It’s hard to describe the amount of energy cult director Gareth Evans manages to generate amongst a room full of genre-loving geeks as he did when premiering The Raid 2 in Sundance. The film even had to be stopped midway as a young guy had an attack of some sort. Evans, while expressing his concern afterwards, noted that the man was fine and joked that he might have been from the MPAA, who were yet to see the film. In the US, the film is going out with an R rating following minimal cuts; the Australian release also received an R rating.
Not so much a sequel as a revised version of the bigger-budget film he wanted to make when he was forced to set 2011’s The Raid amid the confines of a Jakarta 15-storey tower block, The Raid 2 is far bigger and far bolder. In fact, the 31-year-old Welshman is trying to do what currently might seem mission impossible: achieve a broader box office with a martial arts film in the Indonesian language.
Even Jackie Chan, one of Evans’ heroes, had to make compromises when he ventured to Hollywood—and indeed that seems to be the next step for Evans. For the moment, though, he is sticking with his famed revival of the Indonesian silat fighting style by creating an inventive brand of hyper-violent cinema where you truly wonder how these lean, elastic-bodied Indonesian men come out alive. This time there’s also a female character, Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), who would make Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman proud.
In Sundance I was on my own mission to discover what all the fuss was about. Having interviewed Quentin Tarantino and Jackie Chan many times over the years, I was well aware that both men are funny and hyper-active as well as being big talkers—attributes they instil in their films. Evans, who likewise makes his films funny, takes the violence further into genre territory, though does it with great aplomb.
Not unlike the fantasy-loving Guillermo del Toro, a younger splatter-adoring Peter Jackson or British Sightseers director Ben Wheatley, Evans is a chubby, cherub-faced figure with a gift of the gab and a wild Welsh sense of humour. Unlike del Toro and Jackson, he does not resemble a hobbit and is toweringly tall. The other thing he shares with the aforementioned filmmakers is a strong marriage to a film collaborator wife, Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, who is Indonesian-Japanese.
When in 2007 she suggested they go to Indonesia, Evans, who had watched “tonnes and tonnes of martial arts movies over and over as a child—my dad loved Jackie Chan”—got a job directing the documentary Land of Moving Shadows: The Mystic Arts of Indonesia, Pencak Silat. While making the movie his addiction to silat kicked in.
Iko Uwais, the star of his subsequent three features, Merantau, The Raid and The Raid 2 (Berandal, the Indonesian title, means thug), was working as a delivery man at a phone company when they first met. Uwais may subject himself to a comical level of abuse in Evans’ films, though he largely has himself to blame, as he is also the fight scene choreographer.
In The Raid 2, Evans wanted to broaden the drama to create more of a storyline and to not just rely on the action. “I wanted to challenge myself more, to call on Iko’s own life 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.”
The Raid 2 pretty much picks up where The Raid ended, though within the first five minutes almost all the surviving characters are killed off—so Evans can start all over again. The story follows the charismatic Detective Rama (Uwais) over a far longer period as he goes undercover, ultimately serving a two-year prison sentence to get to the top of the police corruption ring by making contact with Uco (Arifin Putra), the crime boss’s son. Then he lets loose on the streets of Jakarta.
In The Raid 2, Evans says he wanted to expand the action too, by making it different and varied and using numerous locations “to avoid fight fatigue”. As usual, the scenes are mind-boggling. While critics have praised the film’s car chase as the best and certainly the most intricate ever filmed, the prison riot proved the most exhausting.
“We were in the mud for eight days straight,” Evans recalls. “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.” Evans hesitates for a moment and reconsiders. “But the car chase was a bitch.”
For the first time, the director, writer and editor wanted to explore using car stunts. He aimed to create “a seamless sense of motion” without the budget of a Fast & Furious movie. Employing the help of Bruce Law’s car stunt team from Hong Kong, Evans had his cinematographers changing cameras and even passing a camera through a hole in the car floor as it sped along. Nor does Rama stay still, as he jumps off the back of an SUV onto a sedan while the two cars are in motion and he beats up the bad guys inside the car, of course.
Evans: “My focus on those scenes was more on what happens to the bodies inside the car when their car gets hit, which gives a unique selling point to me and made it different from things what we’ve seen."
Initially planned at seven hours, the car chase took twice as long to film than expected. (The film took 132 days to shoot, 26 days longer than initially projected. The entirety of Dallas Buyers Club was shot in 25 days.)
“Every day we turned up on set at 4am to prepare to start shooting at 6.30am. But it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a permit in Indonesia, they can shut you down. The police can open up the streets at 9am so pretty much every single day we lost 50 percent of our shooting time.”
Then there was the face-off in the kitchen, shot with vivid shades of John Woo. “That was 10 days of me sitting by the monitor telling them to punch each other harder and stuff like that,” Evans recalls matter-of-factly. “We took about a month and a half just designing it and the guys came up with all these different movements and practiced them for months before we shot seven minutes of unrelenting violence.”
Did anyone get hurt on the film? “We had a few ropey moments but nothing was really that bad. One guy had a concussion that we were worried about at first, but when we took him to hospital, he was okay. It was the first day of action scenes and Iko changed the choreography at the last minute. The guy was supposed to get pulled down on the table but I think he came down too low and instead of hitting the nice cushioned top part of the table, he cracked his ribs against the hard wood on the side. I felt bad for the guy but he came back and actually participated in the prison riot.”
Evans calls himself “a disgusting control freak”, who clearly suffers for his art too. It’s perhaps understandable that he wants to do everything on his films, as he knows exactly what he wants. After viewing the inventive ways his Indonesian fighters maim and kill, it’s certainly hard to describe.
“When we design the fight scenes we shoot a video storyboard in pre-production and I’m so involved in choosing those shots and the edits of that sequence to get the fight scene right. If it doesn’t match the tone of the fight scene going into the drama then maybe I feel like something’s quite wrong. Me and Matt [cinematographer Matt Flannery] go through all the shot lists very specifically and I can almost see the edit while we’re figuring out the shot lists.”
Currently, Evans is producing Killers director Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us with rising Indonesian action star Estelle in Jakarta. (Killers also premiered in Sundance.) Then Evans plans to make two films outside of Indonesia—“movies with a mid-range budget level so I can maintain control while I’m still figuring myself out as a filmmaker”—before filming the third Raid instalment in Indonesia to close off his trilogy.
Watch Gareth Evans and crew discuss the making of The Raid 2