A few years ago, Welsh-born filmmaker Gareth Evans went to Jakarta, Indonesia, to work on a documentary about pencak silat – a fluid, fast-paced, akimbo-limbed style of martial art. He stuck around to make the 2009 film Merantau, which follows a silat student as he dispatches baddies with a storm of flips, punches, and air kicks – sometimes all in one balletic motion.
Merantau became a cult hit, in large part because of its lack of action-flick frippery: no egregious slow-mo, no CG embellishment. “We try to keep everything realistic,” Evans says, “to deliver it short, sharp, and as much in real time as possible.”
That approach is readily evident in Evans’ latest film, The Raid: Redemption, a crazy-violent tale that follows a SWAT team as it storms a decrepit, thug-filled apartment building.
A hit at both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals, The Raid could make Indonesia the next action hot zone. With a budget of about $1 million, it’s got a minimum of wirework and visual effects, but it packs more visceral thrills than Fast Five. Evans and his stars spent months mapping out, rehearsing, and shooting the fight scenes, one of which lasts for nearly seven minutes. Backs are broken, skulls are bounced along the walls, and a filing cabinet becomes a deadly weapon.
Before Evans goes to work on a planned sequel, one of his stars is teaching him pencak silat so he’ll better understand the poetry of beatdowns. The director says the training is grueling: “I think he’s just getting revenge for making him do take after take.”