In Real Life

How Mortal Kombat's Director Went From Dancing Shoes To Severed Heads

Before the dog days of summer set in, a clip leaked online for a take on the Mortal Kombat movie nobody had ever seen. Gritty, violent and brutal, it was a far cry from the 1990s Hollywood flick.

The 1995 film roared into movie theatres, and while it didn’t win over many critics, fans appreciated how it did attempt to be faithful to the game and the well-choreographed fighting scenes. But director Paul W.S. Anderson, who helms the Resident Evil movies, didn’t sign on for a sequel. The world got Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which did so poorly at the box office that it pretty much annihilated any sequel talk. That is, until last summer.

Mortal Kombat: Re-Birth was cooked up to be a showcase for how director Kevin Tancharoen saw the game’s re-imagining. “I knew that the ’90s version was a nostalgic favourite, so trying to replicate it would be a big mistake,” Tancharoen tells Kotaku. “I felt that the only way people would pay attention is if was completely different yet retained certain qualities that people remember.” The director wanted to take it seriously and make it R-rated, with an edge, some bite and lots of grit.

Mortal Kombat: Re-Birth wasn’t just some fan flick shot in somebody’s uncle’s basement over the weekend. It starred name talent like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan, both with serious geek cred.

The talented actors and moody camera work helped sell the viral trailer, but what really drove it home was how well executed the fight scenes were – more remarkable for how quickly they were done.

Marial artist Matt Mullins, who also mo-caps Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, played Johnny Cage and duked it out with Baraka in a scene that took only ten hours to film. “Ten hours is really fast for all of the different elements that we were trying to capture,” Mullins told Kotaku last June. “There was a lot of rehearsal before hand to come up with this great sequence.”

A great sequence in 10hours that would have done the fight scenes in the 1995 flick proud. And yet, it was totally different, it was fresh, it was new.

Tancharoen didn’t first cut his teeth as a director, but rather, a dance choreographer, working with the likes of Madonna and Britney Spears – experience that no doubt got him the re-booted version of dance-happy flick, Fame. But from Fame to Mortal Kombat seems like a leap.

“I’ve been in the performing arts genre so long,” the director tells Kotaku. “I felt like if anyone was going to give me a chance to do something different, I had to do it myself first.” Tancharoen wanted to branch out into horror and action, move beyond dance. But it was Mortal Kombat that interested him, that he wanted to use as a calling card. And he’s totally keen to bring Mortal Kombat back to the big screen.

This year, Tancharoen didn’t quite get the greenlight from Warner Bros. to do a feature film, but did get the OK to do an official web series, which will star both Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan. Shooting kicks off this month.

“I think the super hardcore fans would be offended with a different shade of yellow for Scorpion,” says Tancharoen about his take, “but I think the majority of fans liked it because it brought their favourite game back in a new light with all the violence that was always expected.”