Gareth Evans sounds a lot more tired than the last time I talked to him, but there’s a perfectly good explanation for that. He’s been working hard. The last time I saw him or spoke to him in person he was at a TIFF awards brunch a few years ago picking up the Midnight Madness audience choice award following the world premiere of The Raid alongside stars Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim. Even back then Gareth was planning the next film, but even he couldn’t have predicted how well received his previous effort would be around the world, allowing him to be even more ambitious for the sequel.
Almost as soon as The Raid 2: Berendal was completed (and before its wide release in cinemas this weekend following two weeks of limited release in select citires), Evans was off to premiere his film at Sundance this time, where it once again went over like gangbusters. In the interim and since the beginning of the year, Evans has been on a whirlwind promotional tour for the film, and when I spoke to him over the phone it was mere days away from the film’s debut in its home country of Indonesia. Despite the exhaustion of going straight from completing a far grander film than the first Raid into its promotion with no breaks at all, the Welsh born Evans takes it all with the gentle and humbling laugh of someone who might get tired and frustrated but who relishes the chance to do what he loves for a living.
This time instead of a one setting, claustrophobic action film, Evans delivers a much more sweeping mob story with the same main character. In order to make sure justice is done and to avenge the murder of his brother, the hero of the first film, Rama (once again played by leading man and stunt coordinator Uwais), is asked to go undercover to infiltrate the Jakarta mob scene. He’s way in over his head, of course, getting swept up in a three way turf battle with players of different nationalities all vying to take over the underground. Mayhem and madness ensue as they did in the first film, but in a lot more colourful settings than a broken down tenement. There’s even a lengthy car chase that has already dazzled festival audiences around the world and has become a major talking point for the film that nearly overshadows all of the still brutally nuanced hand to hand combat.
Evans talked to us about the greater ambitions of his sequel, the pros and cons of having more time and locations to shoot in, what to expect from the conclusion to The Raid trilogy, and why you won’t find him hanging around any mud pits any time soon.
Dork Shelf: The film has been getting a lot of comparisons to classic mob movies, which I can totally see, but I also get a bit of a comic book vibe from the film in some ways. There are all these really great side stories that impact and enhance the greater storyline.
Gareth Evans: I guess in a way that’s true. I can definitely see those comic book tendencies because that’s kind of what I was raised on through and through. I knew with this one I was going to be pushing the boundaries a bit more. By design, the first one was really about keeping things very real and grounded in reality. On this one I was a bit more playful with it, but mostly in terms of stretching the boundaries of what I could do with it.
Characters like Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat are very much rooted in that comic book mentality, so yeah I guess in way you’re right, and Yayan (Ruhian)’s assassin character certainly has a lot of that, too. When we move the story out of the building and out into the streets it liberated me a lot more and I could pretty much do whatever the hell I wanted to do. The first film was all about blending these survival horror elements with an action film and added martial arts elements. This time I wanted to play around a bit more with American crime movies, undercover cop movies, and these Japanese yakuza elements and to create this same kind of fusion that feels like the movie still takes place in this bigger, but still self contained asylum and to add the martial arts base on top of that.
One of my goals was trying to take those genre clichés and play with those expectations along the way. The cop element to me was almost a MacGuffin. 9 times out of 10 you watch those hero cop movies and it’s almost always exclusively about the hero cop who finds that one piece of evidence that brings that whole criminal empire crashing down around him. I didn’t want to do that story. I didn’t want to tell that. I wanted to present it like it was going to be that way, but then have this side plot that would just develop and grow and it would completely overwhelm and swallow up the undercover cop elements. It becomes more about fathers and sons and those estranged family relationships and how they all run parallel with each other.
DS: On this film as opposed to the first film, you had it come together very quickly after the first one was completed, but in terms of the actual filming you had a great deal more time to shoot this one. You had a bit more of an idea in mind for this one on your way into it, and I know that quite often a lot of filmmakers would say that they wished they had more time than money to work things out. Was having that extra time a good luxury to have when you are making a story this big?
GE: Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, though, I think any filmmaker would tell you that you would always want more time no matter how much you have. You always want more. (laughs) For this one we were always kind of pushing what we could get away with doing, and we don’t really have the kind of infrastructure here to get away with a lot of the scenes we were aiming at.
Shooting that car chase, for example, was a nightmare. We still factored in seven or eight days to shoot it, but then when we got to set and we started filming it, every single day we would lose about 50% of our shooting time because we would have to stop for great lengths and let traffic through. Suddenly, we’re looking at, “Oh crap, we need another four or five days right off the top.” When you start doing that, the schedule you have in mind and all that potential luxury time goes out the window or gets whittled away. So yeah, we did get to shoot for an awful long time on this one, but fuck me I could have done with a couple more weeks to do what we wanted to do. (laughs)
DS: It’s not a close quarters movie anymore and you can plot out as much as you can for these fights and this car chase, but there are now also all of these variables that you can’t control because you’re in more than one space.
GE: Yeah, exactly, and I felt like that was liberating, but sometimes it could feel like a bit of a curse in comparison to the first one. On that film no one could stop us. We had no problem. It was literally a situation where the only things that could stop us or slow us down were injuries or minor problems here and there. It was all indoors and all inside a studio space. It didn’t matter what the weather was like outside. We could shoot anytime.
On this one we were completely at the mercy of the weather and other people and even more scheduling. For a long period of time it was the weather because we shot a lot of stuff outdoors. Sometimes we lucked out and we only had to wait a few hours for the rain to stop and for the roads to dry. It’s a very roundabout thing when you have the ability to shoot anywhere we wanted to and to have all these different flavours and colour schemes and styles, but that’s offset by the fact that we never had that much control over the environment.
DS: On this film it certainly looks like you had a lot more people to work with. I know on the first film you often had to keep going back to the same people doing different stunts in different scenes and showing up more than once. On this one it seem like even for Iko there seems to be a little down time in case something does go wrong or someone needs to heal or take a break. I know that you said that fatigue was really a problem, so what changed between the first film and this one when it came to choreographing all of the action for this one?
GE: You know, it’s actually quite interesting. Because I know you know the backstory of how we had already written a script for a follow up that was going to be a little different and that ended up becoming The Raid 2. There was already a pre-existing script, but there was also pre-existing choreography because we had been trying to get that film made for quite some time. So nine or ten of the fight sequences in this film we had already choreographed three or four years ago and we weren’t able to get into them until now, so there was definitely a lot of practice that was already in place. (laughs)
When it came to the choreography of the fights, yeah, there was a bit more time in the shooting schedule for them. It gave everyone a bit more breathing room, which was nice. So we could shoot scenes that were really heavy and then give everyone a week or two off and then shoot some different scenes.
But with Iko, he was one of the main choreographers on the film, so it didn’t matter if it was his day off from shooting. He would still have to be on set to oversee the other choreography and the other fights that were going on. He didn’t really get a break that much. He was part cast, part crew, and that’s a tough, tough, tough role to fill out.
But there was something really exciting about being able to shoot all these different scenes with all of these different characters in all these different locations. And also, being able to work with Cecep Rahman who plays the assassin in our film. I’ve known him for seven years and I met him when I made my documentary and I have always wanted to work with him. I was waiting for that one moment where our schedules would finally be able to line up because his regular day job is that he’s a full time English teacher. (laughs) So to be able to find that time and to be able to finally put him in the film and up against Iko was a really special moment for all of us. The crew would just stop and watch them rehearse every time they were getting ready to shoot their big scene together. There was just this anticipation for the day when we could finally have them shoot that scene together. It was very much a case of everyone looking at them and saying, “Aw shit, I can’t wait for us to get to that scene already.” It was quite a unique set of circumstances that we found ourselves in.
DS: I know everyone talks about the car chase and how that came together in most of your interviews, but you have plenty of other really elaborate sequences, so what was the SECOND hardest sequence was?
GE: (without hesitation) Prison riot. Prison riot. It was so fucking horrible. (laughs) It was un-fucking-real. We shot for eight days in mud up to our ankles. I lost a pair of shoes in there. We all lost a part of our soul on that shoot, to be honest. That was eight days straight of the most intensely hot weather, disgusting mud, and just being uncomfortable for hours on end. You get covered in mud and you would never wash off because you knew you would just be right back in there again. Once you’re uncomfortable, you just stayed uncomfortable until you wrapped for the day and then you would have to come back the next day to do it all over again. That was really, really tough. It was kind of a horrible situation at times.
The way we shot it was that we had this kind of roaming camera technique where we would drift from one point to the next where it was all one shot for about a minute and a half of the fight, and that section was really difficult. We would often get really close to finishing it and then all of a sudden all this mud would splash across the lens and just ruin the take. It always had to be totally reset. So many things went wrong on that shoot. Yeah.
That and the car chase are those moments when you finally wrap are moments when you wrap on the scene and you just throw your hands up at the end of it and say “Fuck that. I’m never doing that again.” (laughs) I would much sooner do another car chase, though.
DS: That scene definitely looks uncomfortable because outside of the fact that it’s really physical I know that rolling around in the mud and leaving it on your body can be just as cold as sitting around covered in fake blood if you’re doing a horror movie outdoors at night.
GE: Well, here’s the thing: when we did the colour grading on the film, we made it look really cold. But the harsh reality of it was that we had baking hot direct sunlight with no shade right above us the whole time. The mud will bake onto you just as you’re crossing the courtyard, so that only intensifies it. We were almost like pottery cooking in an oven. It was that hot. The mud was disgusting no matter what we were doing, but then it would all dry and crack away. It was so bad and uncomfortable.
It was also super difficult to manoeuvre around in. It was so slippery. It was like soup after a while. There’s a final moment in that scene where Iko is taking out a bunch of guys in that one final shot, and you can literally see him struggling to stay on his feet and maintain the choreography. It was that hard.
DS: I know there’s a third film in the works. How exactly is the third film going to come together in terms of the action sequences? Is there anything you didn’t use on this one or the first film that you are still saving for the next one?
GE: No. For me this is a brand new thing. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to and I’m really excited to work on. In the same way that the second film is completely different from the first, the third one is going to be completely different from both of them. We’re basically going to branch off and while this film starts off two hours after the events of the first film, the third one is going to start about three hours before the end of the second film. It’s going to be an interesting experience. It’s going to surround a decision made by someone in one of the gangs – you know who I’m talking about because you’ve seen the film (laughs) – and it’s kind of rash and there’s going to be fallout from that decision, and that’s basically going to be the gist of what kickstarts part three. It might even end up being a completely different style of film, as well. I’m really excited for it and to do something really different with the style of a trilogy where you never really rehash something or go backwards. I just want to keep going forward with it, and fingers crossed that the audience wants to go along with it.
DS: And no mud this time.
GE: Fuck no, man. Never the fuck again. (laughs)