Welsh director, Gareth Evans, 33, is becoming world renowned for bringing the Indonesian martial art style of silat to the big screen. His first movie outing “Merantau” (2009) was an eye opening action-fest culminating in some rather hard-hitting, well-choreographed, blood-drenched fight scenes.
The Raid: Redemption (2011) saw leading man Iko Uwais playing a tough undercover cop (Rama) having to infiltrate a foreboding, mob-infested tower block. It took the world by storm as well as to dizzying new heights of all-out action, suspense, blistering brutality and violence.
Due to its success, Gareth has managed to raise the bar and jump ahead a few steps further with “The Raid 2” which is being released this Friday.
If there was ever a film that could be described as extremely intense, then this is it; a harrowing tale of crime and corruption as our hero gets involved with the Yakuza, absorbing and sweeping you along with him in a graphic experience of anarchy and mayhem. From the no holds barred, stunningly intricate fights to the chaotic symphony of the stunts, get ready for hands down, the most shocking, riveting and exciting martial arts action romp you’re likely to see for a long time!
Meanwhile we spoke with Gareth himself raiding his mind about his background, influences, passion for the genre and the fight talents that make his films possible.
Hi Gareth, great to be speaking with you.
Hi Raj, thank you. I’m aware of your website, it’s all good and what a great name!
Thank you we appreciate it! So, let’s begin if we may by asking how your passion for the martial arts genre got started?
It started when I was a kid! Every weekend my dad would rent a film, sometimes it would be American cinema, sometimes French cinema, but often it would be a martial arts film from Hong Kong. Later as I got older it would be the weekly quest to find any video with a ninja on the cover! I was always looking for the next Jackie Chan film and back in the eighties that information was so scarce and living in Wales, even more so! I would discover movies like “Armour of God”, or “Police Story” and would read about them but it was hard to find and get hold of them.
When was this and what were the first martial arts movies you saw?
Well, I was born in 1980 and probably first watched “Enter The Dragon” when I was five years old, I had snuck over to a friend’s house.
To me, seeing Bruce Lee was like watching a real life superhero, the stuff he did was mind-blowing! I remember there was a Bruce Lee collection of videos being released and “The Big Boss” was coming out first. I was trying to convince my mum to let me see it but she saw it was an 18 rated film in the catalogue, so I grabbed the catalogue and went off into another room with some pens and tried to change it to a PG!
The first Jackie Chan film I ever saw was Magnificent Bodyguards and (due to the nature of some of those scenes) for a time, my mum was dead set against me watching Jackie Chan films. Later my dad had Jackie’s “Armour of God” and after we started watching it, she realised it was totally different a lot more friendly and not so bad afterall. From there it just exploded and I went on to watch “Police Story”, “Project A”, “Project A: Part II” anything we could find really!
So Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were the first ones to really influence you?
Yes, I also found out about Jet Li’s films and fell in love with those as well as Donnie Yen’s “In The Line of Duty” series, I was so into that! In the mid nineties, it was all about pop stars and wires, then I kind of tuned out of it, with the exception of Jet Li’s “Fist of Legend” which was phenomenal. However, it was “Ong-Bak” that really kicked it all back out into the mainstream again, making martial arts movies cool once more! It paved the way for a lot more after that, for example, Donnie Yen’s “Sha Po Lang” (“Kill Zone”) and “Flash Point” being more direct, more forceful.
Had you practiced much in the way of martial arts yourself?
I had learned a little bit for one year before we shot the movie Merantau. That was something I did to get more of an idea and understanding of silat before I got involved with the choreography team, I wanted it to at least sound like I knew what I was talking about. I studied Indonesian silat (harimau) which is the one we used in Merantau.
What made you initially decide to go to Indonesia and when was that?
I made a documentary out there about martial arts and silat and that was the first time I had been introduced to it. Suddenly I was learning all about this style, meeting Iko (Iko Uwais plays Rama in The Raid films) and the guys. It was really a breath of fresh air and no one else was doing this, so I thought, maybe I could do something with this. That was seven years ago in 2007 then I moved out there at the end of the same year.
Can you tell us a little about what the Indonesian movie industry like when you first went over there, what was going on?
They were mostly making horror films and TV series. No one was doing martial art films which were given rough treatment with people ridiculing the way it was represented on TV. There were always these ridiculous over the top fantastical and mystical elements so we came in to kind of reclaim and do something positive with it instead.
Do you speak much Indonesian? Did you help Iko with English, because he wasn’t really conversant in English before, was he?
Yes, I can speak it and handle a conversation; Iko taught me how to swear and all that, lol! He’s getting much better now! He doesn’t let on, but he’s really a lot better these days.
Sounds like fun!
Now, moving onto “The Raid 2”, the word “Berandal” appears after the title “The Raid 2” on movie posters in some countries, but it’s been dropped in the UK and USA, what’s that about?
“Berandal” is a specifically Indonesian term which translates as “thug” or “delinquent” it remains intact on the Indonesian release. We wanted to keep it because it’s relevant to Iko’s alter-ego when he goes undercover.
Can you briefly describe how it was actually making the movie?
Overall, it was successful. It involved seven months of shooting and a lot of effort; we were doing things that we’d never done in Indonesia before. It was hard work but such a huge relief when we had finished and got it all done. We’re really proud of the achievement, I have to say it’s been great!
In our view, “The Raid 2” is like “Raid: Redemption” on steroids, making it one serious bone-shattering, adrenalin-fuelled, intense rollercoaster rush, how did you go about setting-up the martial arts scenes, were most already storyboarded way in advance?
Yes! We worked out all of Iko’s fight sequences as we were designing them. I’d get so involved in the choreography in order to understand the theory behind all the movements and the logic in the decisions such as when to punch, block and throw. Thereby I could know the right camera angles and how to highlight the beauty of what they were doing. It’s a long process but we figure out storyboards for everything pre-production.
Talking a bit about the leading man, what is Iko Uwais’ martial arts background, was he a silat champion at some point?
Yes, he was a national champion and for a while, a football player. His uncle who was also his master told him to quit football and study more silat, then he focussed more on martial arts and the rest is history, he’s the biggest star in Indonesia now.
Was Iko’s uncle teaching in a gym or giving classes then, how did that work?
It’s not really taught in the gym, it tends to be taught within their homes. It’s a very personal relationship between the student and the master. There is something really close and beautiful about that dynamic which avoids the commercialistic pitfalls that a lot of martial arts tend to have.
Aside from Iko, another astonishing physical talent that we’ve seen in all your films also deserves a special mention here, Yayan Ruhian (who played “Mad Dog” in The Raid: Redemption) can you tell us a little more about him?
Yes, his life has always been surrounded by silat. He also trains silat to the military and security personnel. He’s always been close to my wife’s family and when we saw what he could do on the film sets, being a spectacular fighter, he turned out to play an important part in what we’re doing. We just wanted to use him over and over again, so, even if we killed him in part one, he’d be back… he never dies! Yayan also does a lot of breathing techniques and, as result of that, his body can take an insane amount of punishment, it’s crazy, you can break things (or even a person) on him and he’ll be okay.
Actually, all the main guys we use are top level martial artists and have an incredible amount of stamina. For all those long takes it’s physically taxing, they’ve got amazing energy, sometimes it even makes me wonder how they do it!
Indeed we’re wondering what secrets they must have!
Gareth please could you share one your favourite kung-fu quotes?
My favourite one is: “This time you’re eating paper, the next time it’s going to be glass!” –from Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Fury”.
Finally with The Raid 2 coming out this Friday, what special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now ?
Please go out and support the film and support any martial arts film whenever it gets a cinema release! As a kid growing up in the eighties, I know it was impossible to see these films in the cinemas, especially this genre, but now we have a chance to. So do go out and support it, then we can get more out there and they’re meant to be seen on the big screen.
Well, it’s been a privilege to speak with you Gareth, we wish you and all “The Raid 2” crew huge success with this, you deserve it. Can’t wait to hear how your next movies shape up!
Thank you very much Raj, we’ll talk more soon!
The Raid: Redemption
The Raid: Retaliation (The Raid 2)