[Be sure also to check out my review of the film as well as Jackson’s interview with the film’s co-composer Joseph Trapanese]

Following an incredible reception at last fall’s Toronto Film Festival The Raid: Redemption has been picked up for distribution for Sony Pictures Classics, screened at Sundance, and already become a cult phenomenon before being released in LA and New York on March 23rd. The Raid: Redemption is the sophomore feature effort from Gareth Huw Evans, who reteamed with much of the same talent on both sides of the camera from his debut film, Merantau. The Raid: Redemption is the story of an elite special-forces team sent to take down a crime lord from a thirty-story apartment building, and what happens when their cover is blown and an all-out war ensues. Evans’ films have received notice for bringing the Indonesian Martial Art of Pencak Silat to the forefront of the action, and creating incredibly realistic-looking fight scenes around them. Evans was recently in LA on the eve of the film’s release, and I was able to talk to him about writing and choreographing fight scenes, working with his favorite leading man Iko Uwais, and crafting The Raid: Redemption.

Jackson Truax: You’ve said that you “deal in blood and mayhem.” What attracts you to that type of storytelling?

Gareth Huw Evans: It’s not so much a…fascination with violence. But…it’s inescapable in the genre that I work in. Doing martial arts films, doing action films, there’s going to be blood. There’s going to be mayhem… With this film, I know that it’s not moderately violent. It is very violent. But we try to shoot in a way where it’s still responsibly done. It’s not done in a way that’s designed to make people repulsed by it. I want people to have a guttural reaction to it and have a vocal response, but not for them to feel like they’re disgusted by it.

JT: You worked with Uwais on your last film as well, and you’re getting ready to shoot another film with him. What about working him makes you want to keep making movies with him?

GHE: I just think that when it comes to Silat, there [are] very few people out there that have his skill-set. He has a very unique and beautiful way of using Silat in a film. His understanding of the aesthetics of it, he’s so natural. He’s such a natural, gifted performer… I really like working with him. And Yayan [Ruhian] also, the guy who plays Mad Dog… The three of us worked together on the choreography for this and for the first film. I’ll work with them on the next film. Whenever I get to work in the niche, I want to work with those guys… When I spotted Iko, when I was working on a documentary, he was a delivery guy for a phone company. I hadn’t done a professional film. Merantau was both of our first attempts at anything. Now The Raid: Redemption is our second attempt… Everything that happens with me [and him] on this project…we climb that ladder a step at a time together… We’re sharing this experience… He’s become…the little brother that I never had.   

JT: How detailed is your screenwriting, especially when writing fight scenes?

GHE: When I’m writing the fight scenes…there’s a detail there, but not an overwhelming amount of detail. You can’t really write in a script, punch for punch, kick for kick, throw for throw, or lock for lock. As soon as you do that, then you’re telling your choreography team exactly what they’re going to do. And that’s their job. They should be the ones that create that. Also, when you write that kind of detail, only you will understand it. If I say, “The right hook swing gets blocked and then the guy counters with an upper-cut,” I know exactly what it is. But then the person reading it might not be able to picture it the same way I picture it… In the script I write more bullet points [like], “As they walk down the corridor, suddenly people come out from in front, from behind, from the sides. And then every time he has to defend himself, he has to shift out of the way so he doesn’t get hurt…” Little details that the choreography team will…understand… The color and the violence and the stabs and the slashes, that’s all done when we workshop the scene.

JT: Because you only bullet-point these scenes in the screenplay, what’s the page count of a typical draft?

GHE: The script…clocked in at about 66 pages… It never works as a page a minute… I’m the worst person in the world at guessing what the running time of a film is going to be. I thought The Raid was going to come in at around 85 minutes… It ended up being 101… Two-and-a-half months into the shoot, I was nervous thinking, “Fuck. We’re not going to reach 70 minutes…” I clocked all the action sequences together…and realized [they] were only 30-40 minutes… Then it ends up 105 minutes. And we cut it down to 101. So I’m terrible at guessing the duration.

JT: How involved were you in choreographing the fight sequences?

GHE: Very involved… I’ll give them the set-up, the situation, the opponents, the weapons, and the skill sets and stuff like that. Then they’ll go off and they’ll come up with a bunch of different movements. Then they’ll present those to me. Then I’ll say, “Okay. Let’s use that one here. Use this [one] next. Then the third attacker will do this. Then we’ll move into the fourth attack…” Then the three of us will structure it together… The [choreographers], they’re very nice people. They’re very friendly people. So when it comes to the choreography, they do the stab into the leg, and then pull out. And then I’ll come in and I’ll say, “Just stab into the thigh, and then rip down to his kneecap…” So I’ll bring a little bit more aggression to the choreography.

JT: You and Uwais come from working in Silat, but The Raid: Redemption displays a mix of different fighting styles. How did you figure out what styles would be best matched with each other?

GHE: We don’t really look at [it as], “I want to do Silat versus Tae Kwan Do. I want to do Silat versus Judo. Let’s see how that mixes.” It’s always about the performer. It’s always a big issue that, whoever we have onscreen, that we show them at their best. So with Joe Taslim who played Jaka, he’s a national Judo champion. So we know for a fact if we give him movements from Judo, he’s going to fucking nail them. He’s going to be brilliant at them. He’s going to be the boss of them… If we give him a four-kick Silat movement, he’s not going to be able to do it, maybe. Or at least he could train at it, but maybe not execute it perfectly. So we play to every person’s strengths. We give them [the] best showcase that they can have in that choreography. So that’s what informs our design work with the fight scenes.

JT: When you’re choreographing fight scenes, is everything a measure of what would look the coolest? Or can you tell and further a story not just through fights but through the techniques used?

GHE: We look for movements that feel cool. But we don’t…look for the showcase move. What I mean by that is…we try and ground our fight scenes in a certain sense of reality. It’s exaggerated, because nobody could take that much punishment. Nobody could fight that long. That’s our one point of exaggeration. But in terms of the movements that we show on-screen, they look cool, but they’re not beyond the realms of what the average human being can achieve. So when we do that fight scene, Iko and Yayan, they’ll fight on a grounded-reality basis… We don’t want Iko to do three twists and a kick. Because then…it takes you out of the reality of the situation. Because no one would do that in a real fight. So it’s cool to look at on-screen, but it doesn’t work within the confines of what we want to do with our action, which is to make it always relatable, and always in a sense, that if you studied that Martial Art, that you could do it yourself.

JT: How does knowing you’re editing the film yourself impact your shooting, as far as number or kinds of shots you get during production?

GHE: Whenever…we’re figuring what shot [to get] next, I can almost tell immediately, where my in and out points [are]. Especially if it’s action-based, I know already what the in-and-out points for every shot [are]… But with the drama stuff…I’m still working on that. I’m still trying to get myself better… The tension, and the approach to the building, the shootouts, that stuff I can almost know immediately. I can orchestrate the cameras, where they need to be at every point, and what I’m going to use from every shot. So we’ll do long takes…and I’ll know what I want to take from each shot.

JT: With so many action films available to fans of the genre on DVD, streaming, etc., what do you think you and The Raid: Redemption bring to the genre that’s unique?

GHE: It’s hard to answer that. Because I come to it from a position of watching [The Raid: Redemption] over and over again and only seeing the problems with it… So far, the audience response and the critics response has been so far beyond what we’d hoped, that it’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming in the first place to be considered part of this genre. Because this is a genre that I love, that I grew up watching… To be a part of it is incredible.

2 Responses to “Gareth Huw Evans talks about this martial arts sensation “The Raid: Redemption””

  1. I will be viewing this film tomorrow night in Manhattan, so I definitely pl;an to return to this interview after that. Scanning through, it does look like another fruitful and spirited session engineered by Jackson.

  2. Thanks so much Sam! I can’t wait to read your thoughts on the film. Cheers!

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