The Welshman has become a huge fave among action cinema fanboys with The Raid: Redemption. He talks to Tom Huddleston.
Deliriously violent Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid: Redemption has ripped through the world’s genre festivals and made a fanboy favourite of 31-year-old Welsh writer-director Gareth Evans. The tale of a Swat team trapped in a tower block controlled by drug cartels announces the arrival of a major new action director.
How does a Cardiff boy end up making action movies in Indonesia?
Well, my wife’s Indonesian-Japanese but I was based in Wales. I never moved far from home and I’d never made a proper stab at the film industry in the UK. I didn’t push hard enough – it was my own fault – and I ended up just working a nine-to-five job. We loved Swansea. It was great at weekends. But Monday to Friday, while I was at work, it was difficult for my wife. So she put out a call to some contacts in Indonesia and managed to get me work on a documentary about silat, the martial art used in The Raid. And, throughout the process of making the doc, I fell in love with that martial arts discipline – and with the traditions and cultures of Indonesia. I realised I was comfortable making the move out there, to live and work.
Your first Indonesian film, Merantau, was also based around the same martial art, silat.
When I first got to Indonesia, I worked in a TV company, which was very restrictive. But I was good friends with producers there and we talked about making a film – a really good martial arts movie. I’d never seen silat before and, once I became aware of it, I wanted my friends to see it too. So I looked for that one great film that would showcase silat and it turned out there weren’t any. So, when I left the TV station, my wife set up a company with myself and these producers. She’s the real boss. She controls every aspect of my life in and out of work. I’m just the creative side.
What made you write The Raid?
We had to do something else out there. I knew I could bring it in for $1million and one guy agreed to fund it. It was faster than anything I’d written before, very streamlined and much less complex. I’m the first to admit that. If we put too many dramatic beats in there it would have killed the power of the film. And I was really influenced by everything I was watching. The reason we used a tower block was because of Die Hard. The tension and the claustrophobia came from Assault on Precinct 13. And the Swat team came from the Romain Gavras video for MIA’s Born Free, which I played to the crew every day in pre-production.
I’ve heard that you have a unique style of shooting...
Yes, we film everything with a Handycam in pre-production. We work out every single angle of every single fight and we edit it together so we have a template, and everyone knows what’s going on. Then, on location, we just drop the shots into that timeline and gradually the shitty footage shot in the office is replaced by production value shots. It saves us money. We don’t really know how to make action films, so this is the technique we made up. And it’s become a vital tool.
What will you do now that The Raid has been such a success?
The response has been overwhelming. People have supported it in a really unexpected way. My ultimate goal is to make the kinds of movies that feature action in the way Sam Peckinpah’s did. Visceral, thrilling moments that mean something. It’s about character, it’s about story, it’s not just spectacle. I aspire to that. I’m a way off – but maybe five or 10 films down the line I’ll get there. And I’d like to work in the US but the $100million budget, that’ll never be me; that’s not my style of filmmaking.
The Raid: Redemption opens on June 14.