Interview: The Raid 2 Director Gareth Evans and Star Iko Uwais
The high-energy, ultra-violent Indonesian-language crime film starred Iko Uwais as a Rama, a rookie cop and member of a task force invading a crime lord’s fortified high-rise apartment in Jakarta.
Evans had discovered Uwais at an Indonesian pencak silat martial arts studio a few years earlier while making a martial arts documentary, and, impressed by both Uwais’ fighting skill and natural charisma, cast the young man in Evans’ first film, Merantau.
Now the pair has teamed up for the sequel The Raid 2: Berandal (“Thug”) which follows Rama as he goes undercover to root out police corruption; first to prison for several years, then into the employ of an even larger crime family. For every bit that The Raid is tightly focused in time and place (all taking place in a single building), The Raid 2 is bigger, more epic and sprawling, and of course, more viciously action-packed.
I and another writer sat down with both Evans and Uwais a few weeks ago in Chicago to talk about The Raid 2, filming fight scenes shot by shot over weeks, and how to make a car chase not boring.
The Raid 2 opens this Friday in select theaters everywhere.
Gareth Evans: Great! After this we head to Jakarta next week for the Indonesian tour. That should be fun – I get to answer the golden question from all the Indonesian press: “Why the fuck is there snow on the ground?” But it’s heartening that the Indonesian film scene has accepted me. People have been good there.
What action heroes did you guys grow up with?
Evans: We were both ‘80s kids, so mostly it was Jackie Chan films that would come over, but in terms of a local Indonesian hero it was old Barry Prima films. It’s not really pure silat fighting; it’s more a mix of karate and taekwondo.
You developed The Raid 2 out of an older script, Berandal, that you’d actually written before making The Raid. How much of that original script remains in the sequel?
Evans: About 20-30% of that original idea was re-written– I added the police investigation element of it and tied up the loose ends of the first Raid film.
I wanted some patience before we get to the crazy, frenetic action stuff. I knew there’d be plenty of that down the line, but at first I wanted to tell the audience, “This is not Raid 1.” I wanted to take my time and set things up, and once we’re ready, we’ll go “hit hit hit” all the way to the end. So that first shot was deliberately paced to slow everyone down.
We play a lot of film festivals, and now that the element of surprise we had on the first film is gone, we have this element of expectation of what it’s going to be versus what it is. So that opening is way to circumvent pre-conceived ideas.
Was it difficult to go back and work the undercover-cop angle into the old Berandal script?
Evans: I found it really limited my process. I would have keep switching my brain off about how new scenes would affect scenes from the original story. I’d put a line of dialogue in or have a new thought or idea, but then I’d have to check the rest of the script to make sure that didn’t fuck up everything else or create a plot hole.
It was really frustrating because as a writer I get deep into the treatment first, before I write a single page of dialogue. I know the structure, have my index cards, and lock it in. So to take something that I already had a script for and start messing around with it, it drove me nuts. Trying to figure out what all these little bits and pieces were.
But the complexity meant I got to showcase more of Iko’s acting skills than just his fighting ability. He’s playing Rama playing Yuda, a cop playing a tough guy.
Iko, was that more challenging for you as an actor?
Iko Uwais: For me, it’s more challenging in both the action and the dramatic scenes, especially the drama scenes. The drama has not only the dialogue, but I have to show emotions that I’ve never experienced before, like having kids.
In this, your third film, what has gotten easier for you as an actor and performer?
Uwais: Nothing is getting easier. It’s more challenging. But the challenges are good because I learn a lot of lessons from them. I gain more confidence.
How do you go about choreographing and staging your action scenes? And how did you seem to move the camera from one car to another in the chase scene?
Evans: When it comes to designing a fight scene, we have a set a rules we impose on ourselves that we can’t deviate from. Most of them have to do with maintaining a sense of reality, of grounded fight sequences.
We have almost no acrobatics. It looks great, and I enjoy it in other films, but in my films it stops the fight dead. You loose some of the immediacy when you put those flashy, flying moves in.
We never loop a shot, showing it more than once. It’s only that one moment and in real time.
We only use slow-mo for dramatic purposes to highlight something as opposed to showcasing a cool move.
And when a fight starts, they keep fighting until they stop. There’s never much posturing—it’s just “attack, attack, attack.” If they’re still on their feet, they’re attacking. That’s our basic rule book.
One thing I often find that gets overlooked is that the endurance of a big fight takes it from complex, clean choreography and descends it into raw, savage slashes as the fighters are losing energy. That kitchen fight was shot over ten days, and every shot is only going to be on screen for a few seconds. So our actors have to encapsulate little chunks of performance in those shots so that as they fight the characters get more tired, more raw, so in the end you have this full performance of the scene two seconds at a time. We never do a long master shot, so every shot is like a jigsaw piece.
So the guys have to maintain their performance and an understanding of where they are in that scene, as it moves toward exhaustion, desperation, and savagery – even on day eight when they’ve had a good night’s rest. They have to remember where they are in the fight, how tired their characters are supposed to be on screen. In a fight scene, people notice the spectacle of it, the punches and kicks. But that physical performance through expressions and body language gets overlooked.
So instead we had my director of photography Matt Flannery holding a hand-held camera in one car. We moved the cars in close, maintained speed, and then he literally handed the camera through the window into the other car where my second DOP Dimas Imam was disguised as the car seat.
Dimas took the camera from Matt, held it, got the shots within that second car, then as the angle changed, he could move over to the side and finish the shot. Then we brought a flatbed up alongside the second car with a third guy hanging out from it, and he took the camera from Dimas and finished the shot from outside the second car.
When we got it, everyone on crew breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank fuck for that.”
I often fall asleep during car chases in films, but this was your first one and it really works. What’s your philosophy of shooting a car chase?
Evans: For us, a large part of it is figuring out how to compete with bigger blockbusters. They can throw cars through buildings, but I can’t do that. I deal with a much smaller budget, so I treat it like it’s choreography, like blocking a fight. And when a car crashes, I focus on the person inside, what happens to him?
So we could do something that still felt new in a sequence that’s been done thousands and thousands of time. We also play around with spatial things, dropping back for big expansive shots and then jumping in close inside the car for close, claustrophobic feeling.
How do feel about Hollywood remaking the original Raid?
Evans: When it comes to the remake, I’m not as involved, and I don’t really have a problem with it. I used to get upset when Hollywood remade Asian cinema, but these days they put more into it. As for The Raid, the original still exists, so the worst case scenario is that somebody watches the remake and then realizes the original exists, I have a new audience member.
Doing a Raid remake is different from say the Oldboy remake. Oldboy is so reliant on the plot and characters, the twist and that ending—you can’t really deviate from it. But with The Raid remake, you can use that open concept, those first 10 minutes, and use it to get into a new situation for any action scene at all in that building. It doesn’t have to follow what we did. It can be just a creative on its own. Or maybe expand on ideas that I didn’t have the money to do.
But for them to do that, my involvement has to take a back seat, and they have to have creative space to do what they want, and they should cast some real martial artists.
Evans: I turned down Hollywood offers after The Raid because I didn’t feel I was ready, and I wanted to do Raid 2 first and learn more about myself as a filmmaker and pick up better skill sets. Now I feel more confident as a filmmaker and feel I can bring some of these things we do in Indonesia to the US or UK.
But while all my current projects are obviously R-rated, I’d love to do a fucking kids movie some time, just so my daughter can watch something I worked on. When I was doing the “Safe Haven” segment for the horror film V/H/S 2 and editing at 4 am, I went off to get a cup of tea and when I came back, my daughter was standing in front of my laptop and there’s a frozen image of a guy covered in blood. She’s like, “Daddy, why is the man red?” “Oh, because he didn’t put his sunscreen on – always put sunscreen on!” I’d love to do a kids film or do a musical, like an old Gene Kelly type musical, with all the dance movement.