As The Raid: Redemption’s solemn opening sequence rolls out, one can’t help but feel a sense of doom as the ambitious Indonesian tactical response team member Rama (Iko Uwais) commences his Billy Blanks-style morning workout. Although Indonesian martial art enthusiast–director Gareth Evan’s latest film Raid is being labelled as a martial arts action film, it is Evans’ eye for detail, dark visual aesthetic, and penchant for splattering brain matter that make the Raid the most refreshing action film to come about in recent years. Raid follows the well-acted Rama and his tactical unit’s deadly mission to shut down a dilapidated apartment complex that functions as both a safe house for crackheads and the head office of a drug lord. Once Rama and team enter the complex, Evan’s raises the notch on the brain-splat-o-metre to 11, and the carnage that ensues is nothing short of delightful.
Rama and his team navigate hallways filled with henchmen, engaging in mesmerizing fight sequences choreographed by Uwais and the drug lord’s psychopathic sidekick Mad Dog (Yayan Ryhian). Using the traditional Indonesian martial art form Silat, Uwais and Ryhian’s skillful direction of teams of machete wielding henchmen and their break neck speed skirmishes are an excellent return to everything good in action films before giant CG transforming robots made mind numbing blurry fight sequence acceptable. But don’t let this old approach fool you, because knives, hammers, and even two-by-fours with nails are used for innovative brain bashing fights that would give any MPAA member nightmares. The Varsity caught up with Evans to talk about his unique brand of action in Raid.
The Varsity: Raid is your second time working with martial arts actor Iko Uwais. What can you tell us about your relationship with Uwais?
Gareth Evans: I met Iko for the first time when I was working on a documentary out in Indonesia. He was just a delivery guy for a phone company first and he was a student of Silat. The moment I saw him practising Silat, it was an instant thing where we recognized he had a screen presence about him. It’s almost like he has this kind of outside camera where he knows how he’s going to look when he performs. It’s very natural and sort of graceful to look at. I really enjoy that juxtaposition of these graceful movements that end with this seriously aggressive attack position. In terms of working with him, I guess we both come into this with the same background and learning experiences as well.
TV: I’ve coined the term brain-splatter-action for your films. Do you have any concerns about the violence in your film being misunderstood?
GE: I mean, we know that the film is violent, but my goal is always to be aware of there being a certain line that we don’t cross. It’s aggressive up to a point, but for me, it never tips over into the spot where it becomes repulsive and that’s really important. I didn’t want to make the audience disgusted with the violence but — well, this sounds awful, but it’s almost like a certain comfort zone in terms of how the violence is portrayed. With the exception of 1 or 2 shots, we don’t linger on anything. We hit you really hard, really fast in a way.
TV: How did you work with Uwais and Ryhian to make the fight sequences?
GE: The three of us would work-shop the fight scenes together. I would come in in the morning and then I’ll get set up and I’ll say something like “Iko, you’ve got a knife and stick and an injured cop on your shoulder, and you’re in the corridor space; it’s two metres wide. Every time people attack you from the front, the back, or the side, you have to shift your body weight because [the cop] can’t stand up on his feet.” So that’s the situation and then I’ll say, “Now fight your way out of it.” Then they have to fill in the blanks: which punches, which kicks, which blocks, which throws. We workshop it together — it’s the equivalent of two musicians who are working on something and one of them hits a wall and sends it to the other guy to see if he can add anything new or more to it.
TV: Your film is being hailed as one of the best action films to come out in recent years. How do you feel about the hype?
GE: We’ve been overwhelmed by the way things have gone and blown away by the reaction we’ve gotten. I don’t feel we’ve done anything that new in the genre. I’m just riffing on films that I’ve grown up watching, that I still love watching to this day. My tastes and approach to shooting action are old fashioned in a way. The films I use as reference are from the ‘80s and the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. What I love about those films is that you get a sense of clarity and detail from the way that they’re shot and edited. You saw somebody firing a machine gun? You knew exactly where each of those bullets hit, you know? There’s that detail to them [action films] that have gone missing lately.