At this point we’re all too used to seeing live-action video game projects that are absolute stinkers. Ever since video games first popped up in the 1980s we’ve seen people in the film or TV industry take a stab at adapting popular video game franchises with the results being extremely mixed. Over the years we’ve gotten live-action adaptations such as Double Dragon and Street Fighter which in their slightly terrible glory have gone on to become cult hits since it’s hard not to watch them and immediately burst into a giggle fit. But we’ve also been lucky over the years to get solid video game adaptations like Silent Hill and Mortal Kombat, the latter of which is still regarded as being the best video game film ever made.
Perhaps it’s Mortal Kombat’s heavy influence by martial arts films and iconic characters that made it such prime material to become a good movie. While the second MK film was pure garbage, the live-action TV series Mortal Kombat: Konquest provided some decent action that despite its syndicated TV budget was reminiscent of the easy going fun that was found in TV shows like Hercules. Over the years Mortal Kombat has stayed relatively dormant in the realm of movies and TV partly because of nagging legal issues but thanks to a man named Kevin Tancharoen we finally have the return of Mortal Kombat in the world of live-action entertainment.
Last year Kevin Tancharoen wowed us all with his short film dubbed Mortal Kombat: Rebirth which depicted the characters of the MK series in an extremely realistic if slightly stylized manner. The short film immediately went viral after being released and went on to become a fan favorite by both MK fans and gamers alike. Now Kevin has taken his core vision for the world of Mortal Kombat and expanded upon it in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the ten part web series that is currently melting the faces off of everyone that watches it. Kevin has managed to take characters we’ve been familiar with for over ten years and inject them an entirely new style and vibe that never betrays the core of what made them so enjoyable in the first place.
Kevin was nice enough to spare some time from working on Mortal Kombat: Legacy to chat with me a bit about the series and offer some insight on what games can expect from the project.
Ian Fisher: Compared to other directors who have handled video game films or live-action projects, you have a background as a director of dance and music projects like the remake of the classic film “Fame”. With your history in the world of pop music and dance did you always want to make the jump to an action and special effects laden project like Mortal Kombat and was it just a matter of time for the right project to come along?
Kevin Tancharoen: Oh yeah, I always wanted to do that. I was more into doing genre work whether it was horror or action or sci-fi and I started off when I was younger wanting to be Stan Winston, I wanted to do creature effects. The fact that I kind of stumbled into the dance performance thing I don’t know how that happened but it did and I’ve always kind of tried to figure out a way how I could get back to make the movies I kind of wanted to make. So that’s why I did the original short film was so to make sure that I could have something to show other people that I could handle that type of stuff.
Ian: In terms of jumping into a project like Mortal Kombat: Legacy what was it like for you as a Director to go into a project that heavily relies on special effects? As a fan of Stan Winston’s did you enjoy the challenge it offered you and were there any big hurdles?
Kevin: I’ve always actually been a fan of special effects. I know after effects and know the general idea of visual effects and it was a lot of fun for me because it was a lot of figuring things out and how to make it hybrid and how to make certain things prosthetic and make other things be CG because I don’t think it can either completely be one way or another anymore. I think you really do have to find a nice balance between the two so I think that was the tricky part and working with that and just the time constraints and just there’s always going to be budgetary limitations to make some things as big as you want it and just kind of navigating that and figuring that out I think was the most challenging but I also had a lot of fun trying to wrapping my brain around how to get it accomplished.
Ian: The Mortal Kombat short film you directed last year was a massive hit amongst gamers and people who weren’t even familiar with the MK franchise since it managed to inject a dose of reality into the Mortal Kombat franchise. With Mortal Kombat: Legacy you’ve gone into a slightly different direction by infusing more of the fantasy elements from the Mortal Kombat games. So can you discuss what went into changing things from your initial take on the Mortal Kombat universe?
Kevin: It’s actually a mixture of the two. I’m still keeping the darker tone and the grittiness that I showcased in the short film but I did want to make sure the mysticism and special effects were in there. So with this one in particular it’s kind of an anthology so each episode is very different from the next in the fact that its telling origins stories about all the characters and why they even wanted to join the tournament or how they got there. So some take place in Outworld, some take place in present day and Scorpion and Sub-Zero takes place in ancient Japan. So I kind of got to play with the complete visual spectrum that Mortal Kombat is able to achieve.
Ian: Was there ever any worry that some of the visual styles offered in Mortal Kombat would perhaps clash too much in terms of going from the present to a snowy landscape with ninjas battling or did you just say I’m going to go for it and see what happens?
Kevin: Well you know I just kind of wanted to go for it on this one because each episode doesn’t have to go from one to the next. These are very particular origin stories for each of the characters, some of them continue on but for the most part they’re all very separate stories that kind of interweave by the fact that they all end up at some mystical tournament.
Ian: Since each episode is an origin story was there one in particular that stood out for you the most either because of the story or because you enjoyed filming it?
Kevin: Well I think I was most nervous, concerned and paid attention to the Scorpion/Sub-Zero one. Simply because I think they are the face of Mortal Kombat and I wanted to make sure they were done correctly. So finding the balance of emotion in the fight scenes and making sure it tracked and it was understood why these people hated each other I thought that was a really important thing to accomplish.
Ian: I don’t know if you can fully answer this but was there a particular MK character that you wanted to include in the series but couldn’t either due to the budget and time constraints or simply because you couldn’t figure out how to properly incorporate them?
Kevin: Well I think under the time constraints I wasn’t able to do a couple of characters that I really wanted to. Time constraints wise I wasn’t able to get to Kabal, which I really wanted to do a Kabal episode. And I think just budgetary doing Goro I would’ve been out of my mind. In order to do that you would have to do it really well; it can’t be the animatronic Goro from the first film it just wouldn’t work. It would have to be a large guy like this guy named Nathan Jones who I had in mind, and do some heavy prosthetics on his face and CG arms and you know that takes a lot of time. I didn’t have the time to do something like that. Thing is supposed to be 8ft tall and a beast so hopefully I’ll be able to make that characters one of these days.
Ian: One of the interesting things about Mortal Kombat: Legacy is that it has a really nice cast consisting of known TV and film actors such as Ian Anthony Dale, Tahmoh Penikettand Michael Jai White along with people with a martial arts background such as Shane Warren Jones. So how did you go about casting the main characters in the series?
Kevin: It was just a case by case thing you know. I knew that the fight scenes were really important and I knew I wanted to make sure that was taken care of but even more important is that they have to be able to tell a story you know. It can’t just be a bunch of fighters who don’t talk. So it kind of varied from episode to episode but the first thing first was to make sure that the performances were there in the story and then you know I got lucky with this cast because Michael Jai White is a very accomplished martial artist and Shane Warren Jones is breaking into acting but he started off you know as a martial artist and stunt performer. And even Ian Anthony Dale has a martial arts background so it was kind of a lucky casting session that kind of ended up working out very well for us.
Ian: The Mortal Kombat franchise is known for having its characters beat the crap out of one another and your concept video from last year featured an excellent and hard hitting fight scene. Can you talk about what it was like working with MK: Legacy fight choreographer Larnell Stovall and what sort of tone the both of you wanted out of the fight scenes? Can we expect action scenes that are really hard hitting and realistic or will some of them have a fantasy approach in terms of the special effects and stuff like wire stunts being heavily used?
Kevin: I always want to keep it real. It’s actually funny I just said that. I wanted to make the fight scenes feel real as much as possible. With that said we did add a few mystical elements in there like Sub-Zero has his freezing power, Scorpion does has his spear but Larnell is really, really good at you know coming up with the choreography and because he is such a fan of Mortal Kombat he knew how to kind of inject certain fan favorite moments in there. So he would you know choreograph and then previs it and we would talk about it and I would have certain moves I would want and make it flow better but he’s a real genius at coming up with the choreography and he knocks it out of the park.
Ian: One of the reasons that video game fans are so excited for Mortal Kombat: Legacy is because it seemed like you and the rest of the creative team understood what makes Mortal Kombat so entertaining and unique and you managed to translate that to the project. So with that being said, why do you think other video game movies like Doom and Tomb Raider didn’t work that well despite having good source material? Is it just a case of the studios and creative teams involved not caring about properly adapting things?
Kevin: Well I think because some people get caught up too much in the video game storyline. And what you have to remember is that video game cinematics and storyline is meant for gameplay to get you from level to level, fight to fight and from you know different mission to different mission. It’s not necessarily meant for cinematic storytelling so you have to take the elements from the video game that make sense from a movie narrative and make it work that way as opposed to worrying about the subtle details of “are we making sure it’s completely true to the video game?”
Ian: In terms of the special effects Mortal Kombat: Legacy has quite a large scope for a web based series seeing as how both Cyrax and Sektor are completely CG when they’re finally turned into cyborgs. I know you probably can’t give any details on what the budget for the series was, but where you generally happy with the amount of effects that were included in the series and the overall look of them?
Kevin: Yeah you know I think there certainly certain things I would’ve liked to work on more definitely. It’s always a challenge with a visual effects heavy project when it comes to the budget but we were able pull off a lot for what we had and for the most part I’m pretty happy. And you know what we’re actually still working on the robots right now and so we’re in the middle of the process of figuring out what just how long the fight is and so on and so forth but they’re completely CG so that takes so much work.
Ian: Can you reveal when we can expect the Cyrax and Sektor episode? Is that something we can expect towards the middle or the end of the series?
Kevin: Yeah it’s definitely more towards the end. I’m not really certain if it’s the last one or if it’s the second to last quite yet but it’s definitely towards the end.
Ian: If Mortal Kombat: Legacy ends up being the hit it deserves to be where would you like to see the series go next? Would you be interested in Mortal Kombat: Legacy becoming a full on TV series or would rather it go the route of a web series or even a full-on theatrical film?
Kevin: I would actually want to do both a movie and continue the series to be honest. I just think you’re only able to tell so much in a movie and you focus on that one story and in a web series you’re able to tell a variety of stories. I liked that the web series was able to have that kind of freedom but I certainly want to do the big feature version that’s for sure.
Ian: Personally where would you like to see your career next? Obviously a lot of people are taking note of your work now so is there another franchise out there that you would want to reinvent since you dig it as a fan?
Kevin: Oh yeah I want to do Ninja Turtles. The new live-action Ninja Turtles I think that could be really, really good.
Ian: Yeah I think everyone would be behind you with that.
Kevin: I hope so.
We may have only seen one full episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy and gotten a brief glimpse of what the remaining episodes will offer, but it’s clear that after waiting almost sixteen years we’ve received a worthy Mortal Kombat project to stand alongside the original MK film. Mortal Kombat may not have a story as rich and as deeply complicated as something like Metal Gear Solid, but the characters are iconic and beloved by legions of gamers, some of which have been following the franchise for nearly twenty years. With a sharp vision for creating worlds that are gritty yet not overly unbelievable, Kevin Tancharoen has breathed some new like into Mortal Kombat and hopefully at some point he can continue what he established in Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
Huge thanks for Kevin for participating in the interview and the kind folks at Warner Brothers for setting everything up. And am I the only one who wants to see Kevin direct the TMNT movie immediately?
Article posted on April 13, 2011.