Interview: Gareth Evans Talks THE RAID 2

We had an excellent transcontinental conversation with The Raid 2 (orig. title:The Raid 2: Berandal) director Gareth Evans, starting at the New York red carpet premiere of his explosive, bombastic, butt-kicking sequel, and ending moments before a Q&A in the film's hometown of Jakarta.

Be warned: Spoilers abound!

The Lady Miz Diva:  What were some of the challenges of making THE RAID 2 bigger and better than the first film?

Gareth Evans: 
Some of the challenges were down to the idea that there's a certain level of expectation now.  And also we don't have the surprise element that we did on the first one.  Nobody knew what we were doing, nobody knew who we were.  Then all of a sudden - boom! - act two; now everyone knows what to expect.  Iko {Uwais} was worried, he was concerned like, "Okay, what are we going to do to make this different?' I was like, "We've just gotta not think about it like that. We're gonna ignore that and get in the same creative head space as we were in the first movie."  Which is basically we were making that film in a bubble; nobody knew what we were doing.  And so I said let's do the same thing again; rely entirely on our good instincts, whatever we feel is right for the film.  As long as we come away from it and we're happy, that's great.  If the audience are gonna follow us on this, in expanded universe, then great, that's perfect.  I said to Iko that I expected it to be a little bit more divisive this time around than it was on the first one.

Why did you think that?

GE:  I get comments all the time on Twitter.  I get people all the time telling me, "Don't fuck it by putting too much drama in." "Don't fuck up by changing the format." "Make it another building film." I'm like, 'I'm not doing any of that, so you're going to be disappointed straight away.'  So, it's that idea of wanting to make it something that hopefully fans of the original will embrace as well, but at the same time, it's gotta be something that we want to do and it had to be something that we want to embrace, as well.  So in terms of that, it meant expanding our universe, spreading out more.

I told your actors about watching this at the press screening and seeing critics get up and take a walk during the more intense moments.  Realising this film will play to a larger audience, were you conscious about how far you could go?  What do you say to people who might complain about the violence or the gore?

GE:  Um, well, for them, that's right.  It's down to each individual person.  Some people are going to find it too violent.  That's fine; it's not for them.  Some films I don't like to watch because they're too sentimental.  That's something I can't stomach, when it's really sentimental.  So, that's my taste. 

Everyone's going to have a different approach; some people are going to have a taste for it and embrace it and that's fine.  If somebody's seen the first one, they know what they're getting.  For me, it's not that much more violent than the first one, really.  It's just a different feel now.  It kind of hits a little harder now. 

My goal was never to make it disgustingly violent.  I don't want to make it look repellent.  It's more about getting that shocked reaction; making the audience go *gasp* and then they realise that they've all done the same thing and then they laugh.  It's to create that levity within the action scene, cos it can be enjoyable, it can be entertaining.  And so that was the goal.

I have to ask you about Iko and Julie, who I spoke with earlier today.

GE:  Yeah, nightmare, aren't they? {Laughs}

Is there a point where you ask Iko to do something - a specific move or stunt - and he says, "I can't do it?"

GE:  No.  Usually what will happen is it's the reverse; so if I tell Iko, "Okay, that's enough, now. We've gotta move on," and he doesn't feel that we got the take, he'll be, "Oh, please, please, let's do one more take. One more take," just to make sure that we get it.  And I'll be, "Okay, I'll give you one more take and no more than that." And then if he fucks up again, I'll be like, "Okay, we're done now," and he'll say, "Oh, come on, one more take." And I'll be "Okay, one more take and we'll move on," and it ends up being 5, 6, 7, 8 more takes until we get it done.  

I mean, we both have the same thing; we both want it to be perfect.  We both design it in a way where we can do it.  And the thing is, when it comes to the action, when it comes to the fighting, our whole goal is that we design it a way where it's grounded in reality.  Where people watching it are not thinking it's incredulous.  It's not acrobatics; it's not somersaults and kicks where it stops being a fight, but it's like literally it's all real movements, and so we know that he can do everything. 

Regarding Julie as Hammer Girl, I think she's going straight into the pantheon of excellent female action movie icons like Sigourney Weaver in ALIENS or the KILL BILL ladies.  What do you think it is about women doing action that makes people take more notice?

GE:  Well, for me, it's like this, I wanted to present this character as the most cold-blooded bitch ever.  I wanted her to be like this badass role and this thing of like, anything these boys can do, she can do - and do a hell of a lot better.  That was interesting for me; there was this opportunity to kind of like have this moment where she gets to showcase this skill set.  I hate that idea of the presumption of, 'Well, it's a girl fighting, so it's going to be soft on the choreo,' cos a lot of people feel that, a lot of people say that on message boards.  Just like people in martial arts sometimes when they talk about women being softer and not as strong, and 'Aw, the stunt guy's doing all the work.'  And for me, I was like, "Naw, fuck that. That's bullshit."  Cos you look at Yukari Oshima and you look at JeeJa Yanin; they can fight and they can fight really hard, as well. 

And so for me it was a case of finding someone who could do that for us in Indonesia, and so when Julie came along and we started auditioning her for the role, I knew that she would go full on.  If anything, she goes more full on than the guys, cos we did these hits to the people with the hammers and stuff; - usually when Iko does a hit to someone in the face, he'll swing really hard up to a point and then just before the impact, there's like a snap {back}.  Julie follows through, like full on!  So you've got all these male stunt guys who are trying to act like it didn't hurt them cos they want to be macho and shit and I'm like, "Let's do another take," and they're like *grimacing* "Okay." But it's great.  She's a fucking star in the making, for sure.

This story was written before the first film.  Did the creation of REDEMPTION change any aspect of the story you had for BERANDAL?

GE:  Yeah, if anything, it helped me with Berandal, cos with Berandal, the original concept was an ordinary guy who was overzealous in trying to protect someone and he ends up killing someone, so he gets sent to prison.  And then when he's in prison, he befriends the son of a mob boss and then comes out and becomes an enforcer and there's a gang war that kicks off.  So for me, I couldn't find the motivation of the lead character to stay within that organisation when the shit hits the fan.  So when it came to that, I needed to justify why he would stay; what would his reasons be?  And so by doing The Raid 1 then, it gave me those ideas of what if we make this a sequel?  What if we make this a continuation of the main character and he's forced to go undercover as a policeman in that world.  Then it makes sense; he's not going to be able to leave when stuff goes wrong.  He has to stay there.  

In a way, doing the first one helped inform that.  But in a weird way as much as the first one helped inform the script of the sequel, we actually started doing choreography designs for Berandal before we started doing choreography for The Raid.  That was a big difference between what we did on Berandal and The Raid 1, where there's a huge shift in terms of the choreography and the aggression of it.  Because we'd started on the Berandal choreography thinking we were going to get that made officially; that ended up informing the whole style of choreography that we put in The Raid 1, then.  They both kind of go hand in hand so well together because they were both designed within the same frame of mind.

It's interesting because it seems like there's a broadening of styles in the choreography for BERANDAL. Like the kitchen fight seems to have elements of Wing Chun to it.

GE:  For the kitchen fight, that was something we designed before The Raid 1, as well.  We spent a hell of a long time designing that one.  We spent a month and a half just to get the fight scene done, and then we spent another month and a half just to figure out the camera angles for that scene.  We just had so much time on our hands, cos we couldn't get the budget for that film, and it was two years before we switched over to make The Raid 1.  And so all of a sudden, this is a much bigger film and the action had to be bigger.  I think that was always the plan anyway; we wanted to do this being, huge, massive movie.

It's like this weird thing, it's like reverse-engineering the sequel out of it, where there's so much which is pre-existing and it just seemed to fit as this idea of the growth of the story and the growth of the character and the growth of our scope.  It just happened to be the case that we didn't have the money to do it and in a way, to be perfectly honest, I'm kinda glad we didn't because I don't think we were really ready to do that film until after Raid 1.  So I'm kind of glad we didn't get it straight off.

You mentioned that fans on Twitter were vehemently against there being drama in this sequel.  I think it's part of what makes this film superior to the previous one, which I loved.  In your opinion, is good drama important to making a good action film?

GE:  For me, it's important, it's like one of those things where even in the first movie it was kind of broad brush strokes maybe instead of building the character.  It was that idea of trying to propel the plot forward all the time and not always be fight, fight, fight, but to find ways of building more tension-building moments.  I guess I'd been looking for a way to do a martial arts film where people don't just skip through to the fight.  I've got so many martial arts movies from around the world; different directors, different actors, different fights, and I guarantee you probably eighty or eighty-five percent - maybe more than that - I'll put them on and I'll just jump to the fights straight away.  I don't want to watch the film anymore. 

Special films, I will, like Police Story or the Project A films; I'll watch them from beginning to end, and Crouching Tiger {Flying Dragon} or House of Flying Daggers.  I'll watch them almost more for the drama, really.  For Crouching Tiger, it's so beautiful.  I've always wanted to establish that, where you won't just jump to the fights when you see this film.

When I spoke with Iko, he mentioned choreographing his punches to match a certain rhythm.  The editing in this film also feels very rhythmic.  Do you play music or have music in your head when you're editing?

GE:  Yeah, absolutely, when it comes to the action sequences, it's not so much that we look for a certain piece of music, but we look for a rhythm, a tempo in order to design the fight scenes.  So we all get together to design them and after a while you kind of get a sense of what the rhythm is, and what the time signature of the scene should be.  It came around when I was watching Armour of God, the Jackie Chan film, and I've watched it many, many, many times over.  This one time I was watching it and this was way back when I was doing research for the film, Merantau; I kind of took my head away for a second to go off to do a little bit of writing, and as I was writing, I kept hearing the film playing in the background, not paying attention to the visual.  I realized all the percussive elements came from the punches, it was all the impact sounds and it's the way that Jackie Chan does those things; the design is so specific.

So when we designed our fight scenes, we decided to play around with the idea of using the elements of punches and kicks.  We'd listen to the scene listening to the rhythm of it and figuring out is it five, is it four, is it six?  What's the time of it?  Our composers, Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi and Joe {Joseph Trapanese}, they were basically in the position where they would watch the fight a couple of times and they would pick up the rhythm of where the blocks and kicks are, and I think that when they were writing the music, it was already kind of laid out for them.

When we met last week, I asked you what your favourite martial arts films were and you mentioned POLICE STORY and DRUNKEN MASTER 2 - I missed the third title.

GE:  It tends to change a lot, but I tend to say Fist of Fury a lot.

Not the Donnie Yen TV series, or the Jet Li remake?

GE:  I love Fist of Legend, the Jet Li one.  I think that's an incredible film, but I gotta say I love Fist of Fury because it was one of the first ones I saw as a child and it completely blew me away.

You just talked about how the rhythm of Jackie's films affected your writing.  How else have these films shaped what you do as a filmmaker?  I saw a little bit of Jackie Chan influence in the bamboo construction site scene in MERANTAU.

GE:  I think when it came to Merantau, I wanted to make a film that kind of paid respects to, or acknowledged some of those more typical martial arts films; like with the bamboo construction site because that's usually a location in these types of films.  But when it came to The Raid, it was its own beast; there was like a building, so that was more like Die Hard or Assault on Precinct 13.  And then when it came to The Raid 2, it was whatever made sense in the story, as opposed to a response to a genre.  I knew I wanted the film to have a restaurant.  I knew I wanted to have this beautiful, sprawling banquet hall.  Once I knew I was going to have it a restaurant, then the corridor space where Iko fights Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl; that was completely based off a real corridor that I saw in a Chinese restaurant here in Jakarta.

Was the car chase part of the original script?

GE:
  The car chase was in original script.  The only thing that was new was the police procedural stuff.

What was the most difficult challenge about directing that amazing car chase?

GE:
  To be honest, the hardest part of it was that I had originally seven days scheduled to shoot it, which was going to be tight anyway, and then finding out having never done this schedule before, that when you book to block a road in Indonesia to shoot a film, you don't get your full time there.  You don't get a hundred percent of your time there.  You only get a certain amount of hours to shoot a day.  So we went up to like ten days, twelve days, and that was when we finished the project.

It was literally the most stressful thing in the world, cos you close the road and even though people know you're going to do a stunt - we've got police there, we've got tape up, we've got it all blocked off - but then you've got the one guy on the motorbike who would just make it through somehow.  We would be about to shoot the car stunts, and we would have to stop all of a sudden because we would see this motorbike just speeding up towards us.  

Those stressful moments where we're watching the monitors, but at the same time we've got people there watching all around the cars to make sure that nobody was gonna come towards us or from behind us so we could stop the take, just in case.  But it was hell on earth to control that set.  The fact that we got through it and nobody got hurt is a good thing, but it was so difficult to get it done.  It was unlike anything we've ever done before.

I think fans of your previous films will be delighted at the return of Yayan Ruhian, but it's possible that people might be confused: I didn't understand he wasn't playing the same character in REDEMPTION until I rewatched the long take of him on the floor to see if his hand moved.  He is one connection to THE RAID 1 and 2, but there are other connections throughout your last three films: Iko plays someone called Yuda named in both MERANTAU & BERANDAL.  You made Yayan the name of the villain in MERANTAU.  Donny Alamsyah plays Iko's brother in all three films.  Do you throw in these references to the previous films for the fans' amusement, or are all the stories in this world interconnected in a way?

GE:  Ah, you noticed that about Yuda.  It's nice you spotted that.  There's no real specific reason for it. {Laughs} The thing about Donny playing Iko's brother in all three films is just purely coincidental. Originally in the very first script for The Raid 1, I'd cast Iko, I'd cast Donny in the role, but he wasn't going to be a brother, he was going to be an undercover cop and he was infiltrating that building.  And then I started to think, why would he {Iko/Rama} risk his life and his wife and his child for another undercover cop?  But what if it's his brother?  And I thought, okay, well, he just played his brother in the last film, but it doesn't matter, it's okay.  And later, when I was writing The Raid 2, I thought, well, what should his alter-ego's name be and thought, well, fuck, I should use Yuda - it was the name of his character in Merantau.  And I thought, well, what if somebody asks me why, and to be honest, it's just fuck it, why not?  There is nothing wonderfully, pretentiously self-reverential about it; it's just like, yeah, why not, it doesn't matter.

Some of our more hardcore fans, they noticed that the metal box that we used for the tapes in The Raid 1 and The Raid 2, it's the same metal box that Iko pulls out of the ground in Merantau.  Do you know why that's the case?  Here's what the theory was of some of our fans; their theory was that the little boy in Merantau that gets saved ends up becoming Tama {The villain in The Raid 1}.  The real reason is, when I asked my art department for metal box, that was the only metal box that they fucking had.  I went, "Seriously? That's the only fucking thing you've got? The hell?"  And then one of the guys in the art department wanted to spray paint it black, but I said, "Don't do that. Let's just keep it the same."  They said, "Why not?" And I said, "Because then fans in America will try to figure it out and come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories. Let's just keep it the same, why not?"

And the thing about Prakoso and Yayan coming back to play all these roles in the films - well, this is a spoiler - Yayan, I just think he's really good at dying in my movies.  It's been three times in a row, now.  But to be honest, he such a huge talent, he's got such a huge skill set about him; it's kind of like this, whenever I write the film, I feel compelled to direct it.  When he designs choreography, I guess he must have that feeling of being compelled to perform it.  Some part of that performance must be his.  If I didn't cast him at all, and I had him just as a choreographer, I'd feel like I would be not only wasting his time in that he didn't get to perform in the film, but also denying myself of being able to use one of the most talented fighters that we've got here.  So for me, it's a no-brainer.  It's like, yeah, okay, he does look similar.  No matter how much we try to change his appearance, he still looks similar.  But you know what, his performance is like a 180 on Mad Dog - totally different, this performance.

I really wanted to know more about Prakoso, Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.  Julie enlightened me as to the backstory of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, but I wondered if you've thought about doing shorts or perhaps animated webtoons about their histories?

GE:  Well, I was thinking of doing a comic book, like an origins book.  It would be The Raid 1 and The Raid 2 combined, but within that, there would be chapters on the characters.  I already have the backstory for Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.  I have a backstory even for Bejo and Prakoso, as well.  Prakoso, his back story is, go back twenty years, that guy was this smooth, smart looking fucking guy.  Short hair, shaved beard.

That explains his gorgeous wife.

GE:  But that's how he got her, you know?  He didn't get her like he is now.  The idea is she was like a young girl at the time, a seventeen or eighteen-year-old girl that was working in the club and he was there and he was like on Bangun's level; suave, sophisticated.  And then they get together and he wows her and they fall in love and have this child together and she has no idea about what he actually does.  Then one night they're in the car together driving home with the child in the back seat, and out of nowhere, he comes under attack.  

So he really just goes on reflex, he starts pounding this guy, beating the shit out of this person that tried to kill him.  It's raw and its aggressive, it's rough and it's completely violent and all the while he doesn't even realize that the monster that he's turning into is being witnessed not only by his wife, but by his son in the back seat.  And that's the moment that she realizes just who he is and that she can't be with him.  That was a really kind of important backstory for me to figure that out; it was like, 'Okay, now it makes sense that you've got this remarkably beautiful wife.'

I think that was a mystery to everyone.

GE:  And then, what the fuck?  Are you still using a pager?


This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review.  Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos from the New York City red carpet premiere there.

The Raid 2 is now playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It expands across the U.S. on Friday, April 11. Visit the official site for more information.
Around the Internet:
  • Party_In_Left_Field

    I just saw the film. It's rare to see film making on this level for this genre. Every element of the film down to the color is outstanding. Seems like a great concept to pitch to video game producers as well! What kid wouldn't want to play that game?

  • arturo

    Thats me just back from The Raid 2 in a pact out cinema in Glasgow, and i'm happy to say that it was everything i hoped it would be and more, that kitchen fight HOLY SHIT...

  • Kunderemp

    wooohooo.. my theory got quoted. The theory where Adit in Merantau became Tama in The Raid Redemption and his fullname would be Aditama. :D

    Anyway, this is a good interview.

  • Kunderemp

    And some hard-fans have theory that Andi was a undercover cop. It didn't explained in the sequel but this interview confirm it!

  • arturo

    Good interview, i'm checking the film out this weekend, i'm sure it will be as good as everyone says..

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