01/23/2014 10:17 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'The Raid 2' Director, Gareth Evans, On Building His Improbable Franchise

George Pimentel via Getty Images

Gareth Evans directed "The Raid 2," which premiered Tuesday night at the Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim, but as my interview with the 33-year-old director began, I found myself with no questions prepared. His film's action sequences are so beautifully choreographed, that as I walked down Main Street thinking about what I had witnessed on screen the night before, I completely neglected to actually write some of these thoughts down. As I sat face-to-face with Evans, I explained what had happened, and told him that I was going to just wing it. His eyes lit up in excitement.

"All right, let's do it! You know, winging it's more fucking fun, but otherwise, I get the same questions," he said. "So this is going to be fun."

Speaking of fun, I would here describe the plot of "The Raid 2" -- which has a lot more plot then the first installment, as Officer Rama (Iko Uwais) infiltrates a gang -- but the main reason we see these movies is for the non-stop action sequences that put big-budget studio movies to shame. It's actually a wonder that Hollywood studios have yet to hire Evans, though that might happen sooner rather than later -- at least judging from what he told me below.

There's a lot more plot in this one compared to the first. Roger Ebert wrote that infamous review of your first one, where lack of character was his big complaint. Was that in your head at all for this one?
No, no. To be honest, I mean, the script for this one existed way before the first one did.

You were that confident before the first one debuted that you knew you'd make a second one?
No. Well, it was supposed to be a stand-alone film at first; it wasn't about an undercover cop in this first version of it. It was about a normal, everyday guy that intervened in an incident that was happening outside -- beat up the wrong guy, politicians had him arrested, stuck in prison. Ends up befriending the son of a mob boss, and when he gets outside, gets introduced into that world and becomes an enforcer. That was the first version of the script. So it was all kind of there; the structure was kind of there. But then the film escalated -- and as the film got more and more progressively violent and the situation kind of became more and more dangerous ...

Why did you go more violent? Is that always what you wanted to do?
Well, it's just that idea of, like in the first script, is the idea of as it got more violent, the question mark of "Why didn't he just leave the Mafia?" As an everyday guy, that was fucked in the script. I couldn't figure out how to keep him there. And then I can do this unique little part two of something -- potential trilogy -- which feels totally different from the first film, but has the same universe and the same characters and the same themes.

You've made your own film franchise.
I know, but I don't think of it like that.

You don't really see many sequels at film festivals, other than the "Before Sunrise" movies.
Yeah. I didn't think about that. Yeah, it's kind of weird. But, for me, I don't think about it on a franchise level when I make a film.

But that's what it's become.
I know. But it's like, then that's almost a byproduct of the fact that I just wanted to continue doing the story and continue this character. I make films I want to watch and if I make a film which I don't want to watch, then I'm the wrong person to direct it then, you know?

If Part 2 were the first one, would it have been as successful as the actual first one?
I have no idea.

I think it's tough to mass market a foreign-language film that's this violent, but the story itself in the first one is so simple. But, now, people are hooked so you can open things up.
Yeah. I think we surprised people in the first one. We had that element of surprise that happens a lot. And, yeah, when that first film came out, I don't know if there was anything else like that at that point. Because we just kind of came out of nowhere. And we weren't expecting it to take off either.

So when you were making it, you weren't thinking, "Hey, this could catch on"?
No. Even after post-production, when we finished and we had the first print of the film, I watched it and I didn't think that either.

Yeah, I thought it was just some cool scenes -- some parts I'm not happy with. A lot of things I want to fix, but it's done now. And then we screened it and then it just fucking exploded.

This second one is more ambitious.
Yeah, way more. And I learned a lot from "Merantau" and I learned a lot off "The Raid" in order to make "The Raid 2."

Where do you come up with the ideas on how these enforcers kill people? A baseball bat has been used, but I've never seen it used to hit baseballs at people as a weapon.
I mean, I knew I was going to use a baseball bat.

Which, that's been done.
Bashing people with a baseball bat's been done.

But to actually go, "I'm going to shag baseballs at people."
The ball one, we questioned over and over again in the script. We were like, "Do we really want to do this? Are we going to do this? Is this pushing it too far?"

What was the downside?
Well, the thing is, we'd take it to a certain level of the reality, and then after a while, then we want to kind of like rein it in so it doesn't break the rules of logic. All right, so if we shoot it in a way where we can still convince people that it could happen so that it's not like too comic bookish, then we can get away with it. It's outrageous and it's crazy, but it doesn't bend the rules of the logic of it too far; it just takes it to the breaking point.

The fight scene at the end in the kitchen, how long does something like that take to choreograph?
We took about a month and a half just designing it.

Just on that one scene?
Yeah. So we'll design the entire thing. The guys will come up with all these different movements, and I'll document everything. That took about a month, because it's, like, seven minutes of unrelenting violent fighting. And so that was the toughest thing we've done. Then we practiced, then the guys practiced for about two to three months then before the shoot -- and then we shot for about 10 days. And that was a brutal 10 days.

Ten days for one scene?
Ten days. Well, 12 hours of fighting every day there.

You're making some of the most interesting fight sequences with less money than other people. Is there a trick? Is the trick just a lot of practice?
It's the skill of the fighters. I mean, you know, from my side of it, I'll be superinvolved with them in terms of choreography design.

But if you're not shooting it right, it's just going to look like a big mess. We're not going to be able to follow it.
But that's why I get involved in the choreography is because I need to be able to see everything so I can acknowledge each intricate detail of the choreography. That way, I know what I have to show and I know what the highlight is of that piece of movement. So whether it's a lock to the wrist or whether it's a pull or a throw, I try to figure out, "Well what's the best way to shoot that thing?" What's the best camera movement for that sequence? And yeah, so that combined with their amazing technical fighting ability is just what makes this work.

So "The Raid 3" is going to happen?
I have ideas for "The Raid 3."

You mentioned earlier that you had an idea for a trilogy. Would you do more than three?
I'd stop after part three. And I think past three, you get that lower diminishing return.

There's not a lot of great part fours out there. There's a few.
Name them.

The "Harry Potter" movies got better as they went along...
Oh, see, I haven't watched "Harry Potter," so I don't know.

But that's rare.
"Jaws 4"?

"The Revenge"?
"The Revenge"!

Michael Caine ... No.
Good shit [laughs].

Speaking of like the big studio movies, are you getting attention from them? Have they been emailing you?
Yeah, I have a contact every now and then. Right now, I'm developing two projects; one in the U.S., one in UK, both with different studios. And I kind of have to figure out which one's going to go first and see where we are with them both. One, I'm writing myself; one's being written by an incredible writer called Matthew Reid. But we're doing different projects right now and just trying to figure out which one's going to be the right time, the right place, to be the first thing I do outside of Indonesia.

If it came out in the next couple years that your name associated with a Marvel movie, the internet would explode. You know that's true.
I haven't been called for a superhero movie yet, but I have been called for some stuff that's pretty big. For me it's got to be the right thing.

The Internet loves you.
Yeah. At least, at the moment, they do, yeah [laughs]. Let's hope it stays that way, right? Because if they hate you, they fucking hate you then. I've got some cool ideas up my sleeve for part three -- and it's very, very, very different from part one or two.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.



Sundance Film Festival 2014