After a ten-episode anthology introducing viewers to the characters they already know and love, the tournament finally begins in the second season of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”. Once again under the direction of series creator Kevin Tancheron, season two brings in new and returning characters and delivers even more blistering martial arts action. All this while further plunging the viewer into the mythos of the world the series inhabits -pulling a complete 180 on one of the most heroic characters of the “Mortal Kombat” franchise!
Brian Tee and the incredible Mark Dacascos lead the cast of season two in the roles of Shaolin monks Liu Kang and Kung Lao. While their video game counterparts have been traditionally portrayed as like brothers, season two puts them at odds with one another as a result of Kung Lao’s disapproval of a crucial decision made by Liu Kang.
Casper Van Dien assumes the role of cocky Hollywood action star Johnny Cage, replacing Matt Mullins from season one, and is joined by Stunt People co-founder Eric Jacobus as Kurtis Stryker, Eric Steinberg as Sub-Zero, and Daniel Southworth as Kenshi. Together, they fight for the fate of Earthrealm under the leadership of Thunder God Raiden, played by David Lee McInnis, assuming the role from Ryan Robbins in season one. Opposing our heroes is the treacherous shape-shifting sorcerer of Outworld, Shang Tsung, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa reprising his role from the original “Mortal Kombat” film. Alongside Shang Tsung are warrior sisters Kitana and Mileena, played by Samantha Jo and Michelle Lee, the fearsome Ermac, played by Kim Do Nguyen, and the vengeance-driven immortal ninja Scorpion, played by Ian Anthony Dale.
The forces of Earthrealm and Outworld have begun gathering their warriors for the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament. Under the mentorship of the God of Thunder, Lord Raiden, the forces of Earthrealm include Shaolin monk Kung Lao, Hollywood action star Johnny Cage, SWAT officer Kurtis Stryker, blind swordsman Kenshi, and Lin Kuei assassin Sub-Zero.
Opposing Raiden is the malevolent sorcerer Shang Tsung, who in addition to counting Scorpion, Kitana, Mileena, and Ermac among his fighters, has another ace up his sleeve – Kung Lao’s good friend, Liu Kang. Once a Shaolin monk and member of the White Lotus like his friend, Liu Kang emerged as the victor of the previous Mortal Kombat before choosing to pursue a normal life with his fiancé. Unfortunately, she was tragically murdered, leaving Liu embittered towards people he once defended. Shang Tsung subsequently arrived to play on Liu’s anger and to offer the vengeful former protector of Earthrealm “a place on the ark”, ultimately leading Liu Kang to side with Shang Tsung’s fighters in the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament.
While the first season of “Legacy” took the form of an anthology (in which each episode was devoted to the origins of one or more MK characters), season two focuses on the tournament itself with flashbacks used to set up the back story, such as Liu Kang and Kung Lao’s falling out and Johnny Cage’s increasingly troubled life since season -culminating in his unceremonious crashing of the premiere of fellow action star Chuck Norris’ latest movie!
Even more so than Jax, Johnny Cage was perhaps the most perfectly cast character of season one, so it’s surprising how easily Casper Van Dien takes over the part of the cocky, pretty boy action star from Matt Mullins. However, it’s Brian Tee’s portrayal of the strung out and over-the-deep-end Liu Kang that is arguably the most memorable performance of season two, right down to his action scenes.
In contrast with the finely tuned and finessed command of martial arts he displays in the games and in the original “Mortal Kombat” film, this Liu Kang is a ferocious, wild animal who attacks his opponents with the intensity of a rabid dog, a very fitting decision on the part of fight choreographer Larnell Stovall and director Kevin Tancheron.
The Liu Kang of “Legacy” has hit his lowest point and lives in a state of perpetual rage, and he’s not trying to defeat his opponents so much as tear them apart. The viewer gets a chance to see just how radically different this version of Liu Kang is from what they saw in the first episode, when a very drunk Liu violently pummels half a dozen gangsters in a karaoke bar for choosing a song that hits too close to home for him, -even one poor guy’s tooth got embedded in a pool table! Portraying one of the most recognizable heroes of the MK franchise in this way is possibly the riskiest choice that “Legacy” could have made, but Liu’s alarmingly understandable motivation for switching sides is exactly what gives season two its own identity and draws the viewer in with something we’ve never seen before in the series.
Of course, the meat and potatoes of season two lies in the tournament itself, and here the series continues to chart its own unique path. In some respects, this version of the Mortal Kombat tournament is more akin to “The Hunger Games”, with the fighters being set upon a desolate island in Outworld to hunt one another down until there’s only one left standing. Sorry Katniss, the odds are decidedly not in your favor here!
As with the first season of the series, the second season of “Legacy” is a Fatality-filled blood bath with spines ripped out of backs, impalements, decapitations, and just about every manner of gruesome death you can think of. The first matchup of the tournament pitting Kenshi against Ermac is exactly what a duel between warriors with supernatural abilities should look like, and the battle between Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Kitana and Mileena are both just as good. Tancheron really lets the viewer soak up every duel in all its glory by filming much of the action in tracking shots that circle around the combatants.
Oddly though, Mark Dacascos and Eric Jacobus seem underutilized with Stryker’s only fight being a brief confrontation with Liu Kang near the end, and Kung Lao not fighting at all beyond throwing his hat a few times and engaging in a nicely done training sequence. A little behind-the-scenes info reveals that fans were far from being cheated – the intended ending of season two was going to play out like the final fight of “The Raid”, with Kung Lao and Stryker double-teaming against Liu Kang. However, time constraints forced Tancheron to end the season on a cliffhanger. While it might seem like a cop out to give the series a pass for cutting season two off just as the climax arrives, it’s hard to fault the makers of “Legacy” knowing that circumstances forced them to end on a “To be continued” note. The idea behind the intended ending is a really good one so fans must hang in there to see it fully realized in season three!
The second season of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” contorts the mythos of the games in all the right ways and delivers something new and different. Larnell Stovall’s fight choreography is impeccable, and truly enlivened by Tancheron’s liberal use of tracking shots. The season also gives a unique and fresh take on Liu Kang, and Brian Tee’s performance should make fans excited to see what he brings to Shredder in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” next year. As for the cliffhanger finale, the concept and MK characters involved are more than enough to make it worth the wait to see it brought to life in the next round.
- Samantha Jo has also portrayed another famous video game character – Chun Li of the “Street Fighter” series in an episode of the web-series “Ultimate Fan Fights”, where she is pitted against Tifa of the “Final Fantasy” series.
- Daniel Southworth appeared with his fellow former Power Ranger Johnny Yong Bosch in “Broken Path”. Johnny would later appear with Eric Jacbous in the Stunt People’s film “Death Grip”.
- The second season of “Legacy” marks the first time portrayal of the character Kenshi in a live-action format.