Review of Matthew Yang King on Voicing Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms

Daljit Kalsi

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is set to arrive on digital and physical storefronts later this month on August 31. The film is the direct sequel to 2020’s Scorpion’s Revenge. In it, Raiden and his band of Earthrealm fighters enter the titular tournament to save the realms from Shao Kahn, who showed up in the movie’s first trailer. Actor Matthew Yang King (Riverdale) voices Kung Lao in the animated feature.

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms star Matthew Yang King about voicing Kung Lao, voicing Liu Kang in the video games, and his other voice acting roles.

Tyler Treese: You’re a veteran to the Mortal Kombat series at this point. What about playing Kung Lao appealed to you and what are your thoughts on the character?

Matthew Yang King: I really like Kung Lao. It’s weird coming off of playing Liu Kang for two years in the video game previous to that. It’s just sort of consistently going back and going back and going back through Mortal Kombat 11 and then playing the other side of that. And I know my very good friend Sunil Malhotra, who plays Kung Lao in the video game, was kind enough to talk to me about the character and sort of where he was at. And I had gone to Kung Lao as much more of a wisecracker and sort of the comic relief. But when it actually came to play the movie and realizing that they’re playing a much later Kung Lao, one who was much more noble, one who’s much more grounded, that was a much easier shift because it was coming straight off the same sense of Liu Kang. He’s a very honorable man.

That friendship with Liu Kang is so important to the character. Can you speak to just bringing that to life in the film?

It’s there. Again, I’ve treaded that ground from the opposite viewpoint from being in Liu Kang for so long that it was easy to step into the other shoes because I already know what ground I’ve done or what emotional ground I’ve done from Liu King’s point and sort of the brotherhood that they have, the comradery, the competition, and the brotherhood they’ve had. And since Liu Kang sort of thinks of Kung Lao as sort of the younger brother, it was very easy to sort of play the Kung Lao character as somebody who’s looking up to this guy, but also doesn’t want to and wants to have this competitive nature and this want to be the best and be on the same ground as his older brother.

What is your background with the series? What was your first Mortal Kombat game?

Mortal Kombat was my first Mortal Kombat game. Playing the video game an arcade in Connecticut over and over and over and over and over again. I watched it and played it and I’m a gamer going way, way back. And then when I was finally given the opportunity to play Liu Kang, it was super duper fun. I had known that they had originally based Liu Kang in Bruce Lee, and he was sort of the ode to the Bruce Lee character within the game. But I noticed that nobody had ever played that largely because they were hiring Caucasian actors and they felt a lot of the time those Caucasian actors so uncomfortable sort of doing that. But I really wanted to bring back Bruce and really do an ode to him within this. Then Kung Lao, he’s going back to the showdown in Big Trouble in Little China. He’s derived from these really, really fun ’80s films and some great Wu-Tang Chinese Wuxia. And so it was really, really fun being able to play a character who hearkens back to some of the movies of my childhood.

Matthew Yang King interview

Speaking of Liu Kang, in Mortal Kombat 11, he has an interesting arc where he becomes the fire god. How exciting was it to be the character in that story?

Yes, and that was really, really fun and playing the multiple derivations of that. You’d go in and you’d play one branch and then you’d have to come back and play the second branch and then come in and play the third, fourth, and fifth. And then everything branches further than the line. So all the different dialogue trees and ways that it could have gone were really neat to play as an actor. And then actually playing it as a gamer trying to play the came on expert and absolutely failing made me ask, “Why is it so hard?” [laughs]

The film really lives up to the franchise and there are some incredible fatalities. You expect that coming in, but when you were doing the voiceover hearing and you saw some of these deaths for the first time, what was your reaction?

I believe the quote is “Ahhh!” because some of those deaths are absolutely brutal. I mean, they’re quite brutal in the video game, but there are some in here that are just super-duper gory. My wife had to tap out because she couldn’t take it. We’re watching the film together and she went, “Yup. Can’t.” But it was fun because it pleased my inner 12-year-old self.

You’ve now voiced three Mortal Kombat characters: Liu Kang, Kung Lao, and Fujin. Do you have a favorite to play?

I love Liu Kang. He’s my main guy. If we come back with Kung Lao, that might be difficult, but if we come back with Kung Lao at some point in the future, I’d love to play the snarky version of him. It wasn’t just that as I also got to play an Elder God as well as some of the smaller guys. It is always fun play incidental characters within these worlds, as well. But I’d have to give it to Liu Kang because I got to honor Bruce and that’s such an iconic figure for most Asian-American kids. It’s just a dream come true.

In Warcraft III, you had a very iconic portrayal of Illidan Stormrage. And it’s so beloved by fans. What does that mean to you?

That role is wonderful to me and also a slight bit of a bummer. I’m a huge gamer. I played Warcraft and then getting to play that role [was great]. It was so funny because I was working with the voice director on that and they were uncomfortable because they would go, “This is a moment and I don’t know if you’ll get this, but it’s like a Captain Needa and Vader in Star Wars,” and I am like, “Yeah, I get it. Let’s go.” It was easy. So it became a really wonderful shorthand for being able to play Illidan.

They came back to me to play Illidan for World of Warcraft. SAG hadn’t put video games under their contract yet, and they had really gotten in my face about playing Warcraft originally. So I had to turn down playing Illidan for World of Warcraft. And so it was just this huge bummer that I didn’t get to do it and it puts my teeth on edge. I’ve always wanted to go back and do Illidan again in some of the later stuff or do him in a movie or something like that because he’s just one of my favorite characters because he’s just so cool.

You also played Sumaru in Naruto and he has such a nice little character arc. Do you have any memories of doing that voiceover?

It’s so fun playing a younger character. I was in my thirties when I played that. There’s such a wonderful sweetness to those roles, especially with Sumaru. It was the relationship with mother that was really, really fun. And there are levels of depth that they play in there that are really wonderful. Although I also learned the sort of rules of dubbing the Japanese cartoons and realizing that they have a different sort of breath pattern than Western animation. They always have this sort of like thing like, “If a guy gets surprised, you always go, [makes sharp inhalation noise]. If you get surprised by a girl, he goes, [makes different sharp inhalation noise]” It’s always the same breath pattern. It’s really cute. This is sort of the Japanese animate breath pattern. And that’s how it’s done.

You did Only Yesterday. What was it like getting to work on a Ghibli film?

That was really, really wonderful. It’s just so beautiful and it’s one of the more subtle Ghibli film. But anything that’s Miyazaki-adjacent makes you just get super duper excited, especially when you’re working opposite Daisy Ridley. Playing the father in that role was really interesting because there’s this moment in it where he goes off and he’s gone from being sort of a non-entity, the guy behind the newspaper who was just in charge. And then he gets mad at his kid in this one moment and then sort of had to explain the cultural moment why she walked in with shoes and walked out with shoes, and he goes off and slaps her.

They were sort of explaining it to me and going, “This is why he’s so upset here.” And then I had to think about it because this doesn’t make sense that he blows back this much. And I went back and I thought about it and I went, “Wait a second. So this is 1981, I think when she’s flashing back. So this is in the 1960s when he’s with his daughter, which means that he would have been in his twenties in the 1940s.” And I went, “Oh, he’s a war veteran and he’s got PTSD.” And so everything that he’s dealing with his daughters is something he doesn’t want to deal with because everything they’re talking about is frivolous.

And then when they do things that break tradition and break the seriousness of it, he has a thing where he snaps and snaps emotionally. And that’s why he does it. And I sort of brought that up with the director and he was stunned because he had never thought about that from that point of view of that character. He was just basing it on people in his real-life from just a point of action of how they acted, not where it was coming from. And they wrote me a really wonderful email afterward saying that that offered them a beautiful insight into the character and that was a really, really wonderful moment for that character.

In Death Stranding, you voiced Thomas Sutherland and his model is Edgar Wright. How cool was it to be part of a Kojima project and how weird was it voicing Edgar Wright?

Well, Kojima projects are weird in general. The guy just has a plotline on his plotline on his plotline. I didn’t know at that point that that would be what it was. I was voiced in the dark. But then when it turned out that that’s what it was quite odd. It was quite strange.

You also played Ayabe in Judgment, who had a great character arc. How was doing that game?

Those are awesome because you get to work with Keith Arem over at PCB. Keith is a force to be reckoned with and an amazing director when it comes to that stuff. The fact that he started off in a punk band just makes it even more fun, and then you come in and you’re doing a project like that with wonderful actors like Greg Chun. It’s easy stuff to play off of, and then everything feels like an old timey Japanese chanbara, especially now that the graphics are getting better and better. Ayabe is a wonderful slime ball. I just love when I’m able to stretch beyond the confines of what a lot of Asian Americans are given as the roles that we play on television. So when in these video games I really get to stretch and play characters that I’m not seeing myself and in American popular television, it just makes me super happy.

You got to play Atom in Injustice 2, another NetherRealm property. Who would win in a fight: Atom or Kung Lao?

[laughs] I’ll have to give it to Atom for his superpowers. The fact that he can jump into somebody’s ear, but Atom’s also the reason I played Kung Lao so I can’t complain because the work that I did doing Atom actually got the attention of Warner Bros., which is why they hired me as Liu Kang, which is why I knew the world so well, which is why I got to be Kung Lao. Atom is also sort of the start of the ladder for me being able to play Kung Lao, but I’ll still have to give it to him as the winner of that fight.

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