'The Raid' opens a can of whupass
You think you've seen this one before: a band of humans trapped in a dilapidated building, their every exit blocked by an army of killers, their numbers dwindling rapidly, their chances for survival presumably nil. And yet for all its seeming familiarity, Welsh-born director Gareth Evans' astonishingly kickass sophomore effort isn't another in the ongoing gush of gutsy riffs on George Romero's "trapped in an enclosed area with the hungry dead" genre but instead a brutal face-off of cops vs. drug lords that brings to mind the crazed, nonstop, hyperviolent vitality of early Eighties Hong Kong moviemaking. And it's all shot in Jakarta, Indonesia, by a Welshman. Talk about your niche genres.
"My wife is Indonesian-Japanese," explains Evans from New York, where he's touring with the film prior to its U.S. premiere at South by Southwest. "And we were based in Wales but I hadn't really done enough in the UK to get myself recognized or to be able to push forward with anything."
Long story short, Evans' wife put in a few calls and found him a gig directing a documentary in Indonesia about the martial art silat. The documentary job led in turn to Evans meeting silat master-in-training Iko Uwais, who then starred in Evans' first feature, 2009 Fantastic Fest favorite Merantau.
"That whole experience led me to the idea that we could do martial-arts films right there in Indonesia and then export them, because cinema in Indonesia had kind of vanished for 15 to 20 years [under the Suharto regime]. So that's what we've done."
Evans, then, is essentially starting the Indonesian action-film genre from scratch, utilizing stuntmen and actors who've spent the last 20 years working in television and less physically taxing fields.
"To be honest," admits Evans, "in terms of martial-arts films and acting in Indonesia, because of the gap in film production, we've kind of gone right back to the drawing board. We still feel like we're in our infancy with action films here. The stuntmen, for example, have all been working in television, where they shoot an entire episode in one day. The stunts and action they were used to doing weren't anywhere near as complex as what we wanted them to do. So during preproduction, we had to workshop everyone to get them all back up to speed. Our plan was to raise the bar. A lot."
The Raid: Redemption, which features some of the most wince-inducing stuntwork seen onscreen since, oh, Jackie Chan's Police Story 2, is a veritable medley of greatest hits – oofs, arrrghs, and holy crap! did you see that?!s. Certainly, enough blank ammo is fired to rival most big-budget Hollywood shoot-'em-ups, but it's the sheer physicality of lead actor Uwais and his supporting players that makes you flinch from the screen as yet another bad guy takes it on the chin (or in the cojones). To be sure, The Raid: Redemption pulls zero punches.
"I tend to design the stunts," Evans explains, "and then, working with the stunt coordinator, we attempt to figure out how to execute it – and execute it in a safe way."
Watching a sequence in which one baddie goes tumbling over the edge of a tenement stairwell only to have his fall – and, with an all-too-realistic crunch, his back – broken by a well-placed railing, it's impossible not to think of those old outtake reels that ran under the closing credits of Chan's best films. Even Wile E. Coyote rarely suffered this much abuse.
"There were a couple of hairy moments while we were filming," admits the director, "but thankfully none that left anyone with any permanent injury. We always have an ambulance crew and a paramedics team on the set.
"With [the aforementioned stairwell fall], the stuntman missed the crash mat and ended up falling fifteen meters onto the concrete floor below. But as soon as he regained consciousness, he was really eager to do it again. We kind of had to quash that whole macho, tough-guy bullshit thing and say, 'No, you've got to go to the hospital first.' But then three, four days later he was back on set ready to go and we finally got the shot done then. So, you know, in the end it all worked out for the best."
The Raid: Redemption
Sunday, March 11, 9:30pm, Paramount