It's only April, but The Raid 2 is the action movie of the year
With a fan base established by the first film, Evans — himself a lifelong action movie lover — knew expectations were high. Somehow, he'd have to top The Raid. "It couldn't be The Raid 2, except now it's a bigger building," he joked. "So, what can we do differently? Expand the universe, and expand the characters. Explore different territory and be able to try different action beats: Car chase! Prison riot! And using weapons that we hadn't introduced before, like the curved blades. It's one of the weapons in silat. So it's like, 'Ok, this thing exists. Why haven't we used it yet?' We kind of hinted at it in Merantau — but we never really used it. Indonesian fans of that movie complained, but I was like, 'Hold tight. We will use it.' It's such a violent, aggressive weapon that it wouldn't have felt right in Merantau. But in The Raid 2, it felt right."
Evans was also concerned that the "element of surprise" would be lost for audiences who had seen the first film. When asked to elaborate — because Uwais' character is a mild-mannered nice guy who, surprise, is also an explosive killing machine? — he broke it down.
"[In the first film, audiences] got a taste for our choreography. We try to differentiate ourselves from other martial artists and filmmakers that do this type of stuff. Not in a way of like, 'What we do is better.' It's more a case of, everyone packages their films differently," he said. "We're big fans of what Tony Jaa has done, and Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, and Jackie Chan. But we have certain rules that we just don't break. We never do a replay of anything when it comes to a stunt or an action sequence. It's all one flow, and it never breaks rhythm — it keeps going until the thing is finished. In terms of slo-mo, we only ever use it to tell something dramatically within a fight sequence. We never use it to show off a movement. Which segues into, no acrobatics. Because as soon as you do that, you've got a stunt guy waiting to get hit. And that takes you out of the scene straightaway."
Presenting the fight scenes as realistically benefits more than just the audience. "On TV in Indonesia, silat is represented in the most bullshit way possible: people jump into the sky and fly, and turn into jaguars, and shoot fireballs out of their eyes. I'm not exaggerating! When we first went to gather money for Merantau, we'd say, 'We're gonna make a silat film!' and people would be like, 'Aw, silat? That's that stupid thing on TV,'" Evans recalled. "But I'd met Iko, and his gurus and teachers, and silat is such an integral part of their lives. [It was important to me that] if we made films about this martial art, we had to do it in a way that reclaims it from what had been done before. We wanted it to be real, and true to what they study."
Though the actual fighting is realistic, the settings were carefully chosen for cinematic impact. Both of those ante-upping "action beats" Evans mentioned — the car chase, in which Uwais' character batters his opponents inside of a moving vehicle, and the prison riot, which is muddy, bloody mayhem — are standouts.
"A lot of people responded to the idea of claustrophobia in the first one, because of all the enclosed spaces," Evans said. "I wanted to find a way to still have these tight moments in the second one, even though the scope was much wider. Even within a car chase, we could dive right inside and have this super claustrophobic fight in the back seat."
Uwais estimated that each fight scene required three or four months of practice — and even more for the car stunt. "Standing and fighting is very different than sitting and fighting," he pointed out.