With any cinematic endeavor it’s important that the acting is good, the cinematography stands out, and that there’s a cohesive feeling throughout thanks to good direction. But in the case of adapting Mortal Kombat into a live-action setting it also helps to have fight scenes that are equally as brutal as what gamers have experienced for the last twenty-five years.
Even though a live-action MK project, in this case MK: Legacy II, may not allow for Fatalities to happen at every second, let alone some of the more gruesome ones performed by characters such as Noob Saibot, it still helps to have fight scenes that are convincing and feel accurate for what the franchise is.
Thankfully, at the helm of choreographing the martial arts mayhem of Mortal Kombat: Legacy II is Larnell Stovall. Responsible for creating the fight scenes for the of the MK: Rebirth short that director Kevin Tancharoen did, Larnell has been with the series since then and has provided some killer moments that feel perfect for what the franchise is known for and why people love it.
Larnell spared some time from his busy schedule to discuss what it was like returning to the world of MK once again, key differences between the first season, and his thoughts on the action business.
Ian Fisher: Two years have passed since we last chatted about the first season of MK: Legacy. So what have you been up to since then?
Larnell Stovall: The last few years have been a rollercoaster… between “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, “No Good Deed” (Taraji Henson, Idris Elba), “Ride Along” (Ice Cube, Kevin Hart), “Think Like A Man Too” (Huge Cast) MK: Legacy Season 2 and most recently a film in India called “Bhoologam”. I stunt coord/choreographed a martial arts movie starring Michal Jai White in Puerto Rico a few months ago on a movie named “Favela”, looking forward to seeing how that one turned out. Things have been interesting to say the least.
Ian: Given how you’re one of the top action choreographers in the business right now, what has it been like for you to further your reputation as someone that knows how to create stunning sequences, all while not being pigeon holed too much in a way by certain producers or directors as far as what you can deliver?
Larnell: I am nowhere near being one of the top action choreographers, I have a long way to go and am still just beginning this journey. Being sought after by producers for projects is a humbling process due to at the end of the day I am being trusted with multi million dollar projects that want great action and fight scenes. With each job I simply wanna put my best effort forward each time.
Being pigeon holed in the area of fights can be good and bad, bad in the sense that it can affect you getting a project that’s majority action mixed with a few fights so some producers may think “oh he’s just a fight guy”. This can cause you to have to work with people on a project who may not share the same vision professionalism and dedication to the overall product. Action is action so if I’m on a project the car chases, shoot outs, wire work, explosions, parkour etc. mean just as much to me as the fight scenes and receive the same amount of attention if not more. So recently I have been looking for projects that are not just fight related to build up a more versatile action reel.
Ian: In the last two years some interesting things have happened in the film industry as far as core action films, one of which is the use of stereoscopic 3D. While a few films in the foreign market have utilized 3D (such as Tom Yum Goong 2), we haven’t seen too many American productions fully feature it. So with the upcoming untitled Ang Lee boxing film set to feature action scenes filmed utilizing 3D, do you think this could add a newfound sense of depth to the movie viewing audience, or does it solely depend on if the creative figures involved truly utilizes and understands the tools they have at their disposal?
Larnell: Well Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning was in 3D (fully shot with 3D cameras) so I had the chance to see what martial arts action in 3D would be like. John Hyams made sure it was not cheesy and done in a way where the viewer could still enjoy the fights without the distraction of the 3D. It simply meant the punches and kicks had to be a lot closer to make the hits look real. New technology is always a good thing it just depends on who is behind the product being put out there.
The same camera that was used on Bourne movies resulted in shaky cam and hard to follow action, now put that same camera in the hands of a Gareth Evans (The Raid) or Isaac Florentine (Undisputed 3, Ninja 2) you will see how beautifully a fight scene and all the action can be shot. So yes, it truly depends on the individual behind the technology when applied to film that can determine if it’s a waste of time.
Ian: As fans of yours may already know, you’re often right on the mark when it comes to your thoughts on some of the problems that plague the film industry, such as the perceptions that some execs may have towards properties that are based on comic books or how we often see a masked hero in a movie (such as Iron Man) out of his iconic costume more simply so the audience has a face to “connect” with. So given your passion about various things, has it been difficult to work within the film industry considering how off-base or out of touch some of the people in charge are?
Larnell: My resume and movies are a niche type of category. I’m slowly climbing the ladder to those big budget films that are very political in how you get them, how they are executed and how you conduct yourself when you are a part of a huge studio film. I have seen many friends have their work butchered in the editing room, have fight scenes cut on set, actors bail on rehearsing etc. So I have been fortunate to not have an extreme case of a producer being out of touch, it’s more so the area of funds and time.
I have a few big ones coming up where cannon will be tricky and staying true to the history or something can be changed for the purpose of better film execution. Now as far as actors wanting their faces shown, I can’t blame them, it goes with the marketing, promotion and the desire to be seen etc. I just hope I’m not that guy on a big budget movie and an actor is looking for an excuse to have the mask come off during a fight scene. Not sure how I will react to that if it makes no damn sense.
Ian: You’ve been involved in some major productions in the last few years, but you’ve also done some smaller projects that still boast a memorable look and feel to them, one of which was “Romp”. With that said, have you ever felt compelled to perhaps venture out and do a smaller project of your own at some point, perhaps even going as far as to feature it on the Kickstarter service?
Larnell: I have two projects I’m going back and forth on which one I will either start a Kickstarter for or simply do a top notch test shoot and bring it to the right studio to fund it. Hopefully I can get one of them done within the next year.
Ian: Currently people can see your work once again with Season 2 of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”. Since you previously worked in helping to create the first season, what was it like to return once again and this time go further than you did previously?
Larnell: It was fun revisiting the world of MK again, although I have to be honest I was not there the entire time for the second season of MK2. I was in the middle of a film in Atlanta I was coordinating so I was only able to choreograph the fights and be there for one week of rehearsal with the actors before I had to go back to Atlanta. Garrett Warren (Avatar, Reel Steel, Divergent) stepped in as the Stunt Coordinator and oversaw all the action.
It was hard for me to pass the fights off because it’s tricky due to when changes are made and you’re not there or something is different than the way you rehearsed it. As of this interview I have not seen anything except the trailers, it looks great to me. Kevin is happy, Garrett said it came out great and Lance and WB are happy so that’s all anyone can ask for. The last thing is hoping the fans are just as happy too. I do believe season 2 is stronger than season 1 in the area of acting and the fights.
Ian: When we chatted about S1 of Legacy you had mentioned how the production was often under a tight schedule which resulted in fight scenes being unfortunately trimmed. What was it like on S2 of Legacy? Where things more relaxed in a sense due to the crew and actors knowing what you wanted to achieve and the time table you had to accomplish it, or did the production still have a breakneck speed to it?
Larnell: Season 1 was shot in Canada and Season 2 was shot in Los Angeles so it was a new crew for most of it. With web series time will always be an issue, you have no choice but to do the best you can with the time you are given. What amazes me is when the product comes out well it gives me chills to think about how the movie will look due to more time all around. The actors for season 2 were game and it showed, everyone did a great job.
Ian: Fans of both action cinema and Mortal Kombat were really pleased with what was delivered in S1 of Legacy since it felt fresh, was thought out well, and felt true to the franchise. But of course with a sequel it’s expected for the bar to be raised and from what we’ve see of S2 so far such a thing has been accomplished. Overall, what sort of approach and mindset did you take when it came to developing the action scenes and just how far things went in regards to the depiction of violence (beheadings, people being sliced in two) and using some of the special powers characters have such as those of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Liu Kang?
Larnell: For season 2 the first thing I wanted to do was take a more realistic approach when it came to the fights, less flash and more actual fighting. I just wanted to find that proper balance between what’s true to the characters story for Season 2 vs. what the fans expect from the games. Hopefully the fans will spot some actual combos from the game in the web series. The use of special powers was thought out, it should be a special moment when a character uses his known power. Also with a web series there is not much of a budget for these things so key moments were agreed upon where all the powers/fx would have the best payoff. Kevin is not a fan of over using powers, he feels they loose their impact if used too much and I totally agree with him on that.
Ian: What was the biggest challenge as far as creating the fight scenes for S2 of Legacy and helping to nail down what the final roster was? Do you have any regrets about not being able include a specific character, or are you hopeful that certain fan-favorites (Kabal, Nightwolf, and Jade) will surface if a third season happens?
Larnell: I had nothing to do with the final roster, although I did mention to Kevin in season 1 how much I wanted to have Kenshi in season 2. Believe it or not we both are fans of Bo Rai Cho and thought how awesome it would be if Sammo Hung could portray him. Of course the story is everything and it has to make sense how people appear etc. The writers have a tough task on their hands due to how people wanted Jax, Sonya and Kano for season 2 but there was not enough room or time to include them. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens for season 3, but yes Kabal, Nightwolf, Jade, Reptile etc. I believe will be seen either in season 3 or the movie.
Ian: MK: Legacy II certainly ups the ante in how the combat is depicted through the sense of danger that’s present. This may be difficult to answer since you created everything, but what was the standout scene for you in season two of Legacy?
Larnell: I think the standout scenes for me is the damaged relationship between Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Also having Ermac and Kenshi go at it was a geek moment for me due to who would have thought we would see those two fight in a web series. I hope to have the opportunity to create a great fight for Kabal, he’s a favorite of mine also.
Ian: You’ve been a busy man as of late, so besides “Mortal Kombat: Legacy II”, what upcoming projects can people expect to see your work in next?
Larnell: There is a chance “Favela” will be released before the end of the year. I think 2014 will be a good year for me also (and thanks to Will Packer for trusting me with these films), “Ride Along” (Jan) “No Good Deed” (April), “Think Like A Man Too” (June).
I know the films I mentioned are not martial arts related but you have to do the box office movies also so when its time to approach Marvel, D.C., or a big studio to oversee their action your track record has to consist of more than low budget movies that have a niche audience. I simply wanna do/create great action and hopefully people enjoy what I have to contribute to hollyweird. Thanks again for the support, I hope you enjoy Season 2. See you guys on MK Legacy season 3 or the movie or both!!
Once again Larnell has delivered some stunning fight scenes as evident by what MK: Legacy II provided. It’s just a shame that we’ll likely have to wait another two years to see what sort of stuff Larnell devises for some of the new characters that will appear, whether it’s Nightwolf or the long awaited debut of Bo Rai Cho.
Thanks to Larnell for once again chatting with me since his insight on the world of MK and action cinema is always appreciated. You can track the latest happenings of Larnell viaTwitter account.
And if you haven’t seen Bunraku yet, which Larnell served as a fight choreographer on, then do yourself a favor and watch it ASAP.
Originally posted on September 26, 2013