Throughout the years we’ve seen a few games step to the forefront to become colossal hits within the industry. These titles often become key franchises and in turn people associate particular things with them. A key thing within any franchise are the characters that ultimately fuel the experience.
Over the years we’ve seen characters such as Samus from Metroid, Solid Snake/Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid, and Master Chief from Halo become synonymous with their respective franchises since they’re the lead characters. One such character that has also become a legend within the industry is Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat.
Best known for his slight familiarity to the iconic Bruce Lee in addition to being the only person that can do an epic bicycle kick, Liu Kang was essentially the gateway character for many players upon first experiencing a Mortal Kombat game, whether it was the original game way back in 1992 or a later entry in the series such as Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.
The heroic nature of Liu Kang has been shown in various installments of the Mortal Kombat series, both in the form of video games and live-action projects as well. With the arrival of Mortal Kombat: Legacy II we’re receiving a version of Liu Kang that keeps some traits of the character, but puts a new spin on the once perfect warrior that is rather befitting of the darker and more grounded tone of the series.
Stepping into the role of the iconic Liu Kang is actor Brian Tee. Known for appearing in projects such as “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” in which he played DK, or most recently “The Wolverine", Brian has put a slightly darker spin on Liu that is definitely different than what fans of the series are used to seeing, but nonetheless is a rather ingenious thing to do by breaking some of those established character traits.
Brian sheds some light on his process to tackling the character of Liu Kang and his time working on Mortal Kombat: Legacy II in this interview with Shogun Gamer.
Ian Fisher: Gamers and cinema fans across the world are seeing you right now thanks to your portrayal of Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 2. Since some people are seeing your talents for the first time, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what propelled you to become an actor?
Brian Tee: I was an L.A. boy. I was born in Okinawa and then moved to L.A. when I was two. So I grew up in and around Los Angeles, Koreatown, and did my time in High-School up in Hacienda Heights. At the time I was a big jock so I was captain of the football team and all that other stuff. My grades weren’t that great and I didn’t quite know what I wanted to be.
So I went to Cal State and I took a class called Acting For Non-Majors. The only reason I took it was because it was an easy A. So I took the class and in the first week it completely changed my life. I found the bug and it was like that light bulb went off in my head and it drove me so much that I actually applied myself academically. Then I transferred to UC Berkley and majored in dramatic arts. So that’s how I got into acting and how I caught the bug.
Ian: Right now gamers can see you in Mortal Kombat: Legacy II as you’re responsible for bringing Liu Kang to life. Since this is the first time Liu is appearing in MK: Legacy, can you talk a bit about how you got the role and what appealed to you the most about the character?
Brian: Well I owe a lot to my good buddy Ian Anthony Dale who plays Scorpion in the series. He and Kevin Tanchaoren got together and did this short which got millions upon millions of views and it really started the snowball effect into doing season one. Ian played Scorpion in season one and he talked about his experience and that got me into watching the series. I really loved what Kevin had done and how he revamped the whole Mortal Kombat series into what it is now. Ian and I talked about me being involved and of course I wanted to. I wanted to work with Kevin and I wanted to work with Ian so it seemed like a great fit.
The role of Liu Kang came along and my first instinct was that I’m not the right guy to play that character. There’s a persona of Liu Kang that I don’t necessarily mold into. So Ian convinced me to read the script and he said that I was Liu Kang. So basically I took Ian’s advice to read it and it completely blew my mind. The way that it took Liu Kang into a much darker place and how he’s more visceral and grounded stood out to me. You really see why he’s choosing to do the things that he does and the struggles that he has between both worlds (Earthrealm and Outworld) and his relationship with Kung Lao. So there’s so much more depth and character and that’s what I really thrive on.
After talking to Kevin about it, and I was actually shooting “The Wolverine” at the time, we were on the same page about everything; how we wanted to change the character, and even his fighting style is very similar to what I’m used to doing. I think it really fits the storyline and help develops a version of Liu Kang that I feel the fans are going to grow to love with this new series.
Ian: Since Liu Kang is one of the more, if not the most iconic character in the MK franchise, and has that particular mold to him, was it daunting to step into the role? What was it like for you to sink yourself into the role and that particular character?
Brian: It was never really daunting for me. Of course I grew up playing Mortal Kombat so I knew all about Liu Kang and him being the face of the franchise at that time. I didn’t quite feel the pressures of it. I knew I had large shoes to fill, but I think with the direction we took Liu Kang in was so different and much more grounded in his roots with the storyline that I didn’t worry so much about what people think Liu Kang should be since we were creating what we wanted Liu Kang to be.
So a lot of the pressure was off of my back and we really tried to make our version of Liu Kang the best that it can be. I know in the end that the fans are really going to enjoy it. So I feel honored and blessed to be Liu Kang since he’s such an iconic figure. I also feel that the direction we’re taking it in spins it on its head a little bit and I think the fans will really appreciate what we did.
Ian: Since this was a new portrayal of Liu Kang was there any specific character traits or nods to the past history of the character that you wanted to include in your performance?
Brian: There are certain not so much in your face things that are typical of Liu Kang, but of course you’re going to have the fireball and the hints of red in the outfit. What we really tried to do with Liu Kang was break him down and create a new mold for him. So you can have this familiarity with Liu Kang, but know going in that this is a completely different person. I think the Liu Kang we created has the best of both worlds. He has this familiarity yet has this different groundedness that I think more fans will appeal to.
Ian: Mortal Kombat is a fighting game so it is obviously known for the epic fights that go on. So what was it like for you to step into that element of the series and work alongside actors such as Eric Jacobus (Stryker) when it came to doing some of the epic fights that are in Legacy II? And what was it like to nail down the attitude of Liu Kang in regard to his fighting style and scenes?
Brian: For the job I feel like I tried to nail down the attitude of the character definitely. I feel like that kind of uplifts or personifies the fighting style. We have the best stunt people in the world. Larnell Stovall choreographed these amazing and brilliant fights and then we had Garrett Warren, who basically for me was the best stunt coordinator out there to be hands-on and show us the ropes.
We trained for quite a while, so for myself I had a certain fighting style that I really had to break down and go back into a more free-flowing Liu Kang fighting style. So with all of those things combined, I feel like the fight sequences that we created are so raw and brutal, yet so elegantly choreographed in some really terrific martial arts that you could see the realism involved in these amazing epic battles and that’s what we were really going for. We wanted to make it raw and real. Of course you’re going to have the great special effects and signature moves that everyone loves, but they’re all grounded in reality with the fights.
Ian: You may not be able to be too specific as to not spoil anything, but what was the most standout moment for you while working on MK: Legacy II? Was there a particular fight scene you really enjoyed or a moment acting alongside another actor you had a lot of fun with?
Brian: It was definitely the latter. It was just a completely amazing experience and we were built like a family and we were all there for one another. That’s rare to find on a film set of this nature. What sticks in my head is that when you watch episode one the first fight scene in there is choreographed beautifully, but there’s so much more depth besides just the fighting. It’s really Liu Kang in his darkest of days in this fight and you’ll see the rawness and purity of this fight and I’m really excited for the fans to see.
Hats off to the stunt coordinators, choreographer, and the stunt men who really helped me along, but I was able to do that entire fight scene myself. So I’m really proud of that and I hope the fans really enjoy it as well.
Ian: So far the reception and hype for Legacy II seems really good so a third season seems like it could happen. If we’re lucky and do receive another season of Legacy where would you want to see Liu Kang go next?
Brian: If there is a season three or a feature, I would love to see the Liu Kang story develop. To see where he goes after this and see the relationships evolve, and really see what he’s fighting for. After the fans watch Mortal Kombat: Legacy II they’re just going to yearn for ways to watch more.
I would love to see more of Liu Kang’s backstory and the backstories of all the other characters. I would want to see Ian Anthony Dale’s character Scorpion develop and really come along, especially with the rivalry with Sub-Zero. That’s one of my favorite storylines so it would be cool to see all these characters again and go deeper into their storylines.
Ian: Earlier you mentioned you were familiar with the Mortal Kombat games growing up, so in general are you much of a gamer? Do you have any time to game on either the PS3 or Xbox 360 in between filming stuff or are you way too busy most of the time?
Brian: I do have the PS3, but unfortunately I don’t have the Xbox. Every now and again I do try to get in a game or two even though I’m usually very busy. I’m also very old-school too so I won’t play many of the new games compared to the older games that I know. It’s funny, I was in this lounge the other night and they had all the older games so that brought me back a lot and I was actually able to play Mortal Kombat 1.
I love games and I wish I could play them more. A lot of them seem really complicated, especially for me as I get a little older, but I love gaming and I think it’s going to continue to grow.
Ian: Do you have any upcoming projects you want people to know about so they can scope them out? And can we perhaps expect a return of the Drift King in a future “Fast & Furious” movie?
Brian: I have a couple of projects coming out. I’m on a show on the CW called “Beauty and the Beast” and then everyone knows about Mortal Kombat happening on September 26th. I’ve also finished up two episodes of “Hawaii Five-0” that will air late/early November. I’m also in “The Gabby Douglas Story” and that tells her epic story about how she got to the Olympics. I’ll be playing Liang Chow, her gymnastics coach, in that.
As far as “Fast & Furious” is concerned if they ask me to come I would absolutely love to be a part of it. So if the fans want it they should write in to whoever they can and ask for DK to come back since I would love to reprise the role.
For taking on a role as legendary as Liu Kang I think the final performance that Brian has delivered has proven to be one that’s fresh, unique, and rather memorable given the direction Legacy has taken. I think it’s also safe to say that this depiction of Liu Kang is officially one that will be one iconic to a generation, much as was the case when the character first made his debut back in 1992 and later on in the first MK movie.
Thanks to Brian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about Mortal Kombat and his work portraying Liu Kang. More goodness involving Brian can be tracked over at his Twitter page.