The launch of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” Season two kicks off our coverage of new fights (and fighters) for the Machinima web series. Check out the first episode below. Later today, we’ll bring you interviews with some of the stars and creators who’ve brought the battle for Earthrealm to your PC.
2:30 EST – Interview: Casper Van Dien (Johnny Cage)
4:30 EST – Interview: Director Kevin Tancharoen
He’s played everything from a heartbroken assassin (“Crying Freeman”) to the Crow (“The Crow: Stairway to Heaven”), to a turbo-charged martial artist with a super-powered heart (my personal favorite, “Drive”), and this week, six-time award-winning Kung Fu and karate champion martial artist Mark Dacascos takes on the role he feels he was born to play: Shaolin monk Kung Lao in the second season of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy.”
Dacascos and I spoke about why this role was, in a way, a dream come true, the joy (and literal pain) of shooting with a smaller budget, and how “Mortal Kombat” and Buddhism make sense together.
Dacascos came to the character of Kung Lao blind, as it were: prior to taking the role, the actor hadn’t seen any of the previous “Mortal Kombat” films. “I feel like I have a bit of an advantage,” he adds, “So I sort of have a clean slate.” Dacascos did have previous video game/film crossover experience, playing the heavy in the 1994 “Double Dragon” movie as well as joining the cast of “Wing Commander IV” as one of its heroes in the space shooter’s FMV sequences. But the “Mortal Kombat” franchise, even though he was aware of the movies and games, somehow eluded him.
Still, he felt oddly prepared for the role of a Shaolin monk thanks to his love of a a Jet Li classic which, in part, lead to his entry into the world of martial arts on film. At the age of 16, while still living with his martial arts instructor parents in Hamburg, Germany, Dacascos first saw Li on the screen in 1982’s “The Shaolin Temple” (the first role for the Wushu champion who is only one year Dacascos’ senior). “I had this idea in my head that I was going to be like Jet Li. I was exploring Buddhism at that time–and I still am–and of course, I was a martial artist and I thought it was the perfect combination. I could practice martial arts, religion, and philosophy, and help people.”
And after saving his money, Dacoscos hopped on a plane to Taipei, where he studied Mandarin in the hopes of entering a Shaolin temple in mainland China. He laughs, saying that he met a Texas girl who changed those plans and the two married. But he says that those spiritual aspirations have never gone away, something that’s carried over to his serene performance as Kung Lao: “I always carry that part of my life and that aspiration in me,” he says, “The character just resonated in me.”
He sought out the role, pushing his manager to get him into an audition. He laughs now, but he says that at the time, he feared that if he didn’t get the role–or at least a shot at it–he would be devastated. “I feel like I’ve worked my whole life to play this character–I’m thrilled and so grateful.”
I’m surprised that Dacascos, an award-winning martial artist with numerous badass action credits to his name, had to chase the role. But that’s the world of indie and smaller budget filmmaking sometime, an environment with which the actor is familiar. Still, working outside of the studio system offers its advantages: “Let’s take ’Drive,’ for example. I hope it shows that it was a passion project for everybody that was involved.” When director Steven Wang asked the actors to start making contact during fights, they were all onboard–something you’d have a harder time doing in a major release with tighter constraints on who can do what and when. That meant using real clubs instead of props in some scenes, on the “Drive” set, which lead to one injury which required that Dacascos could only shoot one side of his face the next day.
Sure, he took his knocks, but the under-the-wire filmmaking meant that then, as with “Mortal Kombat,” the creative team could make the feature they set out to make. Of “Drive” and Christopher Gans’ “Brotherhood of the Wolf” Dacascos says “It was nice to get offered a script and then shoot that script.” He’s talking about the sometimes relentless way a script, even after it’s been provided to actors and their would-be director, will morph before production even starts (and sometimes during). “[With ’Mortal Kombat’] Kevin has a lot of creative control,” and Dacascos was awed that the director had a vision in his head that was both exciting for the performers as well as (potentially) the audience.
I ask if he feels that his Buddhist leanings and “Mortal Kombat” are compatible and Dacascos provides a little backstory: his parents were Catholic but his maternal grandmother was Buddhist, allowing him to grow up among a mix of beliefs. Even today, he lives with a mix of Buddhist and Catholic teaching, offering a worldview where average people are “battling good and evil night and day” (he chuckles here, saying you can see that same battle on the California 101 freeway every day).
“The thing with ’Mortal Kombat’ is we really deal with that: what is the right thing to do? When somebody does something bad, do you, then, in your mind, rectify the situation by doing something bad to them?” Dacascos says that it’s something he deals with in his own life, raising kids who’s he’s trying to teach morality, and that “Mortal Kombat,” at least as conceived in the web series, is at its core about that kind of tug between the right and wrong thing to do. “I do feel I’m being respectful to Buddhism and martial arts with ’Mortal Kombat.'”
You can watch the full season here.
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