‘Mortal Kombat Legacy’ Director Kevin Tancharoen Talks Feature Films and Ninja Turtles


Kevin Tancharoen came almost completely out of nowhere (at least with Mortal Kombat fans) when he released a viral teaser called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, a gritty, realistic take on the classic fighting game series.  This bold tactic earned him the director’s chair for Mortal Kombat Legacy, a digital web series that reworked the mythology in an anthology of origin stories while keeping the spirit true to its source material.  Today, WB and Machinima are releasing the second season of Mortal Kombat Legacy, with Tancharoen once again helming the project.  I recently talked to Tancharoen regarding Legacy, the upcoming feature film, and…Ninja Turtles?

Tell us about where you’re going with Mortal Kombat Legacy Season 2.

With season 2 we made a big effort and a conscious decision to make it a linear narrative storyline because last season was more of an anthology, and that was kind of a product of us only having four months to write, shoot, and edit all of them so it just felt natural to just…separate the episodes so they didn’t need to rely on each other.  With this one we had more time in the writing process to kind of carve out a season and whose storyline we’d want to be over-arcing throughout and how they intertwine with each other’s characters.  So this one is definitely more linear like a television show or a cable series.

Your background is primarily dance and music related projects.  How did this experience translate over to the martial-arts oriented Mortal Kombat Legacy?

Well, it actually feels more natural for me.  To be honest, I grew up a big genre nut.  Between comic books or video games or just the types of movies I used to watch.  I was able to watch rated R since I was five and [some of] my favorite movies are Terminator 2, the Ninja Turtles.  I watched Power Rangers every day and I originally wanted to be a storyboard artist and a creature effects designer.  My venture into the music world was kind of…it just kind of happened, it wasn’t intentional…it was just like “hey, you’re fifteen and you’re being offered to go and work with Britney Spears” and I think any boy would say “absolutely.”  I was like “Hell yeah!  Definitely!”

That’s puberty for ya.

Yeah, exactly!  Well, I feel more comfortable in this space and also with the choreography and training it definitely translates to action and fighting because it is choreography.  So I feel like my background with choreography has…helped me block scenes in appropriate ways and building steadicam shots and also design camera movement around the choreography so it’s not just covered, it integrates…and that’s something I’ve always been a fan of.  I am not a fan at all of fight scenes that a covered hand-held from a distance and people are just trying to find hands and feet so that you just kind of edit it later.  I like to design it up front and have a plan and execute it in that manner.

I grew up a fan of watching how Chinese movies are shot…and they are the ones that taught me how to shoot and design and film.  I think the best American movie that has been very good at shooting [its] fight sequences was The Matrix and that was [Yuen] Woo-Ping and I think the Wachowskis watched just as much Asian cinema as I do, so they like designing the camera, specifically the camera angles and movements, around the fight as opposed to just covering it.  “Here, get a line here.  Get a fight here.  Get some feet, get some arms, and we’ll cut it together later.”  This is just not my way of thinking.

The first season of Mortal Kombat Legacy featured some interesting use of different media with more surreal CG and 2D animation.  Any similar tricks in store for Season 2?

No, we didn’t do any anime this season.  I’m a huge anime person, but the reason we did those episodes in anime…it’s because if you look at the content it’s giant castles and a bunch of Tarkatan storming the castle and killing the king and on the budget I had that was simply impossible.  So we decided to find this mix of anime/Kill Bill missed with some live action, but this season we didn’t have to do that.

You’re attached to direct a new Mortal Kombat feature film.  How is progress coming along on that?

It’s going very well!  We have been developing the script for the past year and a half, two years, we feel good about the script where it’s at.  Right now we’re just determining the appropriate budget for the film and where to shoot it, location wise.

You’ve taken a pretty radical revisionist take on the characters and mythology of Mortal Kombat.  Was there ever any pushback from the original creators? 

They’ve actually been very, very supportive.  We’ve talked to them and make sure they’re included in all of the conversations, that they approve everything, but they’ve been very happy with kind of taking the canon and adjusting it to a live-action setting because they know that they’re two different mediums completely.  The storytelling in the game is meant…is designed to move you through gameplay, and that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to live-action adaptations.  They’ve been able to really work with us and the writers on adjusting some of the characters, make them more compelling in a dramatic sense.  They’ve been very great, which is very unlike a lot of other video game companies.  I feel like they are really focused on just absolutely keeping the canon as-is, but with Mortal Kombat being around for so long, I think that the adjustments that are welcomed in moving it to a new generation.

Are there any plans for a Season 3? 

We talk about it all the time now, and I think it’s everyone’s intention to keep going for sure and keep it an ongoing series.  Of course, we have to see how this season does.  We did very well last season and I’m hoping that we do just as well if not better.

Any characters you haven’t used yet that you want to work into this new mythology that you’re building?

Yeah, you know, I’ve always wanted to do Kabal.  The reason why I haven’t is because he’s such a…to me his storyline is really unique, it’s really cool, it’s a character shift and the prosthetic makeup would be incredibly fun.  I just want to wait till I feel I have the appropriate resources to treat the character correctly, very much like Goro.  You know, on a digital series budget, I can’t make Goro, it would be too expensive.  I was hoping those two characters I eventually get to include.

Who’s your all-time favorite Kombatant?

You know, it’s always been Scorpion or Sub Zero.  I tend to lean toward Scorpion because my instinct…I really, really like revenge stories, revenge movies, every time.  I actually watched one last night called I Saw the Devil, a Korean movie that was just so incredibly brutal.

Yeah, that was a really tough one to swallow.  I liked that one a lot as well.

You know, there was no closure, and I think that was actually kind of the point of the movie.  There is no closure when you’re going down that path.  It was a great movie, it was a movie that will never be made in the States, and I was very, very happy to watch it.  So yeah, Scorpion is kind of my fave character because his motive is all driven from that heart of revenge and I can arguably [say that] from Mortal Kombat 1, the video game, he’s simply the most popular.  Everyone knew how to throw his spear, and everyone knew his catchphrase.

Hypothetical question time: if you were given unlimited resources, unlimited crew, and unlimited time, and no one to make happy but yourself, what’s your dream project?

Oh my god, that is a hard one!  You know, if it was only myself to serve, I would make my rated R version of Ninja Turtles.

Really?  Going off the Eastman/Laird stuff?

Yeah!  I mean, I just want to do what was in the original comics.  Like, I think Eastman and Laird, though they went off and became very successful and I was a big fan of all of the cartoon series and the films, I think the Ninja Turtles was pretty dark.  Even the tone of the first feature film…that was very dark, that wasn’t a kid’s movie!  It was a pretty adult film and I was shocked when I rewatched it that they got away with that back then because that could never happen now.  So would one hundred percent want to do like, my rated R version of Ninja Turtles…with the suits.  To be honest, I would wanna do a new Ninja Turtle prosthetic, animatronic head, suit.  I’ve always wanted one.  You know, I’m sure the CG will look significantly better and hold up to today’s standard, but I’d still love to build the suit.  I dunno, maybe it’s a childhood thing.