When “The Raid: Redemption” hit these shores two years ago, discerning fans of action movies knew they were seeing something new and very, very special.
Set almost entirely inside a gang-ruled Jakarta, Indonesia, apartment tower, the film not only introduced Western audiences to the brutally exciting Indonesian martial art pencak silat, but a director who appreciated it enough to showcase the fighting sans the wacky wire work found in most Asian action films and the hyperactive editing that ruins so many American ones.
Now that filmmaker Gareth Evans is unleashing “The Raid 2,” subtitled “Berandal” (which translates to “Delinquent”). It is by every measure a bigger, wilder and more astonishing sequel, in which the SWAT team hero of “Redemption,” Rama (played in both films by Iko Uwais) goes undercover for years in the Jakarta underworld to root out byzantine crime syndicate rivalries and the police corruption that goes along with them.
What has the new film got? A prison yard riot staged in mud. One guy taking on a nightclub full of assassins. A wayward taxi chase that ends with terrible things being done with restaurant equipment. A young man who's figured out how to weaponize baseballs while his sister wipes out a subway car full of bodyguards with just two clawhammers.
And much more, including a climactic, 45-minute-or-so action suite that includes unprecedented motorized mayhem and a series of increasingly intense, differently staged martial arts showdowns.
“The big thing was to kind of expand the universe out from ‘Raid 1's,' ” understates Evans, a husky Welshman with long, swept-back brown hair. “I had no interest in doing that whole thing in one location anymore, I wanted to go bigger and wider in scope.
“But in terms of designing the action set pieces, the story ideas always come first,” he continues. “We don't sit down and say, ‘Let's create a fight scene!' There's got to be something about it that drives the plot forward, or that there's a character arc in there.”
That established, an intricate process of working out the action sequences with Uwais and other silat masters in the cast commences. Lists of moves and “punch lines” — six or seven “wow” moments in each major set-piece — are flow-charted on whiteboards. Then camera angles are worked out during a Handycammed rehearsal with some of the fighters in an office, gym or larger space.
“Later on, when it comes to the full, final shoot, we've got a blueprint to follow,” Evans notes. “We can follow it shot-by-shot, or if something interesting happens or something goes wrong, there are ways that we can shoot that.”
Well, what could possibly go wrong with literally hundreds of guys, and Hammer Girl, whaling on one another in minimally edited, often closely framed takes? With lots of firearms and speeding vehicles sometimes in the mix?
Surprisingly little, Evans insists.
“When it comes to body blows, they always connect,” he, alarmingly, points out. “But these silat guys have the ability to swing or kick and make it feel like it's going to hit really hard, but right at the last moment to take the force from it, to pull the process. It's all about the snap.”
Evans attributes the few semi-serious injuries during the filming of “Raid 2” to performers not following their stunt training. He also reveals that he almost got hit by a car due to his own inattentiveness. The camera he was holding at the time did not survive the incident.
Evans admits that wires are sometimes used in his films, but for safety rather than the gravity-defying acrobatics common in the Hong Kong martial arts films he watched as a kid.
Initially, he had no intention of becoming an action movie director. After meeting his future wife and producing partner Rangga Maya Barack-Evans, he followed her home to Indonesia and, while making a short documentary, met Uwais at a silat school. The Brit was enchanted by the sport and has called Jakarta home ever since.
Though the Indonesian film and television industry has pumped out its share of martial arts shows, most of them incorporate the fantasy elements common throughout Asia. Evans hopes that the rougher, more realistic style he favors will inspire a subgenre at the least. But right now, he doesn't expect to make another martial arts movie for a while.
“This was kind of me at my most self-indulgent,” he laughs about “Raid 2.” “I figured, if this was the last movie I do for a while, I might as well throw everything into it.”