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'The Raid' storms Sundance; director earns praise

Published January 24, 2012 9:23 am

Film festival • Welsh director Gareth Evans emerges as top-tier talent with Indonesian martial arts movie.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The future of martial arts movies can be found in a white Welsh director.

Gareth Evans, the 31-year-old director of the Indonesian martial arts action movie "The Raid," which made its U.S. premiere at this week's Sundance Film Festival, somehow found his way in Jakarta making martial arts films (which include the acclaimed action movie "Merantau").

"The Raid," about Indonesian police who storm the apartment fortress of a vicious drug lord, won the Midnight Madness award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival last September and has since been picked up by Sony for theatrical distribution in March.

We caught up with the hot new director last week to see how he ended up in Indonesia and which directors have inspired him to make movies.

How did a man from Wales end up being a filmmaker in Indonesia making martial arts films?

My wife is Indonesian-Japanese and her family is based in Indonesia, and we were based in the U.K. for a while. She got me a job doing a directing gig on a documentary in Indonesia. And that was about [the martial art] Silat. I ended up becoming obsessed with martial arts. Throughout the process of shooting the documentary, I came away with a storyline called "Merantau," and I came away with Iko ["Merantau" and "The Raid" star Iko Uwais] and a choreography team. We kind of made a decision to move out to Jakarta once we moved there. And she's [his wife] my boss. She owns the production company that makes the films, so I've got to keep her happy otherwise she'll leave me and fire me.

This movie got a huge reaction at the Toronto Film Festival. How did that feel?

It was incredible. With Toronto, it was one of those things where we were able to completely surprise people because nobody had seen a second of the footage of the film and nobody knew what to expect. When I was doing post-production I was going like, "This could go either way." I wasn't 100-percent confident about it before we screened it in Toronto. So to get that kind of reaction from the Midnight Madness crowd was just intense. It completely elevated the screening. It was a great feeling.

Has Hollywood called you?

Uh-huh. I've signed with [agents] Management 360. And also two days ago, I just signed with WME [William Morris Endeavor]. It's in the cards. But my goal is to do a film in Indonesia and then a film internationally. I kind of want to be able to bounce back and forth.

Sony is distributing this film and there's already been word that Sony wants to do an American remake. Are you going to be involved?

I'm involved as an EP [executive producer]. My guys are doing the fight choreography for the film as well, so they have more direct involvement in the film.

How do you feel about that? Are you excited that they want to remake it or do you feel in some way it kind of diminishes your film? What's wrong with the film that you made?

For me, there's benefits to it. There's only positives to it. If people love the remake, they will go see the original. If people don't like the remake, they'll still go see the original. It brings a lot more awareness to my version of the film as well. And there were things I wanted to do with this one that I couldn't because of budget restrictions, so there were certain moments I had to hold back from what I really wanted to do with the film. So hopefully whomever they get to direct can come to it with a fresh pair of eyes and do all the things I wish I could have done. It would be cool to see what they do with it.

What action movies and directors inspired you the most growing up?

Jackie Chan, Sam Peckinpah, John Woo. I love all of those films with extreme gunplay and clear, crisp choreography. If you look at "Hard Boiled" or "The Wild Bunch" or "Police Story," "Armour of God," "Project A" — they're all classics in the genre.

vince@sltrib.com

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