INTERVIEW: ‘Mortal Kombat Legacy’ Director Kevin Tancharoen

Director Kevin Tancharoen has bloody thumbs. Its clear from the amount of time and effort he has poured into his latest creation Mortal Kombat: Legacy. This is a labor of love sewn from an encyclopedic knowledge of finishing moves. But don’t worry about his getting bogged down in details or following the well treaded horror of another poor video game adaptation. Tancharoen sees the important thing in a translation hammering down the feel and key plot points of a video game and then exploring them in a clean cinematic narrative.

I think the problem with certain video game adaptations is that Video Games and Movies serve two completely separate purposes. Story in video games is about maintaining game play. Its to get you from scene to scene or fight to fight. That doesn’t immediately translate to a cinematic pacing or narrative. Making a movie or feature is a completely different way of crafting a storyline. I think the biggest mistake is when people take the exact same storyline from the game and try and do that story down to the minor details. You have to take the essence of the game the vibe of the game the main plot points and then figure out how to tell a clean narrative in a cinematic structure. Otherwise its a weird mashup of video game dialog.”

And he will need that cinematic flair if he is to meet the end goal of the series. Sewing the seeds for another film adaptation for Mortal Kombat. ” Always the goal. This series has to do well for me to get to that next step. Whether that is going to happen is still a question mark. We are always talking about it but the series has to be good it only helps the cause.”

The project started exactly as that a proof of concept for how Tancharoen would direct a feature film. In Mortal Kombat: Rebirth Tancharoen took seven thousand dollars, some friends, and with a dose of Black Dynamite brought that vision to life.

I think with rebirth it was just a very short version of what I wanted. I needed to capture it all in one short segment. I decided to kill of Johnny Cage off in that segment for that very reason. If you know the franchise well enough they would know he’s been killed off before and they would get the joke. Its just a Mortal Kombat fan thing. He’s not dead he’s back in this one. But he’s a character you can always have fun with.

For me I had access to a couple of red cameras. I did all the sound design myself. I did all the editing myself. I got some really professional makeup artists to come on board because they love MK. As long as your enthused and you have good people around you. You can make some awesome stuff happen by yourself. The only reason I was able to get Michael Jai White is because he believed in what I was doing. He believes in that indie spirit of doing things yourself because that is exactly what he did with black dynamite and now its a movie and a cartoon on Cartoon Network. I don’t think anyone else would be the perfect Jax. It would be a mistake for anyone not to have Michael Jai White be Jax.”

That vision was released prematurely but to massive fan aplomb with more than two million hits generated. Some fans were wary of the new gritty visual style while the bulk of the more than two million viewers left positive impressions.

You always have those fans who say. That’s not really Mortal Kombat but for the most part the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The reason I did that style to be perfectly honest is that you need a crapton of effects. I did the whole real world take on it because for one it looked cool but also you can’t get away with not doing those vfx and you don’t do them unless you can do them well. For me I didn’t have to shoot an ice blast or suck out somebody’s soul. Taking place in a police precinct it was ok for it to be a really gritty world. I couldn’t create Outworld. I couldn’t go find an Asian temple. There was just no way to do that convincingly.

I kind of inch toward the darker grittier look. My personal aesthetic is always going to be more towards the gritty real world style. But I am going to be introducing some of the supernatural elements. I think when they are tastefully done they are quite cool. For instance Mileena and Kitana come from this very dark fairytale world in the fictional land of Edenia. That is going to seem mystical. Its going to be a bit lord of the rings. Even if its in the fantasy world its going to have that gritty tone to it because its my preference. For Sonja, Jax and Kano these are real world characters so you are going to see more of that style.

Tancharoen was kind enough to offer up details about what characters and stories we will see over the course of the nine episodes and how the episodic format came about. Set before or directly after the first game we see the motivations of the characters. Though individual episodes don’t overlap in telling the stories before the tournament we can expect to see multiple characters within each episode. As for fears of fans concerned about seeing their favorite characters die before getting to the tournament as Johnny Cage did in Rebirth. ” We lucked out on that one because they are all origin stories before the tournament. Because these characters have got to make it to the tournament you know beforehand that nobody dies.”

Well almost no one. Tancharoen added some detail about new additions to the storyline of Scorpion and about working with his sister Maurissa Tancharoen from Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog who plays the role of Kana.

Well you’ll see Scorpion die but that is his origin story and he gets brought back to life and turns into Scorpion. Before he was Scorpion he was just a human assassin. She is there to support Scorpions storyline. She’s Scorpions wife when he was human. We are exploring Scorpions life before he became this specter with hellfire all over him.

Because we managed to get this up to nine anthology like episodes I wanted to create every possible version of this. People who are fans of my original short you’ll see a lot of that. For those more interested in the mystical elements of the series you will see that as well. None of the episodes cross paths with one and other. They are all origin stories that take place either directly before or directly after the first game. The only one that I would say takes place directly after is the Cyrax and Sektor the robots because they didn’t exist in the first game.

You have so many characters. You have Sonja, Jacks and Kano in the first one. You have Shang Sung and Johnny Cage showing up in the second one. You have Kitana and Mileenas story. You are going to see Shoa Khan Queen Sindel and Baraka. Then the Scorpion story is basically telling the story of him and Sub Zero. Then you have Cyrax and Sektor. All told its a lot of characters.

Everyone just expect to finally see the insights to how these characters will all have come together. They knew the macro of why the tournament was there but now they have the details. I wanted to make sure that it was all right before the tournament so we know the motivations leading up to the tournament. That helps us to conceptualize what it is they are all fighting for and what is at stake. Really to say why they are even there in the first place.

That kind of format works for MK because it has grown into such a massive franchise. I think to be able to tell the origin stories that way it becomes an anthology to a much larger story. Kind of like how you look at other WB properties. I’m talking about the new Batman or even the Matrix where they created the Animatrix. I loved that when it came out because I love Japanese anime That story was about the universe in itself and it made the universe that much better. What I like with this mixed media theory is to let the world get bigger. let the fans digest different portions of it in different ways and let fans become completely engrossed in a world that they love or have become fans of.”

It is clear that this director is one such fan and as such related his experience working with the team at Nether Realm Studios.

My favorite is MKII. I remember being so in love with the first game but when the second one came out there were just massive improvements. There were more over the top fatalities. There was blood and the graphics were better. The were more characters and I just remember absolutely loving it.

The latest game is right back to the way it used to be but with today’s graphics and sound effects. The 2D fighting style I remember loving its directly back to that. Its just awesome.

The Netherrealm guys are great. It was kind of a geek moment to finally meet Ed Boon. I’d seen his face a million times in interviews obviously he’s the creator of Mortal Kombat. Those guys were very supportive of what I was doing. We ended up going back and forth on the story and coming up with some great things.”