It’s the morning before the world premiere of Gareth Evans’ martial-arts extravaganza “The Raid 2,” and the director had been moving like one of his lightning-fast characters to finish the film in time for this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
But the Welsh filmmaker just completed editing the movie and has landed in Salt Lake City on Monday to unveil it to an eager audience of action fans.
“It feels good. We’re looking forward to the screening and see how it plays,” he said about the movie, which premieres tonight at 9:45 at the Eccles Theatre in Park City. “It’s very different from the first movie, and we have a couple of surprises up our sleeves, so it should be fun.”
Topping his last film is going to be tough. The gut-punching “The Raid,” which swiftly struck Sundance audiences in the jaw in 2012 with its flying fists and high-kicking martial arts, garnered the 33-year-old Evans a lot of attention in Hollywood and his first contract with the William Morris agency to make movies in America.
Now Evans is back with a new follow-up that takes the high-strung Indonesian cop Rama (played by martial-arts actor Iko Uwais) out of the claustrophobic building in the first movie and has the action spill out all over Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia. In “The Raid 2,” Rama ends up working for an anti-corruption task force and must take down another crime boss. Evans said it will have deeper character arcs as well as bolder action. The movie debuts in U.S. theaters in March.
“This one is a bigger movie and has more locations and more eccentricities to it. I’m happy where we go with it,” he said.
Evans, who worked with Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (who played the vicious “Mad Dog” in the first movie) on the fight choreography, also ratchets up the action scenes, he said. All three are well-versed in an Indonesian style of martial arts called Silat, which Evans has employed in all three of his feature films and says has more than a hundred variations.
“One of the goals from the beginning was that we didn’t want to make the same film twice. We wanted to expand on the universe and get this much bigger scope in terms of the action scenes,” he said. “The three of us started workshopping ideas and came up with different movements and ways to show those movements in the character.”
Evans was introduced to the world of Silat martial arts while making a documentary on the fighting style with his producer and wife, who is Indonesian and Japanese. His first film, “Merantau,” used Silat for the first time and was his first collaboration with actor Uwais, who worked for a telephone company before Evans discovered him.
The director’s influences from action cinema are varied, ranging from the poetic violence of Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”) and John Woo (“The Killer”) to the stunt choreography of Jackie Chan. His directing principles are simple: Plant the camera and let the movement of the actors and the fighting speak for itself.
“I’m not really well-versed in the editing software, so I keep it simple — more to the old style of straight cuts. I’m not doing 50 cuts every second,” he said. “And one of the things I don’t like seeing is where the action comes purely from the sound and not the visual.”
Evans’ plan is to make one movie in Jakarta and one film in the U.S. every other year. He said he’s working on a couple of projects for his U.S. debut, including producing an American remake of “The Raid.” The one thing he hopes is that his unique vision and action style will not get watered down when he makes the transition to Hollywood filmmaking.
“I’m not really worried about it. It’s one of those things where every decision will have a tradeoff,” he said about the compromises made in Hollywood. “But if I continue to find producing partners who… have a shared viewpoint of the film and if they want the same thing, it will make it easier. I’ve been careful about that.”
‘The Raid 2’ screening
Today, 8 a.m. at The MARC, Park City
Saturday, 3 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City