Filmmaker Gareth Evans stunned audiences a few years back with his second feature film, The Raid (known in the U.S. as The Raid: Redemption), in which a rookie cop named Rama (Iko Uwais) must battle an army of criminals as he makes his way to the top of a tenement and the crime lord who resides there. The film’s extensive use of the Indonesian martial art known as pencak silat gave the film’s intensely violent action sequences an almost ballet-like feel that set them apart from anything happening in Hollywood productions and pegged Evans as a director to watch.
Now Evans is back with The Raid 2 (a.k.a. The Raid 2: Berandal) in which Rama works undercover to gain access to a criminal organization and bring down not just its bosses but their friends on the political scene. The film is again brutal and relentless, but this time Evans opens up the story and the settings, taking the action into the streets of Jakarta and into a variety of striking new locations while giving the story a more operatic sweep.
Den Of Geek sat down with Evans recently in Los Angeles to discuss shooting The Raid 2, how the film’s jaw-dropping car chase was based on a real incident, and where he draws the line on violence.
Den Of Geek: I was interested to read that you had this script before making The Raid so let’s talk about that.
Gareth Evans: Back in 2008 I made a film called Merantau. When that finished I wrote a script called Berandal. Berandal was a standalone film and it was about a young guy who goes into prison, befriends the son of a mob boss, comes out, joins him as an enforcer and then has to survive a gang war. I tried for two years to get the budget for it but couldn’t get it off the ground. And then the next thing I know I’m like, okay, well we’ve got to do something. It’s been two years. So we went off and started working on The Raid 1 instead as a backup project, as a plan B. And then while I was designing it I was thinking, what the f**k was wrong with that Berandal script? What was bugging me about it? And the biggest thing that was annoying me was the fact that the lead character’s motivation was sketchy. Like, why would he stay with them if they’re in a gang war? He could just leave. And so I started thinking, how do I keep him there. What’s my force to keep him there? And I said well, if he was an undercover cop he has to stay, that’s his job. It’s his duty. He has to stay then and not let on that there’s anything wrong with him. So then I was working on The Raid 1 and I was like okay, well let’s make this a sequel. And at the end of Raid 1 we started to sow the seeds of the other characters that would play a part in The Raid 2.
I went back to that script, retrofitted it, rewrote it maybe 30, 40 percent. Added in police procedural stuff, more investigative elements to it. Because in that pre-existing one I already had Hammer Girl. I already had Baseball Bat Man. I already had Bejo. I had the son and the father and the jealousy. Just didn’t have the police procedural stuff. So that was like a major part of the rewrite.
So with Rama, you had a ready-made character and motivation.
Yeah, exactly, yeah. Once I made him an undercover cop and once I kind of raised the stakes about the family, it’s like that building was small fry but f**k, they’re going to try and find you now. And then it was like, yeah, that was a great way to be able to push that motivation and be like he’s got to look after his family. He’s got to do this for his family. And even though it’s taken three years of his life away that he’ll never get back with his kid, it’s paramount to him that they’re safe.
Were you chomping at the bit to get out into the world so to speak and use a lot of different locations and create a much bigger picture?
Yeah. I loved doing the first one but there’s something incredibly limiting to the idea of shooting inside the studio all the time. Like 80 percent of it was studio based. So while we’re shooting it’s all gray walls, gray floors, just dark, dingy and not much color to it — desaturated. Trying to create an interesting visual landscape was difficult in that film. It had more of a hard-edged gritty, documentary style feel to it in a way. When we did this one I was like,”Okay, guys, we’re going to take this out in the streets. We’re going to change it up a lot. I want to make it more vibrant. I want to make it more colorful, and I also want to mess around with the way we shoot stuff.”
So when it’s the fight sequences we stick to our regular routine of being able to be handheld and dynamic and vibrant, come up and down and left and right, making every shot the best that complements the choreography. Then when it comes to the drama sequences I wanted to go more composed, more classical in terms of the camera position. I got really specific when it came to the Japanese guys. I wanted to shoot them like a Japanese movie, not like an Indonesian movie, not like my movie but a Japanese action movie. So we had this like little sort of small movement of the camera, but when they sit down and it’s all composed, all controlled.
What were the practical challenges of actually going on location in Jakarta and shooting this kind of film with car chases and everything?
Everything was not bad in terms of the logistics of the real location. Car chases are a f**king nightmare though. The car chase was brutal no matter where you shot it. Same with the taxi attack. That stuff was so hard. It was so difficult because you book a road to use for the shoot and then you turn up and then the police will turn up three hours later. So before you already start you’ve lost 20 percent of your shooting time, 25 percent sometimes. And then when we’re shooting if they hear me call “cut” on the speaker system they would open the road and let traffic come up. We haven’t even reset the scene yet. So then we’re coming back down the road and all these cars are swerving around us. Some of them are swerving at us. And everyone was calling us p***k, a****le, piece of s**t because we blocked their traffic for a while. There’s not really the infrastructure in Indonesia yet for doing a car chase. They’ve still got a lot to learn really in terms of being able to really get control of those roads. Because right now they send us like two policemen to control a 400 meter road.
I read that the taxi sequence was based on a true event. What’s the story?
What happened was this. You remember the London riots about three years ago in the summertime? They burned down a lot of stores and stuff like that and there was just general chaos for a while. A friend of mine works for the police force. A friend of his is also a policeman. And he was on patrol one night and he was in the police car and he was driving up this one street and he came to a stop at some traffic lights. And as his car came to a stop he saw this group of kids coming on either side with scaffolding bars and they smashed his windows and then hit him in the face. And he fell down to the floor. He dropped down inside the car. And as he looked up they were all just reaching in with knives trying to stab him. So he ended up having to put his hand on the gas pedal just to get himself away from them. So that’s the real life version. In mine I have like bodies hanging on. They keep chasing after him.
The violence in the movie is just as intense as the first one, if not more so. Do you try things and say no, that’s too much? Is there anything you wouldn’t do or show?
For me it’s like this. Everything we do is a visceral reaction. Let’s say we stab him in the shoulder with the hammer. Well all we see is like (makes motion of hammer hitting) clunk and (grimaces) “aghh” and then cut. We don’t stay on there for a while and see all the detail and twist it around or whatever. So there’s a difference between that and then what I like. I try to respect what my dad says about film violence. My dad was a massive, massive fan of cinema, he still is to this day. But he used to be a computer teacher. And every weekend basically he would come home from his last day of the week, we’d go to the video store, we’d pick a film, come back and watch it. I would always pick like Commando or something or Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.
If I was too young to watch that stuff he’d sit there with me and if I saw something that wasn’t appropriate he would give me a moral lesson about it afterwards. He would tell me why that was wrong, why what happened in that scene was particularly sadistic. Otherwise he’d kick me out of the room and then he’d press pause and then as I’m out of the room he’d start to press play and watch it for himself. And then call me back in when the violence had gone. And so my dad always had that thing where you can be visceral, you can shock people, you can make people have a reaction to something but never tip it over into the edge of torture or over the edge into like pain and suffering as the focal point. So with Hammer Girl we hit, boom, we show you something really quick, then we cut away and move on. And that’s my limitation. That’s my cut-off point when it comes to violence.
What’s next? I understand you have a possible Raid 3 idea, but I also understand that Hollywood has started to ring your bell a little bit.
Raid 3, I have an idea for it. I know what I want to do with it. So whereas The Raid 2 starts two hours after The Raid 1 finishes. Raid 3 starts three hours before The Raid 2 finishes. So we go back in time to a certain event where someone puts a series of events in motion, makes a decision on something that will come back to haunt him. And it’s all about the consequences of that and branching off into that story. That’s The Raid 3. And in terms of doing something in Hollywood. I have two projects in development. One with Universal, one with MRC. I am currently pursuing those and we’re going to see what happens, which one drops first. Whichever one is the one that can kind of go ahead early next year. That’ll be the one I work on.
Are they action oriented?
Yeah, they are. There’s action beats in them. One of them is definitely action. The other one has got a lot of action beats in it as well. But yeah, whether it’s martial arts or not I don’t know. Most likely not because I want to take a break from it and I come back to martial arts when it comes to The Raid 3 and then another film I want to do in Indonesia with Iko again.
The Raid 2 is in theaters now.