Just a whiff of the dreaded “R” word is enough to make many a film fan turn up their nose, but a remake of one of the greatest action films of the 21st century? That sounds like you’re asking for a trouble. Not that that seemingly dissuades Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo from making their version of The Raid though. After the production was stuck in developmental hell for ages, it was finally confirmed last week that the two men – who first worked together on the incredible The Grey – would respectively be writing/directing/co-producing and starring in/co-producing an English-language do-over of Gareth Evans’ 2011 Indonesian martial arts gamechanger.
Collider got to sit down with the two men to discuss hows and whys of tackling this project, and learned that this Raid may be different to the last. Very different, in fact. The original followed police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) and the rest of his special tactics unit, who get sent into an apartment block overrun by criminals to apprehend a kingpin, only to get to the top and find that its all a trap, forcing the unit to have to fight their way back down again to survive. Along the way, Rama and his crew go through a bloodbath, engaging in some of the most visceral action ever put to screen, with Uwais and his co-stars putting on jaw-dropping display of martial arts choreography.
Carnahan and Grillo – despite the latter actually being a serious boxing and Gracie Jiu Jitsu practitioner for more than three decades already – will not necessarily be going for martial arts wizardry in their movie though. They’re more interested in showing their heroes not so much as ass-kicking super-cops, but rather weary, broken down brawlers who engage in realistic, grueling action.
JOE CARNAHAN: What Frank and I both cotton to is this idea of special operators. Special forces operation guys often times like football players. They’re never 100%. Soft tissue damage in their hands, radial fractures, knees are shot, this and that. So this idea you’re catching a guy who is compelled to go after his brother after he just got his ass kicked in a completely different operation. You’re getting a guy who’s like the walking wounded. So you’re immediately plugging in to this very mortal, very human, everybody’s been hurt, everybody’s tweaked their back; in fact, more people have an affinity and an understanding of that situation than being this completely physically fit monster that doesn’t feel pain.
There’s a level of brutality, a level of violence. If our movie felt like the knife fight between Adam Goldberg and the German in Saving Private Ryan the entirety of the movie, then we’ve done exactly what we need to do. Something that grueling and tough.
FRANK GRILLO: You want to look away but you can’t.
If you caught that bit above where Carnahan mentioned their hero going after his brother, you may be a little confused as there was no such plot point in The Raid or its follow-up The Raid: Berandal. You may know that because you watched the original, but you’re actually in the minority here. As Collider pointed out, despite The Raid blowing up the film festival scene at the time of release, and leaving genre aficionados with their jaws on the floor, it actually was not a widely seen movie. Even after it was distributed in America as The Raid: Redemption, it still only managed to make about $5 million globally. That means that there’s a huge portion of the movie-going public out there that have no idea about the original, as such won’t even know that Carnahan and Grillo’s version is a remake.
GRILLO: Many Americans, most Americans, have never seen The Raid before.
CARNAHAN: By the way, Smokin’ Aces is about an assault on a penthouse with a bunch of crazy people fighting their way up to the top. That was six years before The Raid was made. So it’s not like these are things that don’t interest me. I can show you a pattern. I dig that kind of an idea.
GRILLO: And I’ll tell you something that bothers me. When people say you’re doing to do “The Hollywood Version” of The Raid–
CARNAHAN: Or whitewash it.
GRILLO: First of all, we’re not the Hollywood version of anything. We come through the back door all the time. I’m not Tom Cruise. I’m not the Hollywood version. I’m not knocking Tom Cruise, but he’s Tom Cruise. He gets to do whatever he wants. So my point is we don’t have to do this. We can do anything we want to do. We want to do this because there’s something we see that we want to show to American audiences, and audiences globally. Many people have not seen The Raid.
CARNAHAN: Among cinephiles, it’s a beloved film. But people in Des Moines, Iowa have not seen The Raid.
It’s not just not having intensely choreographed martial arts that will be different from this version though, as the action will obviously also be displaced from its original Indonesian setting. But not to America though, despite this being a Hollywood production.
CARNAHAN: [It’s set in Caracas, Venezuela]. Because Caracas is a madhouse. It’s almost like a safehouse for bad guys, like they built this block in Caracas because this is where you come to do business and no one will fuck with you. Because it’s such a dangerous place, nobody wants to go in there. Again, it’s heightening elements of The Raid that were already there, I’m taking these story elements and kind of weaponizing them. Just giving them a shot of steroids, because again everything is about zagging—where The Raid zigged, we’ll zag.
And one of the zags is in the film’s story, which as previously mentioned, now revolves around two brothers that seemingly have different outlooks on life and law, inspired by their divisive father.
CARNAHAN: It’s a very different relationship with the brothers, because their father is a very centrifugal figure in this thing. Without getting too deep into it it’s all about the idea that a man is able to create the version of himself that surpasses himself, but one of them sees him for what he really is which is not this world beater. It’s the opposite of—you know Liam Neeson has that line in The Grey of “My dad saw weakness everywhere,” it’s that guy, but he is weak. So the argument between these two brothers, the split between them, is about their dad. He built these things that are superior and that are real soldiers, but he’s not that. You bought that line, I didn’t buy that line. I went my way and you went your way.
That’s very different to what we saw in the original, which was a very lean affair that primarily focused on the incredible action. But this new approach actually comes with the blessing of none other original director Gareth Evans himself.
GRILLO: We’ve had two-hour conversations with Gareth. He says, “Go make your version. I want to see your version.”
CARNAHAN: This is Gareth, who made two brilliant films saying, “I’m most excited to see what you guys are going to do with it.” Which is the best.
GRILLO: And talking to Gareth first was very important to him and I. Let’s talk to him. Does he want this movie?
CARNAHAN: Because if he had shut it down…
GRILLO: We were done.
It’s not just Evans though who has given his stamp of approval, as original star Iko Uwais would also like to be involved in some capacity.
GRILLO: I did a movie with Iko. I’m friends with Iko. Iko may be in this movie. We don’t know… So Iko and I did a movie in Indonesia last year. It’s a big kind of sci-fi movie, and I don’t know where it’s going to come out, when it’s going to come out, but Iko and I became best friends. We became brothers. And he’s my boy. When he heard this, he reached out to immediately and said, “Is there a place for me in the movie?” This is the guy who originated the role, and was the star in both movies–it’s a film that everyone wants to be involved in, even the guy who is the guy. So maybe. Joe said maybe there’s a world where he’s one of the other guys. Who knows.
Evans actually reused Indonesian actor Yayan Ruhian to play two different central characters in The Raid: Redemption and The Raid: Berandal, so I see no reason why Uwais can’t play a character in the original and a different character in the remake. It will be a nice nod back.
One other way Carnahan and Grillo are keeping some symmetry with the original is that they’re not trying to turn this into a super polished mega blockbuster. They’re keeping this small and contained, and just as rough, as evidenced by the fillm’s budget and their willingness to make it.
CARNAHAN: We’re going to do this for under $20 million, which is about as down and dirty as you can get, but there’s no studio. It’s us.
We’re not taking any money up front to do the movie. We’re going to take everything on the back. We’ll bet on ourselves. And if that doesn’t work and if that doesn’t satisfy people’s cynicism, then I got nothing else.
One question is also when this movie is getting made. It’s been in the pipeline for ages now, and with Carnahan still having a number of things on his plate – including penning the Uncharted movie and writing/directing Bad Boys 3 – scheduling might be tough.
CARNAHAN: I mean listen, [we’re doing it] as soon as possible. We have to always, Frank and I, we have to act as though the thing that we’re talking about doing now we’re doing next. And I’m writing the script right now, so I want it to go ASAP.
While I am course hugely hesitant about any attempt to remake The Raid, since I feel that recapturing that magic is probably an impossible task, I am a huge fan of both Carnahan and Grillo and know that they actually have the tools to make a really good action thriller. Whether it will be as good as Evans’ masterpiece though…