Let’s be honest, the golden era of action movies and action movie stars has long since past. Back in the day, some of the best high-octane films were made with actual martial artists; meaning, people who actually knew how to beat someone up. Guys like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Steven Seagal were all champion martial artists before they were actors.
Nowadays, though, it seems that Hollywood’s recipe for creating action content is to take someone who’s a big name movie star first, teach them how to throw a few punches and kicks, and then edit the crap out of the scenes until they look realistic. We haven’t seen an innovative and pulse-pounding action flick with actual martial artists pummeling the crap out of one another in a really long time. Gareth Huw Evans, the Welsh-born writer/director of The Raid: Redemption (in select New York and Los Angeles theaters this Friday), apparently felt that we’ve all waited long enough.
The Raid: Redemption is a balls-out, bone-shattering symphony of brutal fight sequences, balletic gun play and heart-thumping tension. The film’s fight scenes are hands down some of the most savage and well-choreographed action set-pieces in the history of cinema. Both the The Raid’s protagonist (played by the seriously impressive Iko Uwais) and the film’s fiercest villain (Yayan Ruhian) are both incredibly skilled, life-long practitioners of the lesser known Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. They worked tirelessly with Evans for months to make the fights seem as brutal and realistic as possible.
The movie’s plot is simple enough: A highly trained SWAT team is dispatched to a dilapidated high rise in the slums of Jakarta to remove the owner of the building; inside, there’s a despicable gangland chief named Tama (Ray Sahetaphy), who has evaded capture for many years. The twist is that the building is also home to numerous drug dealers, murderers and lowlifes who are under his protection. Throughout The Raid’s 100-minute run time, the SWAT members shoot, punch, kick, stab, and chop their way through floor after floor of murderous bad guys while searching for the building’s owner. The fights are so intense and in-your-face that you’ll not only find yourself questioning, “How did they do that?” but also wondering if some of the actors aren’t actually being hurt or killed.
If you’re a fan of the genre, not only should you run to see The Raid: Redemption, but you might as well clear some space on your DVD shelf right now for this guaranteed cult classic. Complex recently sat down with Evans to talk about the process of making what is, in our opinion, one of the best action movies of all time.
Interview by Ryan Wick (@WickInABox)
You not only wrote, directed and edited The Raid, but you also worked on the action choreography. What was the most difficult part of the process for you?
Coming up with the ideas isn’t the hard part—it’s executing them in the actual production. It’s not even down to anything to do with our directing or choreography or anything else. It’s more about being up against it with the time factor. And having a lot of different people working with you with different skill sets in terms of their martial arts abilities. Not just the martial artists, either—it’s the screen fighters, as well.
There’s nothing more frustrating then when you have someone who’s a little bit stiff and you have to ease them into the shoot. When you’re dealing with large groups of people, like if you have a fight with 18-20 people and like 5 of those are a little bit stiff, that process of trying to ease them in and be patient and encourage them is hard. You can’t just shout at them. [Laughs.] That’s the really hard part.
Before The Raid, you had been working on a documentary about Pencak Silat back in 2007; when did you first become interested in the art of Silat?
I’ve known a lot of different martial arts before I came to know Silat. Growing up either from classes or watching movies I knew, of course, about kung fu, karate, aikido, Muay Thai... But the first time I saw Silat was when I was working on that documentary—the first time I properly saw it. I was just struck by the fact that it looks so different from other martial arts.
Every martial art shares similiar things. There’s only so many ways you can throw a punch and a kick but the way you package it, the way you present it...that’s what makes each one unique. I just thought that Silat had this fluidity to it and this grace to it but also a really aggressive side, as well. So the way you get to a move is beautiful but the response and the reaction after that is kind of aggressive and I really like that kind of juxtaposition. So I was interested to see how can I bring this to cinema. How can I explore this in film?
So in that respect, do you hope that this film helps propagate the art of Silat to a wider audience?
That’s part of the mission statement of our company. In Indonesia, when we were making our first movie, Merantau, we tried to pitch the idea of doing a Silat film to a number of people and a lot of people didn’t want to do it. A lot of people just thought it was ridiculous, because the way Silat has been portrayed in television, at least in Indonesia, is kind of almost like a joke. It’s like people flying around turning into panthers. Taking a shit and their will be a fireball or something. [Laughs.] There’s all this bad, cheesy stuff, which is just bullshit.
That’s kind of the problem, then. People’s perception of Silat was, Oh, it’s that ridiculous stuff you see on TV with cheap production values. Or it’s this antiquated, old style of demonstration. So what happened was, when I was preparing to do the film, I spoke with the guys on the choreography team and said, “You know, the purpose of this film, beyond the commercial reasons, is to reclaim Silat,” and that’s why we ground every single movement in a reality base. We don’t introduce acrobatics at all.
We know that Hong Kong and Thailand have kind of perfected that so we need to do something different otherwise we’ll just end up imitating them and we won’t do it as well. So we thought, ok, every fight has to be grounded in reality. Every movement has to be logical and a real life application of how you would use Silat.