By Drew Taylor | Indiewire March 25, 2014 at 10:6AM
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.
What do you think when you watch modern action movies? Like what did you think of the last "Die Hard" movie?
That's not a thorny question at all. Fuck. I get to easily bow out of this one a little bit because I haven't seen the new "Die Hard" movie yet. I tend to gravitate towards sitcoms more and documentaries. When I was editing this film I was laughing my ass off with "South Park" and "Family Guy" and watching things like "The In-Betweeners" or crying myself to sleep watching "Dear Zachary," which is the most intense documentary I've ever seen in my life. If we're talking about action cinema right now and it's uncool for me to be in a position to isolate one movie and pick on it. The thing is that making an action movie is so fucking hard. It's ridiculously difficult and there are so many logistical things you have to go through. The downside to some of these movies is that so much has been lost in the translation. I don't want to criticize these action films too much because there's a choreographer who has worked his ass off to do something really cool and interesting. There's a guy with the pyrotechnics that has put so much care into thought and consideration into making sure everything goes off without a hitch and safely. These are guys risking their life with this stuff. So when they're let down by shitty camerawork and an editor that really needs to drink less coffee, it's annoying and frustrating.
I know action choreographers in the U.S. and they're upset when they see their shit chopped up like that. I get really involved with my choreography team and my stunt guys so I know what the process is for what they're doing, so when I am setting up shots I know how to show the complexity of it and I can show it in a way where the camera becomes the eyes of the audience. It's not about telegraphing stuff, but it's about spatial awareness and geographic knowledge so when you're in the thick of it you know what's going on. That's what's missing from a lot of new movies these days and it's such a shame. I don't think we've done anything innovative but we've gone back a step.
You've been attached to a project for Universal called "Breaking the Bank" but you've also been talking a lot about "The Raid 3" recently. What is your next step? And are you worried about losing something in the translation when you come to America?
The immediate next step is that I'm producing a movie for Timo Tjahjanto to direct called "The Night Comes for Us." It's a neo-noir hitman thriller. So I'm going to be doing the action direction for that one and we're looking to bring it in – we start shooting in the next couple of months and should be done by the middle of next year. So that's the first thing we're doing. And early next year I'll go into pre-production on something. It'll either be "Breaking the Bank" with Universal. We're working on the script right now with Matthew Reed, who's an intensely talented writer. And I'm also writing a script for myself to direct, with Media Rights Capitol in LA. The idea for that one is that it's going to be an America-set gangster action pic. We're still waiting on figuring out which one is going first – whether it's "Blister," the one with MRC, or "Breaking the Bank" with Universal. So it should be fun.
And in terms of the action thing, I'm looking at bringing all of those films at a certain budget where I can still have a creative say in things. It's not going to be a film by committee. And that's always been very important to me. Also, I've been very, very lucky that the guys at MRC and Universal are totally in tune with what I want to do. They're not coming at it saying, "We love your stuff, but do it like this." They're saying, "We love your stuff, do that here." It's been a lovely process. Hopefully by the time I'm finished with the film, I am still singing their praises as well. It's an opportunity for me to get my name out there and work at a bigger budget level but at the same time maintain who I am and what I want to be as a filmmaker.
One of my favorite things from last year was the "Safe Haven" section of "V/H/S/2." Do you have any interest in doing a full-length horror movie?
Yeah. I'd love to do a horror film at some point. I do have a concept for something I'd love to do. It's just a matter of finding the right time to do that. And yeah, "Safe Haven" was a fun little shoot and it was interesting for me because I'm not a horror guy. So I had to come to it thinking, well, can I come up with one moment that will freak Timo out? If I can, then I've earned my stripes. So I managed to do that on one scene and one scene alone. It was a good collaboration. It was a way for us to both experiment, without worrying about the fallout of it didn't work out.
Have you given any input on "The Raid" remake at Sony?
When it comes to the remake, I'm purely on board as an executive producer. At this point, my input is quite minimal. For me, they've already made the best decision they could by bringing Patrick Hughes on board, because he's going to bring so much to the film himself. When I made the first film I had complete creative control over it to do whatever I wanted to do. If they can give him that same respect and opportunity, then it could really be something special. A lot of people said (including myself), "A remake – fucking hell, why can't they do something original?" But with this one, I get it. I do see it. For me, it's like this. It's not like "Oldboy" or something where it all depends on a clearly laid out, structural storyline and plot, where, if you deviate from it, it would dilute the original to a degree. You can do a version of "The Raid" where the initial five to ten minutes is laid out the same and then the action beats after that don't have to be the same – they can be anything at all! That's a huge canvas on which they can do something different with the remake. I'm really excited to see what they come up with. I hope it kicks ass. And they might be able to do stuff that I wanted to do but couldn't afford to do with my budget. There are so many opportunities with that.