Gareth Evans sat there. I had brought a gun to our interview knowing he would appear perfectly harmless and sure enough, the bastard just sat there, calmly waiting for me to ask him questions, giving me thoughtful, interesting answers etc. As if I and everyone else didn't know by now, that he's a stone cold killer able to crack a man in half just by flicking him the bird. Fine. I played along, asked my questions and then backed slowly out the room, my eyes never leaving his for an instant. This was, quite possibly, the greatest living action martial arts director and I was taking no chances. The following is the conversation we had.
GE: You're kidding right?
Whatever. I don't suppose a bodyguard would have much to do anyway, if you and I started to mix it up.
GE: Not unless he wanted to get hurt. Let's get this over with.
Fine. I've long felt that the more violent horror films have gotten in the last few years the more relevant they've become, both in terms of what they have to say and what they say. The Raid: Redemption seems to be very influenced by the horror genre, especially in terms of this new aesthetic of hyper-visceral violence. What did you hope to communicate by this?
GE: I can only speak for myself. But when I set out to make this film it was definitely in the hopes of making more than just a martial arts movie. The genesis of the film seemed to start in the action genre. Right away I was thinking of Die Hard (1988), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), films that had a group of men under siege in one location. But once I figured out that central device, the apartment building, it became clear that the heart of the film lay in the fear of being stalked, chased and attacked from all sides. The Rec (2007) films became important as did Escape from New York (1981) and the viscerality of violence as utilized by a Takeshi Kitano or especially a Takashi Miike came heavily into play. This was a survival horror film if it it was anything and again, something very different from a simple martial arts or standard action film.
But when you invoke that sort of horror you are already reaching out beyond genre. I mean, Carpenter and Miike and even Kitano are anything but "safe" directors. Not only is their output wildly uneven but when they succeed viewers feel anything but safe.
GE: I'm far more interested in that kind of director. Refn would be another one. I'm a huge fan of Pusher II (2004). I think it's his finest film. Bleeder (1999), as well, is incredible. But even Miike, when he's making a kid's film, always in the back of your mind you are thinking, "Oh my gosh, what is this man going to do next?" Yatterman (2009) is a great example in that it's a kiddie film with some decidedly edgy but in the end more irreverent than thoroughly inappropriate moments.
It seems to me that ScreenAnarchy has built it's audience, however unconsciously, on the same sort of aesthetic. So many ScreenAnarchistss, and I'm thinking the writers as well as the readers here, are arthouse/world cinema lovers with an insatiable appetite for genre. Is it pure escapism? Why the hunger for extremes?
GE: Certainly escapism figures into it. I mean, I can't watch real-life violence. I really don't like it. If I try to sit down and watch say, UFC I'm immediately uncomfortable. I look away. Same thing with the news. Fake violence? Choreographed? No problem. Ichi The Killer (2001)? Watch it all day. It's disturbing but not in the way that real-life violence is.
I guess the question on some level is what sort of escapism. C.S.Lewis in Experiment in Criticism talked about a downward drift in which the viewer is actually escaping from the art or the story itself, utilizing their experience of it solely for the purpose of leaping off into some sort of private fantasyland. His point was that such escapism can quickly shut down the conversation that art provides for which is conversation with the other rather than just with ourselves.
GE: Yeah, the story was so important to me here. It would be sad if all people did was fast forward to the action scenes. Certainly The Raid could be classified as an action film. But the violence is there for a purpose, especially when it's most severe. We cut away tons as well. We don't dwell on the injuries in the film. When you watch The Raid you are on the journey those men are on. It isn't a social commentary film, or a film that is out to solve the world's problems. But it isn't an invitation to daydream either LOL. I set out to make a movie that told a story that seemed true to itself. True The Raid is a Friday night popcorn type of film.
I daresay it's not the kind of popcorn film you forget quickly. But it's certainly not a film built on a singular action personality the way Van Damme or Seagal films were in the eighties. Most of those seemed made to advance peoples careers as much as anything else. Your first film Merantau (2009)is a good example of what I'm getting at. I heard some people fault it for having a cheesy storyline, sort of a poor man's Tony Jaa film where the lead character is this noble person and we watch him suffer and battle because the filmmaker is preaching at us about the righteousness of his cause. I found those criticisms really weak for a lot of reasons but mostly because Merantau was a solidly written film with solid characters.
GE: Thank you very much. I certainly don't think that action movies have to be dumb. The virtue and the little bits of character development aren't in the film just to link the action sequences together. They are there to make you care about the characters so that when the action is taking place you identify with them. The human element remains in place. Suffering has meaning. Conflict has meaning. For instance, there's a subtle thing, that some people might not even notice. Our main character is Muslim, it's just part of his everyday life, it's in his heart not his sleeve. The way that belief shapes him dictates how he approaches conflict. Religious films in Indonesia for instance reflect the ordinary day to day lives of people. They are not message driven in the same way as they are in the west. I love the idea that people in the west might be subtly influenced to understand the mind and the heart of the moderate everyday Muslim better by encountering it in a movie like The Raid, even in a very small way.
And yet at it's heart the film is definitely an action lover's dream
Oh yeah. I mean let's face it everything about the situation the film describes, the level of action and violence, this is fantasy stuff. In real life somebody who gets hit in the head repeatedly goes down and stays down. Every martial arts film has this problem. We chose to ground our fighting a little bit more in the real world and because of that we were able to stretch a lot of those scenes out. In that sense the fighting style in the film is very different than what a lot of people in the west (or really anywhere) would be used to. It's certainly less flashy than a Muay Thai or a Bruce Lee style. There aren't a lot of spinning triple kicks or anything like that.
Widespread interest in martial arts in the US started with Lee and the Shaw Brothers etc. Then Jackie Chan, and the emphasis on stars doing their own stunts. Then Thailand stepped in with what seemed like a far tougher style. Does The Raid feel like the next big thing in terms of how people see the action film or martial film?
I have had people contact me about how we did a lot of this stuff in our fight sequences and so that's exciting. But who knows really. It's nice to see Indonesia given it's due. I think we have crafted something really unique here.
So what's next?
I know the next thing I want to do is a sequel to The Raid and that would happen in Indonesia. After that would be a film in the US or UK. It would have to be the right project. I'm not interested in getting attached first and foremost to a blockbuster type film. I love watching them but I know the film that I make over here, the next English speaking film I make, I want to be "my film." lt has to be part of my natural progression as a film maker., Every film gives you a new skill set that you bring to the next film so you have to choose the right project for the right reasons. It's neat that The Raid is getting so much love but I have to make the next movie because the script and the story are right, not just because it throws me in a direction dictated by The Raid's success.
Is it true you are currently working with ScreenAnarchy editor Todd Brown on an action film based on his life?
Yes. Of course the biggest problem is we can't find anyone tough enough for the lead role. Chuck Norris is too old. Tony Jaa is too short and the none of The Raid guys have a big enough nose. Everything about this film will have to be epic- especially the noses. Also Todd is demanding we set the whole story in a swimming pool which really slows down the fight sequences.
Make sure he does his own stunts.
Oh yeah. We're gonna set him on fire a couple of times, use real ammo It's gonna be a fun shoot. Trouble is all the other ScreenAnarchy guys want to have a go as well so we have had to write lots of smaller roles for people who torture him and what not.
The Raid: Redemption expands to more cities today across the U.S.