Interview: Director Gareth Evans, Actor Iko Uwais of ‘The Raid 2’

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CHICAGO – In 2011, a new kind of martial arts film hit the screens, and wowed audiences with outrageous fight scenes, stunts and violence. “The Raid: Redemption” put Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans – working from Indonesia – on the map, and he is back with fight choreographer and lead actor Iko Uwais in “The Raid 2.”

Expanding on the concept of the heroic Indonesian cop from the first Raid film, “The Raid 2” places him undercover in the seamy world of organized crime syndicates. Without confining itself to one location, as the first Raid did, “The Raid 2” is even more viscerally exciting and audacious, with bigger and better fights, action sequences and weird characters.

The story of Welsh Englishman Gareth Evans reinventing the Martial Arts genre was mostly by an accident of timing and place. He was hired to make a documentary in the country of Indonesia about their style of martial arts fighting, called “pencak silat.” While doing the film, he met martial artist Iko Uwais, who subsequently quit his job as a deliveryman and became a full time fight choreographer and star for Evan’s martial arts action film debut, “Merantau.” The film became a cult hit, and paved the way for the larger budgeted Raid films.

Gareth Evans
Director Gareth Evans (Center) on Set Filming ‘The Raid 2’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Writer/director Evans and fighter/actor Uwais recently came to Chicago to talk about their unlikely teaming and unlikely hit films. “The Raid 2” continues its limited release in Chicago on April 4th, and for fans of the martial arts fight genre, it is a must see. HollywoodChicago.com recorded this interview with the action duo.

HollywoodChicago.com: Gareth, your films are battles of good versus evil, with good prevailing. What morality in the hero mythology, in your opinion, makes a good person a better or more wily fighter than a bad person, or is it simply a matter of keeping good consistent over evil?

Gareth Evans: [Laughs] When I did my first film, ‘Marantau,’ the hero was as good as good can be, uncorrupted from the rest of the world. When I did ‘The Raid’ and ‘The Raid 2,’ I wanted to shift away from that, and to make it so that some of things Rama [the ‘good’ lead character] does that are as violently sadistic as the bad guys.

There is a moment in ‘The Raid 2’ when I wanted to challenge the audience. There is a scene in which Rama is pressing a guy against a hot plate. We see the initial push onto the plate, we cut back to Rama, then one time more to the face on the plate. The rest of the time we just see Rama holding the guy down. We hear the crackle, we hear the screams and we see Rama’s expression. I hold onto that shot for about 30 seconds. The purpose of that was the idea regarding how far will we follow a guy who is suppose to be a hero? When he goes that far – he’s been to prison, he’s undercover in a crime syndicate, he flirts a line between cop and criminal – and he’s frustrated that he can’t get close to the person he’s suppose to kill.

HollywoodChicago.com: So your goal was to create a bad side to your good cop?

Evans: I wanted to lull the audience in with the sense of ‘hey, look at this cool fight scene, look at him use the chair and throw the bowl, isn’t that great.’ And then all of a sudden, it’s nasty, it’s dark, it’s f**ked up. I wanted people at some point to say, ‘that’s enough now, pull him off.’

HollywoodChicago.com: There is a sense of a Quentin Tarantino-type morality in ‘The Raid 2,’ that isn’t in older martial arts films seen in the U.S.– even in the most intense action scenes. Is that something you felt a responsibility to do?

Evans: In doing the hot plate scene, showing how far Rama had gone to darkness, but he pulls back at the last moment. He didn’t completely turn the corner. It is that question mark of how far will he go. I wanted to tweak, stretch and play around with the moral center of the film.

This world in this film is different than the first film. In the first Raid, it was Swat Team members trapped in a building, struggling to survive. In ‘The Raid 2,’ it’s a murky world that is playing upon a person’s psyche, as he has to pretend to be someone he’s not, and it starts to damage who he is. He doesn’t feel safe anywhere, at any time. He’s not in control of his own destiny. I wanted to do something that would confound expectations.

HollywoodChicago.com: Iko, since you began as a martial arts expert before you became an actor, what did you have to learn about the craft of acting that surprised you, beyond the fight scenes?

Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais
Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais in Chicago, March 14, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Iko Uwais: Even in fighting scenes, I’m trying to understand the emotions involved. I discuss the non-fighting scenes with Gareth throughout the filming. We don’t shoot chronologically, so sometimes I need help with where the character is at certain points. There are also times in the filming in which I need to be directed on how to talk in certain situations. For example, how I talk to my wife versus one of the crime bosses. I asked for pointers and reminders when we were about to shoot those scenes.

HollywoodChicago.com: Regarding the fight choreography, you take these martial arts stunts to the another level, and giving them an identity as an Indonesian ‘school.’ Are there injury risks in doing it so extreme?

Evans: People always are telling me there is no way we could do these stunts in the United States. I think we can. In fact, the level of stunt work and choreography in the U.S. is far superior to Indonesia. We actually have to reign the stuntmen in on our sets, because they are more reckless. We find a way to film separate the parts of a stunt.

For example, in a scene where a driver smashes through a window after crashing a car into a wall, we first lock the camera from above. The Hong Kong stunt driver crashes into the wall, waves that everything is okay, goes back to the trailer for some tea. [laughs] Next, the art department carefully cuts a hole in the windshield. Then we get another stunt man wired up, and he goes through hole and ends up on the hood. He gets off, and then we grab some wind shield glass and throw it through the hole. Then we put it all together with a minimum of computer generated imagery – three shots stitched together. I lock the camera above for maximum impact.

HollywoodChicago.com: In the English title of ‘The Raid,’ the word ‘Redemption’ was added as a subtitle. In your opinion, who achieved the greatest redemption in the first film and why?

Evans: That’s a thorny question, isn’t it? F**ker! [laughs]. We couldn’t call it just ‘The Raid’ in English because there was a licensing issue at the time. In a chain of emails, we were throwing alternate titles around, and ‘Redemption’ stuck as much as anything else. Who got the most ‘redemption’ in the film? I don’t f**king know, to be honest. [laughs] The brother?

HollywoodChicago.com: Do you think you’ll do other genres of films, and do you want to stay in Indonesia or go outside the country to make them?

Evans: My plan is to do a couple of films outside Indonesia, and then go back there again. There will be action elements in those outside films, and Iko will still design those sequences. I want him and other members of my Indonesian production staff to have experience outside the country. I want them to learn new skill sets, to better the industry in Indonesia. I want to keep exploring action as a genre.

Indonesia gave me my career, and I was lucky to go when I did and meet the right people at the right time, as well as learn about a martial art [pencak silat] that I knew nothing about, make the films and have an audience for them. For me, I feel that my responsibility is to better the Indonesian film industry, because I wouldn’t had been anywhere if I hadn’t gone there.

“The Raid 2” continues its limited release in Chicago on April 4th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusodewo and Oka Antara. Written and directed by Gareth Evans. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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