Ten Films To Watch Before The Raid

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The most blistering action film of the year so far, The Raid is so intense it will leave you with actual bruises. The man behind it, Welsh director Gareth Evans, sends Iko Uwais’s greenhorn cop and a small SWAT team into the deadliest housing project in Jakarta, the kind of place that’d give even Snake Plissken second thoughts. It’s a labyrinth of Silat-skilled villains and big bosses… oh, and guns. LOTS of guns. So what were the movies that inspired it? Empire called Evans in Indonesia to find out. Short of concertinaing your face with a wok, there’s no other way to prepare yourself for 100 minutes of martial arts mayhem...

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for The Raid

It’s Bruce Lee’s best film, without a doubt. Because he plays it quiet in The Big Boss (1971) for the first 30-40 minutes - he doesn’t swing a punch - you don’t get that feeling of power. In Fist Of Fury he’s like a maniac; he’s off the leash and there’s something dangerous about his character. His character is unhinged – very violent. I watched the dojo scene over and over and over again.
There’re moments in almost every Bruce Lee film when the rage take over. When Bruce kills someone brutally, you can see this anguished look on his face. The best example is in Enter The Dragon when he crushes O’Hara’s (Robert Wall) ribcage. There’s this look of regret that he’s become the same monster that he was fighting against. We decided to do a subtle take on that when Iwo (Uwais) pulls a guy’s neck onto the doorframe. There’s a little look in his eyes when he acknowledges what he’s done. It’s such a brutal way to kill someone. That was our Bruce Lee moment.
The biggest Jackie Chan influence on The Raid was Dragon Lord. At the end there’s an incredible two-on-one fight, where it’s Jackie Chan and Mars against the big boss, Hwang In-Shik. It’s just brutal. They’re completely overpowered. By the end they’re just throwing their bodies at him. We decided to take that basic structure and add Silat and more complex choreography.
It’s Jackie Chan’s vulnerability that makes him such a likeable character on screen. He takes enough of a beating that you’re never quite sure if he’s going to make it or not. That was one of the things that we riff on in The Raid, so we had a moment where Iko jumps back in through the window after he’s just fallen two storeys. As he walks down the corridor if anyone comes out and attacks him you know he’s done; that’s it.
The Raid’s [pacing] comes strongly from Japanese cinema – from Takeshi Kitano or Takashi Miike – and I wanted to riff on their black humour. A lot of our film plays into Yakuza films. Hana-Bi and Sonatine are the two main ones for me: Hana-Bi has a lot more heart but Sonatine is ice-cold. The nihilism is amazing. There’s a scene in a bar where they’re shooting at each other and no-one is taking cover. It’s such bullshit! There’s no way that would ever happen, but you believe it because it’s presented in a hyper-real way. That was something that I loved in the violence of Kitano’s films.
Luc Besson is an incredible influence for me - Nikita and Leon are fantastic movies. Leon’s SWAT team attack and that sense of claustrophobia were definitely an influence on The Raid, but if anything it was more of an influence on my first feature, Merantau. There’s a moment where the girl is forcing her little brother to hide in a hole in a wall which we borrowed from the scene where Leon gets Mathilda to climb down to the basement.
It’s one of the best American action movies ever made. It’s on every Christmas at our house – it’s a tradition. When I knew I was going to make a film set in one building and I was drawing up a list of the films that I wanted to riff on and learn from, Die Hard was always going to be near the top.
I looked at it for structure and pacing – how much screen time do you allocate to your villain? From Die Hard it’s about learning how it works when it's loud and bombastic; from Assault On Precinct 13 it’s about doing it on a budget. When they’re shooting at the windows [of the precinct], all you see is glass breaking and bits of paper flying up. We thought: “OK, let’s do the same thing.” When the bad guys were shooting at the SWAT team from below the floorboards, it’s me and my sound guys screaming and shouting in post-production. I was my own foley department!
This made me want to have a SWAT team in The Raid. The concept is pretty out there, but it was more about the shooting style - there’s so much energy to every shot. Whenever anyone from the crew came into the office, within five minutes I’d have them watching this. I haven’t had any offers to do music videos yet but I’m an absolute Nine Inch Nails fanboy.
I go back and watch John Carpenter films all the time. There’s something in his films that stands the test of time. They’re all about mood and atmospherics; as well as the overwhelming sense of being hunted. There’s a moment in Escape From New York where Kurt Russell’s being chased by all these bad guys and he shoots the wall with a machine gun to weaken it and jumps through. I wanted to riff on that so we had Iko taking an axe an cutting a hole in the floor. I love the Roddy Piper fight in They Live, too. It’s so ridiculous!