“Mortal Kombat Legacy 2,” the sequel to the popular Machinima Web series, launched Thursday with a very different take on one of the franchise’s beloved characters, Liu Kang. The formerly well-meaning monk has taken a turn toward the dark side in Kevin Tancharoen’s newly envisioned tale, and actor Brian Tee appreciates the sinister twist (to watch him in action, check out the first episode in the new season below). Hero Complex recently caught up with Tee to get his insight into the character and what it took to bring him to life.
HC: When did you first get into “Mortal Kombat”?
BT: I grew up playing “Mortal Kombat” as a kid. I was always a fan of the video game. Saw the movies as a kid as well. When I found that YouTube video of Kevin’s updating “Mortal Kombat,” it blew me out of the water. I have a friend named Ian Anthony Dale that knew Kevin and he was actually in that short. So when [Part 2] came along, he was like, “Dude, you have to be in this.” I was actually shooting “The Wolverine” at the time, and I was in Australia. Then the messages came around that I would be playing Liu Kang. To be honest, I was like, “Ugh. I’m just the wrong kind of guy to play Liu Kang.” There’s a lot of other guys out there that would make a better Liu Kang. It’s just not my style of martial arts, not my style of acting, not my style … especially based on the perception that I had of Liu Kang and the perception that had been shown in movies and the video games. Back in the day, it was thought of as an homage to Bruce Lee, which was awesome and rightfully so, but I’m just not that guy.
HC: But you changed your mind?
BT: My buddy Ian was like, “No, dude. Read the script. It’s all you.” When I read it, it blew me away. There’s so much more depth and character arc with Liu Kang. You find out the reasons why he’s doing the things that he does. It’s a darker side of him and he rides the lines between Earth realm and Outworld. From then on, I was full-on involved. I talked to Kevin to make sure that we were all on the same page with how we wanted to portray Liu Kang and change the perception of him into what it is now. I think the fans will enjoy it.
HC: Did Liu Kang’s changed story arc surprise you?
BT: I really liked how it turned out. I think the arc of Liu Kang, and the way that it ends, will really get the fans excited … and it’s almost fitting that it happens the way it happens in the end.
HC: What martial arts do you practice?
BT: I started as a kid. Every kid seems to pick up tae kwon do. My martial arts came a lot from my uncle, who actually taught martial arts through the military. He was a black belt in tae kwon do, but also, he used a lot of military-style fighting where it’s not the high kicks or anything like that. It’s basically defeat your opponent as fast as possible. It’s kind of ruthless, and it’s that ruthless self-defense that I grew up on. I guess it’s similar to Krav Maga in that sense. I had to literally change my fighting style and break my habits when I got the role of Liu Kang, cause in my fighting style, everything is close-quarters, small and tight — like a boxer. Whereas Liu Kang, and when you’re doing a movie and performance fighting, everything is big movements.
HC: When you changed your style, was there anything that you kept when you returned to your own martial arts?
BT: Absolutely. My wife calls me a brute. I’m a bit of a bull, and there’s really no grace involved with what I do. With Kevin and the stunt coordinator and the choreographer, we shaped Liu Kang’s style using his old moves like the fireball and that stuff, but had to go darker. So we put some of my moves in there as well.
HC: When you played the game growing up, which character would you choose?
BT: Scorpion. All the time. Period. Everyone said that Liu Kang was the poster child of what “Mortal Kombat” was supposed to be, but it just felt like, popularity-wise, everyone loved Scorpion. He actually has become the face of “Mortal Kombat” — in my eyes.
HC: In terms of your acting background, did you do martial arts-based work and/or any stunt work before this?
BT: No. I actually went to UC Berkeley theater and did a lot of theater up north…. I’m an actor’s actor. I come from a huge theater background. The whole action and stunt world just came as the roles were available. No one ever sought me out to do it and I don’t consider myself a stunt guy at all. You have some of the best stunt guys in the world working on “Mortal Kombat.” Garrett Warren who’s done things like “Avatar,” Larnell Stovall who coordinated all of the fights, Kim Do [Nguyen] doing stunts. They can show me things that make me look like I actually do it, but I got to give props to the guys that actually do it. I’m a physical guy, and I think that helps in implementing moves, but I won’t go as far as saying I’m a stunt guy. I’m one of those guys that — when there’s a particular role like Liu Kang — I’m in it to win it.
— Jevon Phillips
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