On the eve of the UK release of The Raid, we catch 10 minutes with the director of the action film of the year (decade?), Gareth Evans. Be warned, if you haven’t seen the film yet (say what?) this interview may contain spoilers…
Gareth Evans is riding the crest of a wave. It’s the eve of the release of his latest film, The Raid, across the country, and it’s the biggest opening of a foreign language film ever! In the weeks running up to it’s release, interest in this Welsh-born director who ended up making martial art movies in Indonesia has been immense, as has anticipation for the film. He also happens to be a really nice bloke. (‘Hey, we’ve tweeted, haven’t we?!’)
We’re in Momentum Picture’s head offices in London. Unsurprisingly I don’t have long with the director, but before I start easternKicks.com com has a little present to congratulate Gareth on what already looks like a fantastic opening weekend, a vinyl pressing of the soundtrack to Bruce Lee’s Game Of Death…
Holy shit! Dude this is f***ing awesome! Thank you so much, that’s brilliant!
I’m guessing that you’ve always had a fascination for kung fu films.
One or two, yeah [laughs]!
Did you ever imagine as a kid that you’d end up making martial art films?
No no no! It’s rather a weird situation that I’ve fallen into. When I was a kid growing up, first and foremost I wanted to actually BE Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. When I was really young, my friends and I would do remakes in our back garden. So we’d always do Fist Of Fury and Police Story and Big Trouble In Little China, all these different films.
But then I realised that I was shitty at martial arts and even worse as an actor. So I decided I’d do writing and directing instead. And before you ask about those remakes, we didn’t even have a video camera! So there’s no evidence and there never will be!
Ah, that’s a shame. They would have made one hell of a DVD extra! So have you been surprised by the fantastic reaction to the film?
Absolutely! This whole experience since Toronto has been like a rollercoaster. We had no inclination that it was gonna get the response it has. We made the film for ourselves. We knew we would have to sell it internationally, but we had no idea it would get picked up and given the kind of treatment it has.
We thought it would be theatrical in Indonesia, DVD elsewhere. But the fact that it’s going out and Momentum Pictures have got behind it and are going so wide with this release? It’s phenomenal! We’re constantly overwhelmed by it, we had no idea it was gonna be like this.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you since the buzz around The Raid began?
It’s a little weird now because in Indonesia we’re known now. We did Merantau and a few people liked it, they came out to support that film in a big way, but this once has changed us all a little bit: Iko [Uwais], myself, Yayan [Ruhian] and Joe [Taslim] who plays Jaka. It’s reached that point now that if we got out and meet up at the mall or something to eat, people do double takes and stare. You don’t feel so comfortable walking round anymore now [laughs]!
It’s alright, it’s all a blessing and it’s part and parcel of what we do, it’s just it’s all changed a bit now because we’ve become popular. But that’s good, it’s better to be smiled at than hated… Maybe after the sequel that’ll change [laughs]!
So what’s the best thing about making films in Indonesia? I think you did make some I the UK, didn’t you?
I made one film in the UK. It’s hard to compare, because here’s the thing: that first film, Footsteps, was so low budget, it was entirely financed by myself and the D.O.P., Matt [Flannery]. The budget for that was about £8,000, so it’s really impossible to compare it as an industry, because I haven’t had a chance to work in the UK industry at a professional level.
But both of them have their unique things that I love about them. When we did Footsteps, it was the first time I got to go out on the street and shoot film, and feel it was a job, feel like it was going to be a potential career. That was when it set in my head. We were filming at 8am in the train station area, rush hour traffic, going into work, into their offices, and we were out there shooting this weird scene that was getting us looked at from across the street. That feeling of knowing this is what we were doing, even though we were tired, exhausted and stressed, I realised I didn’t want to do anything else. That was what cemented it for me.
In terms of Indonesia then, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve found a genre that I’ve taken too, that I’ve become obsessed with, and fortunate enough to be allowed to explore and work with it. The number of crew on Footsteps was four or five, on The Raid it’s about 150, so it’s a whole different playing field – but with the same kind of passion, same sort of drive.
How did you come with the ideas for the fight scenes, particularly those where there are more ‘elements’ involved, shall we say, than simply hand-to-hand combat and guns?
It’s tricky sometimes, because you’re basing it on an imagined location. Because we started way before preproduction even, so we haven’t even got a location yet. All we know is it’s in a corridor, somewhat we do is just say, well, let’s say it’s two metres wide. So then we just put down two crash mats wide, and then go all the way down the length of the corridor.
Then we’ll say there’s a door here, and a light fixture there, let’s put some tiles on the wall. As you piece together in you imagination what the location is gonna be like we were figuring out things like, well let’s do this thing where we smash a guys head against the light. But then lets keep smashing his head all the way down until you reach the floor. These punchlines, it’s almost like their unintentional. You can’t really set out and say let’s figure out what that punchline is gonna be, it’s just something that grows organically from the fight choreography. But then it just feels more special, and you think, lets keep that for later. You don’t know it until you step back a little bit.
So we had all these moments like the thigh rip with the knife. We throw that in quite early in that scene. We knew that was quite a decent punchline moment, but it wasn’t ‘big’ like the head smashing moment was. So we thought, lets do that to jolt the audience a little bit, to make them feel a bit afraid of what’s going to come next. So then you add this moment where the audience are like, oh shit, I’m on edge now, but the fights just started. So now we’ve made the audience squirm in their seat, a little uncomfortable, not knowing how far we’re gonna take it, how aggressive we’re gonna go, but that’s exciting then.
For me, the most excited I get when I watch films is when I have no idea where the director’s gonna go. Like if I watch a Takashi Miike film, I’m fearful, I’m thinking where’s he gonna f***ing take this now? I’ve seen Takashi Miike films that go beyond the line I’m comfortable with as a viewer, but it’s exciting to be in the hands of that kind of director.
And sometimes it’s not always violence you get with Takashi Miike, it might be a random bit of Claymation!
So what’s the one great movie fight scene you wish had been yours?
Oh, there’s tons of them! Jackie Chan versus the monks in Armour Of God is one of my all time favourites. I love that scene so much! Project A, Part II, the whole fight inside a restaurant with Chan Wai-Man, and he ends up kicking him over the balcony and the stunt guy goes right through the china vase.
I got loads, man! The entire mall sequence from Police Story! Wheels On Meals, Jackie versus Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez – that’s incredible! The whole fight thing in Wheels is just legendary!
So how is the preparation going for the sequel Berandal? I know you’ll be taking a well deserved holiday first after the promotional trail you’ve been under for The Raid for, what, something like about nine months now?
[Laughs] It’s been a while now! I’m finishing up the script, I should be done with it next week, so that will be the final 5% of writing, done. So script wise we’re done. Choreography, we’re almost done, because we did before The Raid, we already did a lot of the design of the choreography back then. So it’s a little bit of fine tuning, adding some things that we learnt from The Raid we want to put into the next one.
And as we start casting people, we work out what their capabilities are, what can we do, how can we push them a little bit further. Once you find out who’ll play each role, you’ll see that this person’s not so good at kicks, so lets refocus the choreography elsewhere. So September will be the starting point for that, and January is when we start shooting.
I’m excited, I can’t wait to start!
Will you make films without Iko?
Outside of Indonesia, yes, I will, and he’ll do films without me as well. That’s just the way it goes, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, they’ve all worked with multiple directors. But I know that I’ll always make films in Indonesia with Iko. All of my films in Indonesia will be martial arts-based with Iko starring.
Do you think you might make an action film in Wales?
I’d love to at some point, yeah! Maybe we could do that. We used to have a tower block of flats in my local village, but they blew it up – so we’d have to find a new location for that one! [Laughs] But I’d love to do something back in the UK at some point, I’d just need to find the right project first.
Well, thank you so much for your time!
And thank you again for the record, this is so f***ing awesome! I’ve been meaning to by a turntable for some time now, so now I’ve got no excuse!
The Raid is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 24 September by Momentum Pictures.
Originally published 22 May 2012.
Thanks to Gareth Evans for his time, Lisa, Almar and Thomas at Fetch PR, and Momentum Pictures.