In a blockbuster season full of giant killer robots and giant killer monsters, The Raid: Redemption gives the current crop of action films a swift punch in the gut. Its story is delightfully minimalistic. A group of well-trained policeman enter an apartment building that’s run by a drug kingpin. The bad guys are expecting the cops, so a by-the-numbers operation turns into an exhausting ordeal for those who survive. Soon it’s up to Rama (Iko Uwais), a powerful young cop, to stop the kingpin and his deadly lieutenants. Welsh director Gareth Evans follows his brief introduction with nonstop, visceral action. The pace never slackens, and culminates in a powerful, physically-demanding fight sequence. Few martial arts films are this unrelenting. Shortly after The Raid: Redemption had a screening at South by Southwest, I talked with Evans about how he films action, and his plans for future projects.
What was it like to show The Raid at South by Southwest?
It was incredible! The reaction of the crowd really made the screening come alive. Unbelievable. The audience reacted even when we were setting up the final fight. I literally had goose bumps on the back of my neck throughout the whole screening.
How much influence did your fight choreographers have over the final product?
We workshop it all together. It was three of us – me, Yayan Ruhian, and Iko Uwais – for three months in a room with crash mats and a handicam. I’d give them a sense of tone, what the fight is, who is involved, what the weapons are. I’d also go over plot points like when a character loses a knife or a stick. Then they’d go over the technical side: the kicks, the punches, and the throws. I’d be there with them to help through the creative process, so we could figure out the best spot to have a specific movement.
When it comes to kills or stunts, the more aggressive stuff, I’d always try and have [more fun] with it [chuckles]. For example, they came up with a part where a guy’s head is smashed into light. I told them it’d be great if his head could smash [multiple times] into lights until he hits the floor. It would always work that way: one of us would come with an idea, and then another would expand upon it. But really, the three of us would design the entire thing from beginning to end.
What was the tone you wanted for the final fight scene?
I wanted it to be a throwback to this Jackie Chan film called Dragon Lord. At the end of that, there’s an incredible fight where two heroes are overpowered by this bad guy. It is one of those fights where it doesn’t matter what they throw at him; he just keeps pounding them and pounding them. I wanted to do my own take on that, one which contained more choreography than stunts. I liked the idea that [these two guys] had to hold on, and keep beating the bad guy as much as possible. In its finale, there’s quite a payoff in terms of the kill.
Was it more challenging to shoot large-scale sequences – like the ones that happen on multiple floors – or the more intimate ones?
That’s a good question, actually. Preparation-wise, the corridor scenes take longer because a bunch of people were stabbed and slashed, and they’d bleed all over the floor. We’d have to clean the set after each day, which was time-consuming and difficult to arrange. Still, multiple fighters meant they could rest and come at Rama with full energy. The intimate fights, especially one-on-one, tend to be harder because no one could take a break. They would both get tired, and the choreography would get a little sloppy. During fights like that, I worked hard to keep their adrenaline levels high.
Did the actors find the shoot was more physically demanding than other ones they’ve done before?
Yeah, definitely. We had an unforgiving schedule. We were shooting on quite a tight budget, which meant we didn’t have the luxury to shoot for extra days.
What was your time-frame?
We shot for seventy-two days. It may seem like a long shoot, but from our perspective, it was very very tight. In the final fight especially, it was [demanding] because we shot it all single-cam. For the most part, we would avoid two cams if we could get away with it.
In terms of pace, The Raid feels like a long crescendo. What did you do in the editing process to achieve that?
I hate watching action films where the very first scene is where they spend all the money. They want to wow you in the first ten minutes, and the action scenes are uninspired after that. So I wanted to have the action escalate. Critics drew comparisons to video games, but for me, that’s not a negative. It’s a compliment. It means we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do. Each fight feels better than the last, and each one pushes the envelope a little bit further. I knew that the final fight had to be the absolute pinnacle of everything we’ve done. We’re really proud of it.
Was there ever a point where you had to cut something from the film because it was too violent?
Not so much the violence. For me, everything contained in that film is the limit of how far I would go. I won’t cut across that line, ever. But in terms of cutting stuff, that was done on a budgetary basis. When the refrigerator explosion happens, I really wanted that gas canister to spin and ricochet against all the bodies. But we didn’t have the budget to do it, so we recorded two different shots. There is one where the cops react [to the explosion], and another where we blew up the fridge and debris.
If this is the limit of how far you’d go in terms of violence, what do you have planned for the sequels?
For the sequel, I don’t just want to copy what we just did. We’re taking the story out of the building and into the streets. It begins immediately after the first one leaves off, although the time frame is a lot longer. The first movie happens [over the span] of ten hours; the sequel may happen over months or years. We’re going to expand the universe of the film and flesh out more of the characters. Some of these characters are mentioned at the end of the first film, although you do not see them.
Will there be any car chases?
There is one scene inside a car that’ll be our big set-piece. There is one person fighting against four people inside a moving car, while other cars are smashing it from the outside. We’re working on the logistics of how the hell we’re going to shoot it, and how we’re going to do the stunts without killing anyone. Once we get the answer to those two questions, we can start shooting in January of next year.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me!
Thanks for taking the time, also!