MORTAL KOMBAT: BATTLE OF THE REALMS Interview: Matt Yang King On Bringing Kung Lao To Animation (Exclusive)

MORTAL KOMBAT: BATTLE OF THE REALMS Interview: Matt Yang King On Bringing Kung Lao To Animation (Exclusive)

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms's Matt Yang King talks to us about reimagining Kung Lao for animation, what it was like to jump from playing Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat 11 to this role, and more.

Picking up shortly after the explosive finale of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's RevengeMortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms follows a team of heroes who are besieged by the enemy forces of Shao Kahn. Raiden and his group of warriors are forced into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms; Scorpion, meanwhile, must find the ancient Kamidogu before it's used to resurrect the One Being to avert the destruction of all things.

Among the heroes fighting for Earthrealm is Kung Lao, a character who, in this sequel, is like a brother to Liu Kang. Actor Matt Yang King (Riverdale) brings him to life in the movie and is definitely no stranger to this franchise after actually playing Liu Kang in the hit Mortal Kombat 11 video game. 

Yesterday, we spoke to Matt about what it was like to make the leap from the games to Battle of the Realms, and he offered plenty of insight into the work that went into bringing Kung Lao to life.

The actor also touches on some minor spoilers about how his character's story progresses, explaining the delight he took in watching how violent things often get in this upcoming animated adventure. He also briefly comments on his role in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf and, perhaps most importantly, who would win if a battle were to take place between Liu Kang and Kung Lao...

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms arrives August 31 on 4K/Blu-ray & Digital!
 

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Thanks for talking about the movie, Matt. It must be an exciting project to be out there promoting?

Yeah, I’ve been Mortal Kombat-adjacent for a while here, so I’ve literally been living in the realm for a while now doing both the video game and the movie. 

Talking of the game, you played Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat 11, but what led to you being approached for this project and taking on the role of a totally different character?

The funniest thing for me was doing Liu Kang in the video game in the morning and then coming in in the afternoon to record Battle of the Realms as Kung Lao. Later that afternoon, I also had an audition for the live-action movie as Liu Kang again! It was like, ‘Is my life just Mortal Kombat at this point?’ [Laughs]

It must have been quite surreal playing a character here who is like a brother to Liu Kang and jumping between the two roles?

Yeah, and he’s played in the video game by a wonderful actor and friend of mine, Sunil Malhotra. It was interesting talking to him about the nature and the arrogance and nobility of the character and then seeing where I would take it in the movie. 

Kung Lao sees a lot of action in this movie, but how challenging is it to find that physicality when you’re in the recording booth?

Well, one of the things is that you’re in a solo environment. It’s not necessary the challenges of being in a booth because acting is acting as much as you’re alone and have nothing to play off of. I just had to lay that at the feet of Wes Gleason and his wonderful direction because he’s able to shove us in the right direction so we know where we’re coming from and you get a line from one of the previous actors that helps you feel where you’re going. Of course, the amazing animation that’s there is so visceral, you can’t help but shout out when you see some of that stuff. 

You mentioned that you’re spending your days jumping between these characters, but what would you say was most difficult when it came to finding the right voice for this character?

For me, I’m an older gamer, so when I played Liu Kang originally back in the day, I was like, ‘Oh, they’re doing an ode to Bruce Lee.’ Over the years, even though a lot of wonderful actors like Tom Choi have played Liu Kang, nobody ever really felt, to me, like they’d honoured Bruce even though it was very obvious to me that’s where his roots were. When I originally auditioned for Liu Kang, I said I wanted to base it deeply in Bruce Lee and what he’d have been like had he lived past 32. Then, within the video games, Kung Lao is very much a wise-cracker and comic relief, and that’s interesting because he’s not that in the movie. He’s a later Kung Lao who’s come more to honour, so it was much easier to shift between the two because he’s much more straight-laced and honourable which is very much in the vein of what Liu Kang is. 

You’re obviously no stranger to this franchise and a big fan, but when this role came your way, was there a lot of research on your part and, if so, what did that consist of? 

I mean, because I’d already done two and a half years of video game at that point, I couldn’t do any more research. I had Dominic, the main writer of it in my ear at the time (we’re good friends), he could tell me every possible manifestation of what this character was. He knows Liu Kang in every way and it’s very deep with the way the battle lines have changed and who has been resurrected and died. I knew the ground on which Kung Lao was standing quite well.

What excited and interested you most about exploring Kung Lao’s relationship with both Liu Kang and Lord Raiden? 

When I originally auditioned, I’d gone for more of the wise guy, but once I’d talked to Wes, he was really driving the narrative of the destruction of the temple and all these crazy demons coming in and then the new fight across the realms and the stakes of that. It was pretty easy because it’s a life or death fight and that makes the narrative and the choices that you’re making much easier. He takes it seriously and you have a guy who understands the fate of humanity is in his hands. He’s arrogant enough to think he can do something about it. 

We see Kung Lao head into that battle with a real sense of confidence; what do you think was going through his mind at that point? 

The thing is, they’re coming off of a win that he survives so he feels like he can stand up with anybody. Because he’s got a constant sparring partner in Liu Kang, who is the best and is doing well, he thinks he can hang. It’s interesting when he calls a certain character out and claims he could have beaten him at any time back in the day. I had this reaction where I was saying, ‘C’mon, of course he said that! That’s the only mentality you can have in order to win that type of fight.’ You can’t go in thinking you’re not going to win; you have to go in thinking you’re the biggest, strongest guy in the world or you will lose. So, I took that to heart when I was actually doing Kung Lao. 
 

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You’re part of a very memorable sequence in the movie with Shao Kahn, but what has it been like for you to watch that back? It felt like a moment from the games that was brought to life perfectly...

Yeah! I feel like especially almost the CSI, internal damage camera they were doing and the way the camera lingers on some of the most disgusting things imaginable as certain things are destroyed [Laughs] was amazing. My wife had to tap out at that point. She was done. Meanwhile, my inner 12-year-old is cheering. I loved the X-Ray damages they do throughout the whole thing. Every once in a while they do one, and somebody huffs it off, and I’m like, ‘He just had his rib cage shattered! How is he still going?’ That was all part of the fun. 

I know Wes Gleason was an instrumental part of the way this project came together, but can you talk through your experience working with him? 

I love Wes. Wes and I go way back. My first experience working with Wes was on a tiny video game. I don’t even remember the name because my wife was pregnant at the time and literally in labour. We were hard up and I had to go and get some money, so I checked she was going to be okay, and literally went to the job that morning after she said ‘yes’ and was super distracted. I was constantly texting to check she was okay and she’d reply with the number of minutes. Wes looked at me at the time because he was directing and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I told him my wife was in labour and he said, ‘What are you doing here? Why are you here? Go, go, go - we’ll schedule a different day!’ Because of that, and our kids were actually born the same year, Wes and I have had a special relationship and a wonderful shorthand for how we work. We always have that story together and we worked on a Netflix series called Trese that’s out right now and that was super duper fun. Again, hyper gory and violent, but an amazing piece. Wes just brings that out and is a really good guy for being able to bring hyper-violence and still make it mean something. 

As an actor, what does it mean to you to be part of a franchise as iconic as Mortal Kombat

To me, I feel like...it was Guillermo del Toro who said, ‘At 40-years-old, either a man is pleasing his inner 12-year-old or he’s missing the boat.’ [Laughs] It was interesting when I got Liu Kang and later this movie, I could imagine telling myself at 15 or 16 while playing the game in some random arcade in Connecticut that I had gotten these roles and imagining the glee that would have been on my face for having done it. Between this and having done Cyberpunk 2077 this year, it’s been a real gleeful time for my inner 12-year-old. 

On another note, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf debuted on Netflix today, so I was wondering what you’d like to tease about your role in that project? 

I can’t! It’s so much fun...it’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s about as much as I can say! I literally haven’t been through the NDA [Laughs] so I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s amazing and really cool. I’m literally going, ‘Can I tell…?’ Nah, I’m not gonna say any more than that. It’s just really cool. 

Having worked with Warner Bros. Animation a few times now both on Mortal Kombat and some of the DC Animated Universe movies, are there any dream roles you’d like to return for down the line?

Oh yeah. In the DC Universe, I want to play any Asian superhero they bring to the fore. The problem is, there are so few of them. I feel like we’re missing out on a market. There’s a huge opportunity for, and I’ve never understood this, the American market to really choose and pick Asian stars and bring forward and push forward American-centric Asian stars in animated formats. We seem to consume from the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean markets, and not understand that we can bring and promote stars here who would do incredibly well over there. You look at movies like Paper Tigers with Ron Yuan, another voiceover actor and amazing on-camera actor, and you realise we have a chance to really go over there and do some great stuff. Look at Invincible. I feel like that’s what I want to do in the DC Universe. Write me an Asian-American character that I can really chew some scenery with and I’m all about it. 

You’ve played Liu Kang and Kung Lao now, but if you were to pit those two against each other...who do you see coming out on top?

Well, Liu Kang is a God now, so...he’s kinda been there, done that. Despite amazing stuff coming in Mortal Kombat 12, Liu Kang is a God, so I’d have to give it to him [Laughs].
 

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