When the first "Raid" played South by Southwest a few years ago, it was prefaced by an introduction from director Gareth Evans. He walked out, in front of the sold out, 1100-seat audience crammed into the Paramount theater, and said five words: "I hope you like violence." Then he left the stage. Thankfully, the audience did like violence and the movie remains one of the most riotously enthusiastic screenings in South by Southwest history.
Of course, this year, history repeated itself when, after some technical hiccups the night before, the Paramount (a stately old movie palace and the place to see a movie during the festival) was host to a rare midnight screening of "The Raid 2: Berandal," Evans' highly anticipated follow-up to "The Raid." Whereas the first film was stuck in a single building, "The Raid 2" is a film of ridiculous sprawl. "The Raid 2" is nearly three hours long and encompasses a labyrinthine crime world saga that's equally inspired by Martin Scorsese movies like "The Departed," South Korean thrillers and horror comic books. Coming out of the movie you feel exhausted... and alive.
We got a chance to chat with Evans about when he started coming up with the concept for the sequel, his thoughts on modern day action cinema, and what he's got coming up next (including his thoughts on Sony's upcoming remake of "The Raid"). Sony Pictures Classics opens "The Raid: Berandal" in select theaters this Friday.
The last time we talked was right after "The Raid" played South by Southwest and you were already talking about the sequel. At what point did you start thinking about "The Raid 2?"
To be honest, I had that initial concept for the film way before. "Berandal" always existed and it actually predates the first "Raid." It was something that I always wanted to make but we couldn't get the budget for it. So when I was devising "The Raid," I thought, well, this might work as a kind of sequel. So when it came to the success of the first film, it thankfully put us in a position financially, with our investors (which is always a good thing) to go ahead of it. At the time when "The Raid" came out, I got offered a few things here and there, and some stuff in the U.S., but it was always my goal to be back in Indonesia and make "Berandal" first. That was kind of the end all, be all for me.
Did the story ever go through different permutations? In the first few minutes two major characters from the first film die. Was this always the version of the story you wanted to tell?
To be honest that first sequence, when I started turning "Berandal" into a sequel script, it was the first thing I worked on. It wasn't something that had to do with scheduling or anything but rather with the idea that those characters, especially those brothers, I've got nothing left for them to talk about. If they meet up again it's going to be the same conversation: "Don't be a criminal." "Well, I am one." What else are they going to talk about? What's next? So I thought, maybe I can confound the audience's expectations. People are going to think that they're at a crossroads at the end of the first film, so there's this weight of what's going to happen next. It gave me the perfect opportunity, since I knew this was going to be a much more involved storyline, and start the film with a scene that will be slightly controversial. But at the same time I'm going to use it to show that the film has a different pacing, since we hold on this big wide shot for about a minute. That was a purposeful thing. That shot was to tell the audience, this is not "The Raid" again. This is not a rehash of that concept. This is not all going to be in the building again. We're going to take our time with this, and if you go along with the ride it's going to pay off because we're going to hit you really hard by the end of the movie.
What were some of the challenges in expanding the scope and scale so much?
It was liberating. I didn't see it as a challenge. It was liberating to be able to say, "I can do an action sequence anywhere. Anywhere at all." It wasn't a case of, with the first one, is this in a corridor or a room? Because that's all that I had with the first one: a corridor, a room, or a stairwell. So suddenly I'm in this position of – alright, a warehouse! A motorway with cars! A subway with cars! A street! And I could do all of this stuff and it was like being given complete creative freedom. It was what I wanted to do in the first one but forced a certain amount of restriction upon. But in terms of the difficulty in terms of writing the script, it was changing a preexisting script into a sequel for the first film. Because I had already written it, every time I made a mention of Rama's police investigation or undercover operation, I'd have to go and check 85 pages of the script to make sure I didn't have anything that was contradictory. It was one of those things where it wasn't particularly difficult but time consuming and counter-productive to the way I like to write.
Everything about this movie is bigger – you seem to be embracing comic book elements with some of the more colorful characters. Can you talk about where that stuff came from?
We've always tried to keep our films grounded in a certain sense of reality, especially with the action sequences. But one thing I wanted to do, when I introduced those characters, was that I knew they were going to be larger than life. With Hammer Girl I wanted her to be this iconic character. She's influenced by "Chungking Express" and the crazy pop art characters in that. And the design of her character and the idea of her using hammers was expanded from what we did in "Merantau" with the silek harimau. In that discipline you use the base of your palm to hit and punch and the core formation to drag. So I wanted to do a weapons-based version of that and I thought about the kind of weapon to use with that and claw hammers seemed to be the perfect solution to that. And two hammers was even fucking better than one. I also wanted a strong female fighter just to break up the monotony that the first one was such a fucking sausage fest, it was unreal. Plus that actress is known as Indonesia's sweetheart and I talked to her and said, "You have to do a five-day audition." She came to it with such commitment and dedication that at the end of that five-day audition, she had locked it down.