SXSW 2012 Exclusive Interview: Gareth Huw Evans Talks Inspiration, the Ass-Kicking Art of Pencak Silat , Plans for the Sequel and More for The Raid: Redemption

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SxSW 2012 Exclusive Interview: Gareth Huw Evans Talks Inspiration, the Ass-Kicking Art of Pencak Silat, Plans for the Sequel and More for The Raid: RedemptionHands down, one of the best and bloodiest flicks of this year (or any year, really) is writer/director Gareth Huw Evans’ The Raid: Redemption, which will hit theaters in New York and Los Angeles on March 23rd.

In the film we are introduced to Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie member of an elite special forces team who’s on a covert mission to take down a murderous crime lord who lives at the top of a rundown fifteen-story apartment block and uses his tenants to do his bidding once he realizes that the police are coming for him.

Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to catch up with Evans on the eve of The Raid: Redemption’s SXSW premiere to hear more from the up-and-coming filmmaker about his inspirations behind his jaw-smashing, bone-crunching crime thriller, the delicate and badass practice of Pencak Silat and what he’s got planned for the sequel to The Raid: Redemption.

Dread Central: I would love to hear more about your career before The Raid and what prompted you to leave Wales and head over to Indonesia to make movies.

Gareth Huw Evans: I was based in Wales for most of my life, up until I was 26. When I was 27, I hadn’t really done enough to push myself forward in terms of the UK film industry and it was my own fault because I kept myself so localized. I did small productions but I didn’t really do anything to push myself to get any sort of recognition. My wife is Indonesian/Japanese and has family back home in Indonesia, and neither of us were settled with where we were at that time. So she put a few calls in to find some work out there- just to try something different.

The first thing we got was a documentary gig which I directed and she was my producer on it and it was about Silat, about the martial arts practice. That was my introduction into this fighting style really. I had grown up all my life watching Bruce Lee movies, Jackie Chan movies, Jet Li movies- so I always loved those kinds of films. But I had never seen anything like Silat before and as soon as I discovered it, I became obsessed with it.

What’s cool is that I got to learn it on a philosophical level first through the documentary; I saw how Silat informed the everyday lives of these men and saw the discipline that it instilled in them. It was never about the physicality of it back then. So by doing that documentary, I came away from it learning about the traditions and cultures of Silat and that’s also how I met Iko.

DC: I’d love to hear more about Iko and what made him so perfect to star in both of your films now- he’s got such a great onscreen presence; is that something you noticed while making the documentary?

Gareth Huw Evans: Definitely! He was a student for one of the masters we were filming. He wasn’t even a focal point of the documentary we were making. But when we saw him practicing, it was like this weird thing where he would almost have a transformation of character whenever he was doing Silat and I knew just from watching him, Iko had an incredible presence and I knew I had to keep in contact with him because I knew I wanted to put him in movies. He totally didn’t believe me at first but I’m sure he’s glad we did keep in touch now (laughs).

But we made a movie in 2009 called Merantau that I made in Indonesia and once we finished that one up, we wanted to make something else that would be a lot bigger of a budget. We spent a year and a half working on getting the financing together but it just turned out to be impossible to raise the money in time. So, after a year and a half of trying and not succeeding, we all just felt like we were kind of idle- we were just sitting around and both Iko and I were really wanting to do a second film.

DC: So The Raid wasn’t really supposed to be your follow-up film?

Gareth Huw Evans: Nope, it was absolutely this kind of back-up project because it was something I knew we could bring this in at a certain budget level. That was the genesis of The Raid and once I realized that we were going to do another low-budget movie, I set the story inside this one building and started to look back on all those movie I grew up loving that were similar to this idea- like Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13- and even more recent movies like [REC] 1 and 2 and figure out how did they structure those films; how did they make their one environment work to their advantage.

DC: I absolutely felt that Assault on Precinct 13 vibe while watching this.

Gareth Huw Evans: That’s great to hear, thanks! One of the things I learned from watching Assault on Precinct 13, almost more than anything, was how to achieve that feeling of claustrophobia, of being constantly in danger and under threat without having to show a hundred people. Like if you look at Assault, my favorite scene is when the lights go out and then suddenly, the snipers outside start to shoot the place up and you don’t see anyone. It’s just shadows and darkness so what really sells that scene was the sound design- the glass smashing, the papers kicking up off of the tables- all of those elements make you terrified as a viewer without having to see anyone really.

DC: So how did you manage to pull of such an ambitious action flick like this on such a limited budget?

Gareth Huw Evans: It was tough. I didn’t have the budget for my movie to have hundreds of actors. I mean, we had hired a lot of fighters to do all the fight sequences in The Raid but other than that, I didn’t have the money to have them any other day so once they were done with the fight scene, they were done with shooting altogether. So when it came time to figure out moments like guys bursting into room after room inside this building, we always kept our focus on whichever one guy was in that scene. You can sense there are all kinds of people around them but you only see one guy. We could kind of cheat it that way; we used sound design to our advantage too and made the things happening in the building sound far worse than they actually were. We’d go and record sounds at a studio and get tons of shouting and boards banging and other sounds of chaos and that’s how we could sell it effectively to viewers.

We also picked up a lot of do-it-yourself techniques while filming this and I learned a lot about how to make this huge action story on a very small budget. We learned really cool camera tricks that we could do inexpensively that made our movie feel a lot bigger than it was and I think that really saved us in terms of making sure we could tell this story, offer up the kind of action sequences I wanted to and never go over budget either.

The action sequences were incredibly important to me; I wanted to make sure we got everything right and as grounded in reality as we could get them. Even though we knew what we were making was predominantly a martial arts film, you don’t get any martial arts until about 30 minutes into the movie. We stick to gunplay until they lose their guns because if they have the option of using their machine gun, their knife, their glock- why on earth would they choose to fight people instead of just killing them off with a bullet? There had to be a natural progression in The Raid of the action and violence that just felt logical.

DC: I want to talk a bit about the philosophy of Mad Dog (one of the more prominent bad guys played by Yayan Ruhian) because he was a guy who was probably more deadly when he didn’t have a gun.

Gareth Huw Evans: Oh Mad Dog- what a great character. What I love about him is that he is so unassuming until sometime in the second act. He’s small in stature which may be why a lot of people wouldn’t expect him to be the most lethal of the bad guys but throughout the movie, we just keep dropping little hints that he’s an incredibly nasty fella even if he doesn’t intimidate you with his size. There’s a sadistic side to him that doesn’t want to shoot anyone- he wants to kill these guys with his bare hands and feel the life squeezing out of their bodies as its happening. That to me is far more creepy and sadistic than a guy who just runs around and shoots people. Essentially- he’s ‘the guy’; forget about the machete gang, forget about the tenants running around with guns- this is the guy you have to get through if you want to make it out of this building alive and it won’t be easy.

DC: Even though you’ve crafted one of most amazing action flicks of recent years, what I also appreciated is that you still had a subtle story simmering below which I think you balanced out perfectly. Was it hard to get some of those more character-driven moments in there while not dragging the action down at all?

Gareth Huw Evans: It was definitely a bit more tricky balancing the story and the action on this one than it was on my last movie. The series of events is in a very short span of time because the story happens from dawn until 5 AM so that’s not a whole lot of time, really. Not a lot really happens in your ‘normal’ life during that time so getting all of this into that time frame was challenging.

So for The Raid, I needed the character arcs and the plot development to not overwhelm the film. It was all about the little hooks to get you to feel something for these men as they go into this building without bogging things down with a lot of exposition. I wanted you to get to know a few of them enough so that if they live or die, as the viewer you actually care about these guys. You want them to make it.

DC: I know plans for a franchise for The Raid has already been announced- what can you tell us about the sequel?

Gareth Huw Evans: Well, the sequel is definitely going to be a continuation of this story. In fact, the project we couldn’t get the money for before has now become the story for this sequel. The only problem I had with that story originally was that I didn’t really love the main character we had in there. So now we’ve made that character Rama and adapted it into the sequel. Once we made that change, it really opened up that script and story and I got to play around with it more to fit within the context of Rama’s world after this movie.

The approach is that we’ll still continue to explore Rama’s life because now he’ll have a child and it’s sort of exploring more about the characters we only got to hint at during The Raid. Both Rama’s brother and father will play more heavily into this second story than they did in the first movie even and we are going to take this story away from that building too. Everything that made that building and the boss at the top of it in The Raid terrifying, well now we’re going to meet the people that put him there and let him run that building the way he did.

But it will be a more sweeping approach for me as a filmmaker; we’re going to shoot it differently and approach production differently but the characters will remain the same so the sequel will have more of a classical approach than this movie did. We’re also hoping to take the action in the sequel to a level that’s ten times the level you see in The Raid, if you can imagine that.

SxSW 2012 Exclusive Interview: Gareth Huw Evans Talks Inspiration, the Ass-Kicking Art of Pencak Silat , Plans for the Sequel and More for The Raid: Redemption

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