Greetings fair travelers of the perilous realm! Today, we take a break from the book reviews and delve into realm of the many fine entertainment offerings on the internet. Specifically, the Mortal Kombat webseries directed by Kevin Tancharoen.
As some may recall, this same director produced a short teaser film called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that gave us a taste of what the characters of the Mortal Kombat video game might be like in the real world. Obviously, some like Jonny Cage and Sonya Blade didn’t need to be changed much but it was interesting to see how he changed Baraka into a crazed plastic surgeon turned serial killer and Reptile into a psychopath with a rare genetic disorder. Whether one like this take on the MK mythos or not, it got enough attention to land Tancheroen a budget and the ability to create the first season of MK Legacy. This series was unconnected to the previous short film but retained the serious tone and brutal fight scenes of that earlier effort.
Season one was largely episodic, introducing us to many of the characters such as Jonny Cage, Cyrax and Sektor, Scorpion and Sub-Zero and others. While the episodes were stand alone, there were hints of the background story that crept in, such as the appearance of Shang Tsung at the end of the Cage episode and the introduction to Raiden as well. There were a couple of episodes in which the shoestring budget was evident but in my view, this really didn’t hurt the series at all and at the end of it we were given a very solid introduction to a number of characters as well as a nice example of patient world building.
Season Two promised to provide a more linear narrative as we moved into the actual tournament. And while we do get to the tournament and there are some characters and threads that run through most of the season, it still feels very episodic. While this was perfectly fine for season one, I think it is a weakness here. This is largely because the characters are largely dumped on Shang Tsung’s island by Raiden and Sung and told to go fight with minimal explanation as to what the heck is going on. Thus, the season is mostly made of fights largely happening at random, interspersed with flashbacks related to which ever character is the focus of each episode.
These flashbacks are where the series shines the brightest as we get deeper into some of the characters. The best area (again) is the Scorpion and Sub-Zero flashbacks as we go back to feudal Japan and see just how tragic their story really is and how they have been manipulated into conflict with each other. This is another interesting element; it is absolutely clear that these characters (and others like Kenschi) are from feudal Japan, yet they are participating in the same tournament as movie star Johnny Cage and gun-wielding cop Stryker. It is never explained in this season but I have hopes for season three.
The biggest surprise this season is Liu Kang. Having won the tournament before (apparently by removing Tsung’s head – which doesn’t seem to bother him much) Liu Kang thought his duty complete and left the temple, much to the chagrin of Kung Lao. Despite Lao’s disapproval however, Kang had apparently found happiness and was about the get engaged. Unfortunately, the restaurant he was working at was robbed and his fiancee killed in the process. Between this and the lack of support from Kung Lao, Kang became embittered to the point that Tsung was able to recruit him to fight for Outworld.
Another bright spot for the season is the fight scenes. The choreography is excellent and focuses largely on realistic and brutal fights with a minimum of the sort of flashy moves that once characterized martial arts in movies. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get some of the supernatural energy blasts that were so much fun in the game. They are generally done simply and integrated well into the fight. We also see some of the brutally rendered fatalities that were responsible for putting the original Mortal Kombat on the map. Naturally, there is some gore associated with this and may put off those who would rather not see such things.
The acting for both seasons of MK Legacy has also been good overall, with Tancharoen making use of talented unknowns and seasoned B list actors such as Michael Jai White (Jax) and Jeri Ryan (Sonya Blade) in season one and Brian Tee (Liu Kang), Casper Van Dien (Johnny Cage) and Mark Dacascos (Kung Lao) in season two. And long time fans of the franchise will appreciate the return of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung in season two. All do a very capable job of bringing their characters to life in a believable way. Tee in particular does great job of bringing a conflicted and bitter Liu Kang to life and Tagawa brings a slightly toned-down and more mature Tsung to the screen than we saw in the 1995 film. I do have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed with Van Dien’s turn as Johnny Cage. It seemed like they didn’t spend much time training him up for the role, meaning that he largely just got kicked around and delivered a couple of one-liners. And to be fair, when it comes to delivering arrogant and humorous one-liners, it would be hard to beat Linden Ashby’s portrayal of Cage in the 1995 film.
To wrap up, both seasons aren’t perfect but are still fine examples of the kind of film-making that can be done with a small budget and dedicated crew. If you are a fan of the franchise or the martial arts genre in general, it would be well-worth checking out Mortal Kombat Legacy. And if you like what you see, rest assured that a third season is apparently promised and a feature film from the same director is also in the works.