Film director Gareth Evans & Indonesian action star Iko Uwais (Photo / Chen Jinfu & Festive Films)
The guy who directs is from Wales while the dude who fights is Indonesian. Gareth Evans, 32, and Iko Uwais, 29, are as different as chalk and cheese. Between them, the large Evans and the much smaller Uwais look like the “Before and After “photos of a slimming ad. But put the two of them together, and action happens.
We’re not talking about namby-pamby, little shoving and pushing here and there like in the sardine-packed MRT. We’re talking full blown, hard punching, hard kicking, breakneck, fight-with-bare-hands-until-die-1,000-times type of action.
In 2009, they got together and made ‘Merantau’, a fight flick about Uwais being a country boy who goes the big bad city of Jakarta to teach silat. In real life, the dude, by the way, is an actual, genuine exponent of pencak silat, Indonesia's indigenous martial art. Of course, in Bruce Lee’s ‘Way Of The Dragon-style’, Uwais ends up clobbering a whole gang of thugs like Ong Bak’s Indonesian clone.
Their second movie now playing, ‘The Raid: Redemption’, is much more happening and, er, concrete since it takes place completely in a concrete building. In fact, it’s so happening that angmohs rave about it when it’s shown in their countries.
At its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, the audience freaked out to claps, cheers and also possibly flying-kicked a few poor dustbins in homage.
Uwais fights like there's no tomorrow to get the hell out. Evans films like there's no yesterday to sign insurance forms for the people in the movie.
It's the most thrilling, pulsating, crunching and kicka** action film since Ong Bak and his muay thai elephants.
The pair, who first met in 2007 when Evans went to Indonesia to make a documentary about pencak silat, came to Singapore recently to promote The Raid: Redemption.
We talked to them, and luckily lived to tell the tale.
Iko Uwais demonstrating some silat moves at 'The Raid's' gala premiere (Photo / Chen Jinfu & Festive Films)
How did you handle the big jump from ‘Merantau’, a smaller, less complicated movie, to something like ‘The Raid: Redemption’?
Gareth Evans (GE): To be honest, ‘The Raid’ was something that came out of being frustrated. We tried for a year and a half to set up a different film at first, a prison movie called ‘Berandal’, but we couldn’t get that funded. So the ‘Raid’ was actually a Plan B project. I decided to just go out and do something crazy with it. I realised that if I took all the action and martial arts out, I was left with basically a survival horror story. I could take the audience’s perception of a martial arts film and twist it -- make it into something like a combination of different genre styles. So horror, thriller, suspense, claustrophobia in rooms, corridors and staircases were all used as little stepping stones for the next action set piece. That made it more exciting to me.
Iko Uwais (IU): Actually, it wasn’t a very difficult change. Because before we shot ‘The Raid’, we went for boot camp. About eight of us playing the SWAT team went military for one week to give us the mindset of assault troops. In Merantau, we fought mostly with our fists. But in ‘The Raid’, we were taught to fight from guns to knives to parangs to sticks and so on, to bare hands. So there was a discipline in the fighting process. We were prepared for that attitude.
What’s it like making those kickbutt action films?
GE:I watch a lot of movies and when I started doing ‘Merantau’. I was trying to analyse what it was that worked and what it was that didn’t work about martial arts movies, and trying to pick specific shots that I liked. For ‘Merantau’, we did a lot of very long takes. And you know sometimes it would mean that the fighters would get exhausted doing each long take. We’d do 20 to 30 takes and they’re spent. When we made ‘The Raid’, we still shot those long shots but we’d split them up a little bit more and cut the smaller shots in. It’s also all about acknowledging the people who have blazed the trail before me like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, etc. Seeing how they execute stuff, piece together their fights. That’s what’s exciting for me.
Also read: ‘The Raid’ movie review
How much of ‘Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior’ has been an influence, and who will win in the ultimate showdown between Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais?
GE:Here’s the thing. After Jet Li’s ‘Fist Of Legend’ (1994), I didn’t see many martial arts films for a while because the Hong Kong ones became more about pop stars and hanging wires and they lost the feeling of watching real people do real things. That’s not martial arts. Not what the human body is capable of. I was like five years old when I first saw Bruce Lee and he was like a superhero. The same sense of wonder came back when ‘Ong Bak’ was released in 2003. Tony Jaa has been a huge influence on the martial arts genre.
IU: I have to practise a lot to kick Tony Jaa’s ass (laughs). He has a lot of style and his martial art is Muay Thai. I can’t jump like him. So I think he’ll win the fight.
'The Raid: Redemption' trailer
Who are your action heroes?
IU:Jackie Chan is my inspiration in action choreography. I watch his movies and martial arts because they are a realistic form of fighting. Jackie can be attacked by five guys. One guy attacks him but the other four are not standing around waiting to be hit. They’re actually moving around. You can see the realism in his technique. If I could fight just one person in a film, it’d be Jackie.
How does it feel to be a super action director (Gareth) and an action superstar (Iko)?
GE: Well, I lead a very normal, ordinary and boring life. So I guess in a way to a certain point when you’re creating stories, it’s a kind of escapism, you know. I get a certain kick out of writing bad-guy characters more than I do good-guy characters. My good-guy characters tend to be very stiff. But bad guys, I love writing them because they give me an opportunity to say what the hell I want to say. I can speak Indonesian now but it’s been a big learning curve as an Orang Putih (Western) filmmaker in Indonesia.
IU: I’m still the same person. My parents are very supportive. Before I became this “star”, I was working as a delivery man. I didn’t have an ambition to become famous. But this is what God has given to me. I’ll go with the flow because I think that when a man has a certain ambition, he might get disappointed. I’ll see what God has in store for me and let it be. The negative side, though, is I don’t have much of privacy now.
Both of you met each other during the documentary about pencak silat which Gareth made when he first came to Indonesia in 2007. How’s the working relationship? You guys bros?
GE:Iko’s like my little brother. I look out for him all the time. And vice-versa. The difference is that, as his bigger brother, I need him to be able to fight for me. Our friendship exists on a commercial level obviously to make a successful film. But our main goal has always been to promote silat. I don’t think there’s anyone else in Indonesia who can come close to being able to present silat the way he presents it. He has this thing, this juxtaposition between the way he approaches an attack which is beautiful and graceful with a flowing movement.
IU:When I first met Gareth, he said he wanted to make a movie with me. I didn’t really believe him. I had no acting experience. But I thought I’d listen to what he had to say. I only truly believed that our first film, ‘Merantau’, was really on when he gave me the script. That’s when I knew he was serious. The trust and our partnership were built from that point onwards.
Any intention to break out of the action genre for different, er, kicks in drama or comedy?
GE: I feel that right now in my immediate future, anything I do in Indonesia, I want it to be a project with Iko. I want it to be an extension of what we’re exploring with silat and to find different ways of showing silat. ‘Berandal’, the sequel to ‘The Raid’, is naturally going to follow very much a similar style as we did in ‘The Raid’. But after that, we do have a plan to film something that’s very different from silat. You know, actually, when I was in film school, I wanted to make social dramas and thrillers, the sort of stoic films like European art-house and nihilistic Takeshi Kitano movies from Japan -- the gangster thing with the dreamy, edgy atmosphere.