A Welsh film director based in Indonesia, Gareth Evans is popular for bringing Pencak Silat to world cinema, first with his documentary Merentau and then, with the latest The Raid: Redemption.
Tracing back his journey, Gareth starts off, “I grew up watching and loving action films. The films I prefer, the films that I love are from the golden age of HongKong cinema in the 80s and early 90s, with Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen.” He then adds, “And what’s great about all of them is that when it comes to the action sequences, there’s detail, clarity and spatial awareness. You get a sense of the full geography and you understand where each attack is coming from.”
Ask him how he discovered his love for Silat?
He replies, “After I got married to my wife, an Indonesian, I moved there for a documentary, which is where I discovered Silat. I got to learn about the culture, the traditions and met Iko Uwais, the lead actor in The Raid, with which all things fell into place, and that’s how it all kicked off”
Silat is a traditional Thailand fighting style whose practices have largely been passed down orally, lending it a mythic quality. It’s weapon-based, largely around single-edged swords, and after Indonesia gained independence, its style was more largely influenced by cultural and philosophical forces.
Expressing his love for the martial art form, the director says, “The fighting style is very different than what a lot of people in the west are used to. It’s less flashy than a Bruce Lee style and there aren’t a lot of spinning triple kicks.”
Sharing his experiences on shooting the movie, the director says, “When we were making this film, we were making it on a cut budget, and the idea of restricting it to one location was a little problematic. The heat in the noon was really punishing. It was a tough shoot and was a really tough project to do.”
The movie was a hit at the recent Toronto Film Festival and The Raid: Redemption won the Midnight Madness Award. “We never anticipated that The Raid would get the response that it has so far. It’s just been an incredible, humbling experience to see that it’s being received the way it has.”
Silat is a fighting style which is perceived to be really violent and similarly the movie has quite a few violent scenes in it, as the plot describes. When asked if regretted shooting any of the scenes, the director responds, “I think all martial art forms have a brutal side to them. Martial arts tend to share the same style and movements. It’s just the packaging that’s different. We had no idea what the response would be or what the release would be like.”
The movie hit theatres in India on Friday and the director says he is expecting a positive response from people here. “I have heard action is popular as a genre in India as well. I would love to come down and interact with audiences to check their reaction to The Raid.” Discussing his future projects, Gareth says, “The Raid: Redemption is the first part of a planned action trilogy. So Berandal would be the next film in the pipeline. Sony has also decided to go ahead with the English-language remake of The Raid so that’s there too.”
A great admirer of Jackie Chan, Gareth says, “The kind of investment he makes in his productions, his action stunts, takes real skill. And to build those characters and portray that vulnerability and emotion, it is just amazing. I would love to work with Jackie Chan, sometime in future.”