Not only one of my favorite films of this year’s Fantastic Fest, but for all of 2018 is writer/director Timo Tjahjanto’s action-fueled masterpiece The Night Comes For Us, which pits Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim against each other, resulting in a bone-crunchingly awesome experience that proves there may only be one way to skin a cat, but there are infinite ways to stab and inflict copious amounts of pain on another human being.
While in Austin, this writer had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Tjahjanto and Taslim to discuss their latest collaboration, upping the ante for The Night Comes For Us, and much more. And for all you action film fans out there, the film hits Netflix on October 19th, and is very much worth your time.
Congratulations to you both. Timo, I don't mean this as an insult or anything, but every film you have done so far, there has been this progression as a filmmaker, and as a storyteller—from Killers to Headshot to The Night Comes For Us. Can you talk about continuously pushing yourself and how conscientious that was for you to keep taking these action films to new heights throughout your career?
Timo Tjahjanto: Okay, so I'll be very honest. I'm grateful to be surrounded by really talented people, like Gareth Evans. At some point he was living in Indonesia, so in a sense I kind of learned stuff from him. Me, by nature, right now, after ten years of filmmaking, I realize I'm not a natural-born genius. So I keep on learning. Plus, in terms of our resources in Indonesia, it's very limited. As a country, it is very productive in making films, but mostly they are low-budget stuff. It's really hard to do something really technically challenging. If you see a car crash or something like that, or blood spreading out everywhere or a body splitting, which is cool to do in both horror and action films, it’s very technically hard to do for us there. Here in Hollywood, you guys have all the right teams to do that. But with us, it's a learning process. It's always trial and error. It's very manual. It's very down and dirty, akin to when Tobe Hooper shot his first Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's very sticky and unglamorous.
Me as a filmmaker from when I was younger, almost ten years ago exactly, I really loved that stuff. I really do enjoy the whole process of making an error and learning how to be better. As a storyteller, I don't know. But as a guy who really just wants to have fun on set, I love the chaos, I love when things get destroyed, I love when pretty faces get bruised. Not in a misogynistic way, but you know what I mean. The worst thing you can do as a horror or an action filmmaker is to have people who remain looking good while going through all this horrible stuff. I like them to be looking in a spot, where there's the tear and the cuts and bruises and stuff to humanize them. So that's what I really love to do in terms of my filmmaking. And I was a clumsy guy in the beginning of my career, so hopefully I keep on getting to a better place.
Joe, I would love to hear from you about this character Ito and what compels him and what drives him throughout this movie. Yes, you kick a lot of ass in this movie, and there are a lot of really great fight sequences, but for me, there's almost the quieter moments to your character that I really liked, because it really grounds him in a way that makes him compelling beyond just the things that you're physically doing on screen.
Joe Taslim: Ito as a character is so interesting. In terms of action, he just refuses to die. But it’s for a purpose, because he's been in this dark world for so long. He didn't choose to be in that position, but he was raised on the street, and he learned all those skills on the streets and in jails and stuff. That's the background on Ito. And then, living in that world, he has a lot of brothers and they joined the gang together. He wants to be the big brother and tries to fix things, but somehow, things kept getting screwed up.
So, all the massacres, all the killing, it's not by choice. And so when he meets the little girl, somehow that's a symbol of salvation for him. It’s the moment when he realizes, "It's gotta stop. I can't do this anymore." He takes a big U-turn to get out of this world, this tunnel of darkness, and in the process, he sacrifices a lot of people. He’s lost his friends, his brothers, and somehow, he’s lost himself. This is a journey of a guy who's trying to find salvation, and he doesn’t know whether or not he’s going to make it, either. But he’s just persistent.
In terms of the action, with every new scene, it just keeps coming and coming, culminating in this brilliant final fight. Plus, as a woman, it's really fun to see the female characters on the same playing field as the men in this. But as a whole, I'm just wondering, how are you guys able to keep all those moving parts working in order to get these scenes done?
Timo Tjahjanto: First of all, we have to give credit to Iko Uwais and his team, the Uwais team. They are pretty much the best right now at doing these sorts of down-and-dirty fights. Our conscious decision with them is always to have the fights not be overly stylized, except for the girls. I realized this film might be a bit too bleak, if we keep on doing these really painful and torturous fighting scenes, so with the girls, it was a conscious decision to do this techno-style ’90s scene fight, similar to something you’d see in The Matrix.
In terms of how do we do it? Editing plays a big part of it, of course, but it's more about trust. I think the reason why it's harder to do this sort of thing in Hollywood is because there's a lot of rules. You can't do this. You can't do that. And it’s understandable. It's all for the safety and for the professionalism, and for the actors. But with these sorts of films, the good thing is always to know the actor or the actress beforehand, and through that, we become this brotherhood and sisterhood. Together we hug it out.
And whenever we do these sorts of fights, people will get hurt, no matter how hard we try to keep the safety going on set. But somebody will get kicked, somebody will get punched, and maybe there are some cuts here and there.
Sometimes when you’re watching a film, it doesn’t even feel like there’s any real contact between these characters that are fighting. But that’s never the case with Joe and Iko. Not to sound like I'm kissing his ass, but Joe has a huge threshold for pain and the same goes with Iko. Both of them were athletes before, so I think having those elements helps a lot with these two, especially because whenever they wrestle, whenever they slam each other into the floor, that's usually a real thing. So, every time, whenever we cut between scenes, I always end up asking them, "Guys, are you all right?" That's how we do it. I don't know if it can be done in a more proper way, but sometimes you have to just go crazy to do these types of scenes.
Joe, for you, because you've been able to be on this journey now with three different movies and you guys have all worked together here and there, what is it about this collaborative relationship that you guys all have with each other that keeps you intrigued as an actor, as somebody who uses his physicality a lot, but also has been able to grow as an actor as well?
Joe Taslim: I have always seen myself as an actor who's pretty lucky to be able to deliver a script fine. In terms of credit, if you're talking about who's really a martial artist, skillful, can create his own choreography, and can really find unique ways to die, I'm just an actor fortunate enough to work with these amazing people, and I learn from them. And I train hard. And I think, as an actor myself, when an actor is doing action, it's impossible to get away with the pain, because pain itself is part of the acting. If you do drama, or you do comedy, of course it's all about emotion and heart. An actor doing action and doubled by another stunt or whatever, for me, personally, is a flaw to the character. Because there are some parts, some things in a movie, where it just ends up being the journey of the character as a human being, but then they're replaced by another guy. Which is, I think for me, a cheat. To become this character, you need to be involved on both sides.
So, I think for any actor who is willing to do action, they need to train hard, then use the pain itself as part of the process. People talk about method acting. This is the same thing. People have to get down 20 kilos or go 50 kilos up, or learn how to play an instrument. This is the same thing. When you’re doing action, you owe it to yourself and the fans to just go for it.
Timo Tjahjanto: You’ve got to suffer.
Joe Taslim: Suffering is part of the acting. Pain is part of all of this, because there is no way I can fake it. I need to feel it. To feel the pain, I can react, and I can deliver the acting aspects of my role. We have to deliver the story of the fight. That's not easy. So, for me, it's all about dedication. Some people differentiate, "Oh, this is drama. This is action," and they see drama as a higher quality than action. Now, if you do everything yourself, that's pretty badass method acting in my eyes, because you are playing with pain, and that's the hard part.
Timo Tjahjanto: I like that. "Playing with pain."
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