Crash, bang, wal­lop

Break­through thriller is di­rected by Welsh­man Gareth Evans who grew up on Jackie Chan. It’s a dream come true, he tells Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

ARETH EVANS must be the most un­likely man ever to di­rect a break­out Asian ac­tion movie. Since it sneaked onto the fes­ti­val cir­cuit late last year, The Raid – an In­done­sian thriller en­tirely con­tained within one de­cay­ing apart­ment block – has been gath­er­ing buck­ets of de­served ac­claim. Crack­ing along at a re­lent­less pace, the picture piles fe­ro­cious punch-up upon ear-shat­ter­ing shootout. The Raid won the Mid­night Mad­ness Award at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val and both the au­di­ence award and the Dublin Film Crit­ics Cir­cle best picture prize at the Jame­son Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (the first time those two gongs have gone to the same film).

Against the odds, the lat­est hero of Asian cinema turns out to be an af­fa­ble, enor­mously tall young man from the Rhondda Val­ley. He must be sick to death of ex­plain­ing how this came to pass. But he’ll have to tell the story at least one more time.

“Oh that’s all right, that’s all right,” he says in a rain-soft­ened voice. “I was based in Wales all my life – un­til I was about 27 I guess. I al­ways wanted to make films, but never quite man­aged it in the UK. That was my own fault. I didn’t push hard enough. My wife, who is In­done­sian and Ja­panese, put in a few calls at home and man­aged to get me a doc­u­men­tary on Silat, the In­done­sian mar­tial art. That in­tro­duced me to the cul­ture. That was the start­ing point. I knew I could live and work there. That was it.”

That sounds sim­ple enough. We’ll come back to the gen­e­sis of The Raid. But let’s dally a while in the Val­leys. Evans is the son of a com­puter teacher dad and a mum who worked in the law courts. His fa­ther was a film fa­natic and used to bring home an eclec­tic se­ries of videos: Kuro­sawa one day, Die Hard the next, Jackie Chan the day af­ter that. He re­mem­bers be­ing ush­ered from the room dur­ing the no­to­ri­ous chain­saw se­quence in Scar­face.

“That’s what he’d do. He’d just put the video on pause and ask me to leave,” he laughs. “So, I’d sit out­side lis­ten­ing to this scream­ing and imag­in­ing much worse than

Gwhat was ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. My friends and I would then act out Jackie Chan films in the gar­den. For­tu­nately, we didn’t have a cam­era. So, there’s no em­bar­rass­ing footage.” He did a me­dia course af­ter school and now re­mem­bers work­ing film footage into ev­ery dis­ser­ta­tion he was as­signed. Af­ter that he stud­ied scriptwrit­ing at the Univer­sity of Glam­or­gan. His Asian bias was al­ready ev­i­dent at this early stage. As an ex­er­cise, Evans wrote a script en­ti­tled Samu­rai Mono­gatari. It never crossed his mind that the film would get made, but, af­ter a friend trans­lated it into Ja­panese, he found him­self di­rect­ing the piece as a no-bud­get fea­ture. “Yeah, we bought or­na­men­tal swords from ebay and one of them broke and the blade flew off. Who would have thought they wouldn’t be safe to use?” he says. “It was a hell of a lot of fun. It was great to do some­thing semi-pro­fes­sional. We were in the for­est pre­tend­ing we were in Ja­pan. It didn’t re­ally open any doors. Then I did an in­de­pen­dent fea­ture called Foot­steps. That didn’t open any doors ei­ther. But I just wasn’t try­ing hard enough. It took the trip to In­done­sia to do that.”

Be­fore trav­el­ling to Jakarta, Evans, who had only been to the coun­try once be­fore, se­cured a job at a lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion. While work­ing on the Silat doc­u­men­tary, he met up with Iko Uwais, mas­ter of the In­done­sian mar­tial art Pen­cak Silat. The two men de­cided to make a fea­ture. Their first ef­fort, Mer­antu, gath­ered some no­tice. But The Raid saw Evans re­ally find­ing his feet. The film of­fers a mas­ter­class in the art of dis­ci­pline. There is not an ounce of fat to be found.

“Mak­ing the doc­u­men­tary helped me shake off that feel­ing of be­ing a for­eigner. It dragged me away from the tourist ar­eas. When it came to do­ing a proper movie, we did not al­low our­selves to act like for­eign film-mak­ers. We were not go­ing to shoot it like a post­card with all the land­marks. You know what I mean. Ev­ery Amer­i­can film set in Paris has the Eif­fel Tower in ev­ery shot. That wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen.”

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