Welsh director Gareth Evans' second 'Raid' movie is an all-action expansion of the first Indonesia-filmed hit
Director Gareth Evans has plundered his hit Indonesian film's armoury of violence for the sequel, writes Helen Barlow
At over two metres tall, Gareth Huw Evans looms. A gentle giant, some people may say. But the good-humoured Welshman has become known for movie mayhem since he released The Raid: Redemption three years ago.
Like Godzilla director Gareth Edwards, who is also Welsh, Evans could have gone to Hollywood. Instead, he prefers to hone his skills in Jakarta, where he lives with his wife, Indonesian-Japanese film collaborator Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, and their young daughter.
Blessed with a cinephile father, the 33-year-old director-writer-editor was introduced to a range of films as a child. Along with English-language movies, he also saw the works of Akira Kurosawa and "tonnes and tonnes of martial arts movies over and over as a child - my dad loved Jackie Chan".
Evans first met silat expert Iko Uwais in 2007 when he moved to Indonesia, at his wife's suggestion, to direct Land of Moving Shadows: The Mystic Arts of Indonesia, Pencak Silat, a documentary on the martial arts of Indonesia. Then working as a delivery man, Uwais became an adviser on the film and went on to star in and choreograph the Welshman's subsequent three features: Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and this year's The Raid 2.
Far bigger and bolder than The Raid, The Raid 2 is not so much a sequel as a revised version of the film Evans wanted to make when he was forced to set the first Raid amid the confines of a 15-storey Jakarta tower block.
"After trying for two years, we discovered nobody would pay so much money to make a film in Indonesia," the filmmaker says. "So The Raid was a backup, something we could do cheap and quick", for US$1.1 million. "Thankfully audiences seemed to like it, so we went straight into reworking the script and incorporating the undercover cop elements."
With The Raid 2, Evans has attempted what seems to be a mission impossible: to achieve international box office success with a martial arts epic in the Indonesian language. It did not fare well in the US, although the hyper-expectant fan-base was out in force at the film's world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Evans' wild imaginings of the myriad ways in which to injure and maim proved so affecting that one viewer fainted midway and the screening was temporarily halted.
But he may gain ground in markets such as France and Japan, where it'll be released in July and August respectively.
The Raid 2's story picks up where the first film ends, but within the first five minutes almost all the surviving characters are killed off - just so Evans can start over again. Take two follows charismatic detective Rama (Uwais) as he goes undercover. He assumes the identity of a villager named Yuda to infiltrate a police corruption ring, and ultimately serves two years in jail to befriend fellow prisoner Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of a major crime boss.
As can be expected, Rama gets into his share of fights while behind bars. Then, after getting out, he lets loose on the streets of Jakarta. Starting with a massive altercation in the prison toilet, Evans uses a variety of locations - including a restaurant kitchen and on a train - "to avoid fight fatigue".
The filmmaker initially points to the prison riot scene, featuring scores of men battling on muddy ground, as being the most exhausting to shoot. "We were in the mud for eight days straight," he says. "I lost a pair of shoes and I cut my foot a little bit as well. Mud would splash on the camera lens in an otherwise perfect take." He stops to reconsider. "But the car chase was a bitch."
Exploring car stunts for the first time, his aim was to create "a seamless sense of motion" without the budget of a Fast & Furious movie. With the help of Hong Kong stunt choreographer Bruce Law Lai-yin's team, Evans had his cinematographers changing cameras to capture that sense of speed. Through it all Rama doesn't stay still: he jumps off the back of an SUV onto a sedan while the two cars are in motion, and beats up the bad guys inside the car.
"My focus in those scenes was more on what happens to the bodies inside the car when their car gets hit," the director says. "This provides a unique selling point and makes it different from things that we've seen."
For The Raid 2, he wanted "to call on Iko's own experiences as a new father, to call on the psychology and build up anticipation. In my opinion, the best scene in the movie is when Rama calls his wife at home."
Far more eye-catching is the deaf Hammer Girl (stunning model-actress Julie Estelle) who wields claw hammers and harks back to Hollywood star Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, an Evans favourite. The director was pleasantly surprised by Estelle's ability to get the job done.
"I had about six shots in one take when we did the Hammer Girl fight in the subway train. Whooo! That was one scene in four days, six shots in one take," Evans excitedly recalls. In contrast, the filmmaker jokes, "Iko's given me maybe three shots in one take in three f****** films!"
Evans himself may have something to do with the high number of rejected shots. "I'm a disgusting control freak," he admits with a chuckle. "When we design the fight scenes we shoot a video storyboard in pre-production and I'm so involved in that, in choosing the shots and edits of that sequence to get the fight scene right, that if it doesn't match the tone of the fight scene going into the drama then maybe I feel like something's quite wrong."
Clearly setting his sights on Hollywood, though still unwilling to lose creative control, Evans has numerous ideas on the boil. For now he's producing Killers director Timo Tjahjanto's The Night Comes for Us, starring Estelle and Yayan Ruhian.
He plans to make two films outside Indonesia before filming the third Raid instalment of the trilogy.
The Raid 2 opens on Thursday