visual touches, and when an audience responds to those, I'm "Fuck, great". Because that connected.

My favourite one right now is when Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl go toe-to-toe with Iko. We were working on set, and I had a last-minute idea. I was saying to Julie [Estelle, who plays Hammer Girl], "Turn your back to Very [Tri Yulisman, who plays Baseball Bat Man]. When he says, 'Go get him', you can't hear him because you have your back to him. So then Baseball Bat grabs you by the arm and pulls you out of your seat like a child would. And you go, 'Oh shit, my hammers', and reach back for them."

It was this little, child-like thing. I wanted to put these hints in there that there was something immature about them, even though they're incredibly violent. There's almost like a lost innocence there. These two guys love each other, and they're super close, brother and sister - but I wanted to get that sense of childhood innocence lost. So we put that in just as a last-minute improvisation.

Now when we watch it with an audience, they laugh about it. They read it, and they get it. They get so much out of the characters just from that little tiny gesture. So when that connects, it's like food for me. It's incredible - the best possible reaction. 

That's just about all I've got time for, but I have to ask you something we ask just about everyone: what's your favourite Jason Statham film?

Iko: [Nodding enthusiastically] The Transporter, the first movie!

Gareth: Oh, The Transporter? That's your favourite?

Iko: Oh yeah, yeah! I like it!

Gareth: I'm gonna go for Crank. But I'm gonna say Crank 2, though. Because I enjoyed Crank 2 way more than the first one. I love the idea of Crank, but Crank 2 was just the fuckin' pinnacle of it. Because it was just so insane, so batshit crazy. Didn't they have a kaiju fight in Crank 2? Like, return of the kaiju monsters?

Here's the thing, see: I love Neveldine and Taylor. I think they're just off the wall crazy. Crank 2, for me, I love watching it. Some people call films guilty pleasures, but it's not a guilty pleasure. It's just fucking great. So I'll go with Crank 2!

Iko Uwais and Gareth Evans, thank you very much.

 The Raid 2 is out on the 11th April in the UK. You can read our review here.

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