Kevin Tancharoen is the director of the Mortal Kombat web-series and will also be helming the big screen version as well. I talk with Kevin about the challenges he has faced, the news media on violent video games and where Mortal Kombat will go from here.
CS: “The MK movie will be separate from Legacy; do you personally think this is a good idea from a storyteller’s point of view? Does it give you more room to tell the story you want?”
KT: “It’s something that I’ve constantly battled back and forth but I finally settled on thinking it’s a good idea, the reason being because it gives me more creative freedom and it doesn’t let Legacy impact the movie so we can keep doing Legacy for multiple seasons if I’m so lucky to keep it going. I would like that to be its own entity because for me Legacy’s format works better in a TV series type storytelling. I can picture multiple seasons in the sense that I can do longer episodes that can stretch out to 45-minute episodes. Mortal Kombat to me could be like Game of Thrones because I could kill off main characters like they do. But for the film we wanted to do its own thing because that will spawn, hopefully, its own series. This mythology has been around for 20 years so with the film it’s an opportunity to take the mythology that’s there and add another layer on top of it so that there are some new characters and can live on for another 20+ years with the games, or with another movie, so it’s something we’ve been very conscious about.”
CS: “How do you plan on setting the movie apart, creatively speaking, from the other live-action MK movies that have come before?”
KT: “I have great memories of the other live-action movies. The first one was amazing for me when I was a kid and I think everyone has a nostalgic love for it but I don’t think that movie would work in this generation. In this generation obviously movie audiences are more sophisticated and require deeper storytelling and better visual effects. Mortal Kombat was a really good video adaptation for the 90s but for this one, my instincts are to go gritty and more grounded. If you saw Mortal Kombat: Rebirth you could tell that was my approach and I think Mortal Kombat is inherently dark. When we played it as a kid the reason everyone loved it was because of the fatalities and that was some dark material for back then. I think that’s what separates MK from other video game franchises such as Street Fighter or Tekken, MK feels dark and is inherently kind of evil so I want to make sure that comes across in the feature film adaptation.”
CS: “Fans are really hoping that the movie isn’t “tamed down” or won’t be as gory as the web-series or game so can you assure fans that the movie is going to live up to their expectations for a Mature rating?”
KT: “I think there is no version in 2014, or 2015, that people would want to see a watered down Mortal Kombat. MK in its beginning stages WAS a rated R franchise. Before MK there wasn’t a ratings system for video games and a lot of people like to speculate that MK is the reason we have video game ratings now. Ed Boon likes to joke that games are rated M for Mortal Kombat so I definitely want to do a rated-R Mortal Kombat that has everything people want.”
CS: “Is it challenging to balance in the violence, which made the games so popular, with the narrative of the story? I guess a better question would be why do you think people want to watch Mortal Kombat when they could be playing it?”
KT: “It has been challenging to balance the violence with the storytelling because, as much as MK is known for the violence, I don’t want the violence to be gratuitous or over-the-top because then it gets silly and I don’t want to do that. I think when it comes to MK, for me anyways, I’m always attracted to the storylines; whether I’m opening a bio-card, or the ending sequence telling everybody what happened after they beat the tournament, I actually really enjoy all of that stuff so to see it in live-action is why I think people want to see it. Especially with the new games I’ve talked to a lot of the fans who’ve played MK9 and they say “You know what? We really like story mode,” and I think that’s really impressive for a game built around two people fighting each other. It would be different for story driven video games like The Last of Us or Resident Evil where it’s really dependent on the story but MK is just two people on opposite sides of a screen fighting each other and the fact that they were able to throw in really good stories that people were interested in was a very good job on their part (NetherRealm Studios).
CS: “So the mythology of the series is what keeps bringing people back?”
KT: “I believe so, yeah. Everyone has their favorites and if you go to the YouTube comments on our trailers you’ll find people arguing about the mythology. You know what else I think is hilarious about the people who watch our series are these superfans who, more than anything else, all of these fanboys for some reason seem to be hardcore fashion designers. Like they’ll point out “That outfit is wrong!” and I find it funny that that’s the thing they are so passionate about is you know, “That costume’s not right!” We have a limited budget so I like to make sure people know that we can’t exactly build something like a Spiderman costume but even with these big movies they tear apart the Spiderman outfit, Thor costume, etc. and I think everyone has it in their mind how they would build their own superhero costume so it’s something that is really close to them.”
CS: “Do you take in a lot of fan based criticism from what you read?”
KT: “Yeah definitely I read a lot of it and take it all in. Obviously with the Internet you’re going to get people who will be haters no matter what, simply because it is the Internet, but there’s a lot of really good criticism too when people hone in on very specific story moments and compliment the cinematography. All of that stuff is something we take to heart knowing that we have a very limited budget yet we’re still trying to make it look as compelling as possible.”
CS: “Could you talk about the various martial arts styles that you use in the series?”
KT: “We do multiple styles depending on the character because if we were going to use just one style I think it would just simply get repetitive and boring. I’ve never liked a martial arts sequence when it’s just a martial arts sequence, there’s gotta be a story behind the fighting and people constantly try to put story into the fighting and breaking up the fighting so it’s not just top-to-bottom heavy including dialog and things like that. The fight choreographer has obviously been a huge part of this and he’s been with me since MK: Rebirth so he’s lived MK in a live-action sense for as long as I have so it’s constantly something we go back and forth finding different styles.”
CS: “What other movies or filmmakers do you look to for inspiration?”
KT: “My roster of filmmakers is probably very similar to a lot of other people. I grew up loving Fincher movies you know and I think JJ Abrams, he has become a superstar, and I like his pacing and his editorial style it’s just nonstop and I really like that. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration musically as far as editing style and musical transition, oddly enough, from Christopher Nolan because if you watch his movies they are a wall-to-wall score and I find it really cool how he’s able to do that and set a tone very, very well. Those are the three guys that I really like. Obviously I think everyone’s a very big Tarantino fan. There hasn’t been a single movie he’s done that I haven’t absolutely loved and I don’t think there ever will be another version of Tarantino. When I grew up the first book that I picked up when I wanted to get into filmmaking in general was Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ and for some reason my Sixth Grade teacher let me do my biography report on Rodriguez. She was really cool especially given the content of his movies and being in Sixth Grade I’m not legally allowed to watch rated-R films but she was like “Yeah sure, as long as your parents are alright with it,” and I’d be “Okay, great! I’m going to talk about El Mariachi.” *laughs*
CS: “Immediately after tragic events the media is usually first after violent video games as the culprit. For example, media outlets have already begun tying the tragic Navy Yards shooting that just took place with recent games like GTAV, Call of Duty, etc. If you were on a conservative talk show right now and I was the host, what would you like to say to me given the chance?”
KT: “Well I’d actually just to love for them to try to explain to me the logic behind those statements. I don’t understand the connection how, I mean, I think I watched something on FOX where they said “It’s not about gun control it’s about controlling the video game content,” and I just thought where in the Navy shooting did video games come into play yet guns were not? I would love for them to try to explain to me, as a child, why me playing MK is going to make me buy a harpoon and throw ice cubes at people. I don’t understand the connection but maybe they’ll say it’s because I’m so desensitized but I believe FOX News all day long was blaming GTA and Call of Duty but not blaming gun control. It doesn’t make any sense to me so my argument would be silly to them because I simply don’t understand it. To me it just doesn’t connect, if you’re going to say games like Call of Duty are a bad thing yet they’re going to encourage people to join the army. I don’t get it. *laughs* It was such a “go to” scapegoat for a lot of conservatives to take the focus off of gun laws. They just don’t want to talk about it so they blame video games as long as possible.
CS: “What other franchises or personal projects would you like to work on after you pass the MK torch?”
KT: “Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to jump into any sort of live-action Ninja Turtles. I know they’re doing it right now but I don’t know if whether or not I’m lucky enough to be able to do one of their sequels. The version of Ninja Turtles that I’ve always wanted to do might be too dark for them. If you watch the first movie again that movie would never get made nowadays. *laughs* But, I loved it. You know I think the tone was what Eastman and Laird had always wanted. I recently bought this print from this great artist that shows Leonardo battle-scarred on the ground with his sword cut in half, he’s crying, he’s got blood all over himself and he’s got his brothers facemasks tied to his arm and I was like that is so depressingly awesome. I don’t want to kill all of the turtles but I would want you to think that they could die and play the brother dynamic. There are so many good drama elements within the Ninja Turtles when it comes to family and feeling like you’re not a part of society. There’s so much angst *laughs* in the mythology that hasn’t been tapped into that I think is really cool and there’s a very unique opportunity to tell a great Ninja Turtles story.”
CS: “What games are you currently playing?”
KT: “I made a lot of time for The Last of Us and I’ve already played it twice. I just remembered within the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe what I was playing. It was so immersive. I think it was, for me, kind of like the watershed moment when it comes to really actually feeling like I’m playing a movie. I’ve experienced that in certain elements like Resident Evil 4 was really knee deep in that, but, with The Last of Us it felt like I was playing some sort of expensive feature film where I actually felt for the characters and was genuinely scared when I had to go around the Clickers and it was a really good experience. I haven’t dared to go to a video game store to pick up GTAV yet but I might later today or tomorrow if it’s not sold out everywhere. I’ve been reading people on twitter saying they waited four hours, I’m not going to play it at 3 am so I’ll just wait until everybody’s cooled down a bit.” *laughs*
CS: “Any last words for fans to be excited about for the second season?”
KT: “I’m just excited for everyone to finally be able to see it and binge watch it and I’d be very curious to hear everyone’s opinion on how we handled Liu Kang because it was very different. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily like Liu Kang but with that said I didn’t either at first which is why we took the character to a completely different direction so I’ll be very curious to hear how people react to it.”
Be sure to check out season two of Mortal Kombat: Legacy when it premieres on September 26th!