An incredible thing happened this week. A short film adaptation of a video game emerged on the Internet. Against all odds and a lengthy history of mediocre to downright foul game-to-film adaptations, this one turned out to be good. Not just good, but great. Superb!
I'm referring to "Fame" director Kevin Tancharoen's proof-of-concept short titled "Mortal Kombat Rebirth," which is of course based on the classic, exceedingly gory fighting game franchise. My first thought upon hitting play was that it must have been a fan video. Then Michael Jai White, star of "Black Dynamite," appeared on the screen and I knew this was something more thought out, something special.
It turns out that it was. Tancharoen shot the short with a $7500 budget and help from some of his friends in the Hollywood film community. The video was dropped on the web intentionally, an appeal directly to fans that this is a feature that should be made. The response so far has been tremendous, with more than 1 million views clocked for the short. So I got White on the phone today to chat about the experience of creating the short.
"Not only am I a fan of [the game], but I was connected to the first two movies," he explained. "I literally was cast as Jax on two occasions." He landed the part in the first movie, 1995's "Mortal Kombat," only to be lured away by the starring role in HBO's excellent Mike Tyson biopic, "Tyson." The same thing happened with the second movie and another starring role.
"In ['Mortal Kombat: Annihilation'], being that it was a New Line release, I was cast as Jax prior to 'Spawn' happening," he explained. Jax had a much larger role in that second "Kombat" movie. "When 'Spawn' came up, New Line chose for me to be Spawn even when I just happy to play Jax. I didn't know about 'Spawn' when they told me about it."
The near-Jax castings are part of what drew White to helping out his friend Kevin with the short, but not the whole reason. A staunchly independent performer and filmmaker, White also respected the guerilla tactic planned for the short: releasing it on the Internet and allowing its quality to be judged, for better or for worse, in the court of public opinion.
"I'm an advocate of really just putting your artistic view down," White said. "Being a fan, I feel like I represent the consumer because I am one. I feel like, if not for me doing my own trailer for 'Black Dynamite,' that wouldn't have happened. I believe in that spirit of just forging forward and putting your vision out there."
It also helped that White knew the director quite well beforehand. "Kevin and I are... good friends, and I think [his idea] was really cool," White said. "So when [he] contacted me about doing this 'Mortal Kombat' reboot, I was all over it because I know how talented he is and I knew the fight coordinator, Larnell Stovall, who's like a family member. I call him my little brother. A lot of our friends were involved and it was just something I believed in. So this was just... kind of a jam session."