Hollywood's leading action blockbuster producer talks about Mortal Kombat and his casting of Robin Shou in the lead.
by H Y Nahm

"He's incredibly empathetic and likeable on the screen. He has the charisma and style of the fighter but has the empathy that audiences identify with."
ith Mortal Kombat Larry Kasanoff set out to equal or surpass the success of his two earlier megahits Terminator 2 and True Lies (which alone has grossed $350 million worldwide so far). If Kasanoff even comes close, his production company Threshold Entertainment and New Line Cinema, the studio that financed the production, will count a spectacular return on their $35 million investment. As of late August Mortal Kombat was at the top of the box office heap. Kasanoff, who just turned 36 on June 1, took time to chat from his Pacific Palisades home.

GoldSea: Can Mortal Kombat be as big as True Lies?

Larry Kasanoff: I'm expecting it to be as big as True Lies.

GS: Was it a gamble to cast an Asian in the lead?

LK: It was a gamble in Hollywood and in trying to get it financed. On the other hand, we had a great advantage in that we had the name Mortal Kombat, the world's best-selling video game. That freed us to cast the actor who was creatively best for the move. For the filmmaker it's an extraordinary opportunity from the creative standpoint. We cast Christopher Lambert because he's an actor who has the charisma to play Rayden [the beneficent Thunder God]. It was the same with Robin Shou. We asked, How do we make a movie that has Hong Kong quality action? When we first got to Robin--his accent was a lot thicker than it is now--we had Pat Johnson, our fight choreographer test him out. Yes, it was a risk to cast Robin in the lead, not because he's Asian but because he's an unknown.

GS: What's Robin's potential as a Hollywood star?

LK: I think I have the next hot action star. We wrote the movie to cast an Asian actor. That's where the world is coming to, and I try to be on that curve.

GS: Are you planning on starring Robin in other movies?

LK: We're talking with Robin about another movie. We've actually found a script we like. I think he's a huge star. He's an extraordinary martial artist who is actually a good actor. He's incredibly empathetic and likeable on the screen. He has the charisma and style of the fighter but has the empathy that audiences identify with. He also happens to be a star from his Hong Kong movies. When we were in Thailand shooting, you couldn't walk around the corner without hundreds of screaming girls running after him.

GS: Does having an Asian star help the movie's potential in Asia?

LK: In the past, if you don't count Japan, the entire Asian market has not made up a large segment of the global market. Japan is huge, about 12 1/2% of worldwide revenues, based on negative costs. Corea can account for 5-6% of world revenues. All of Southeast Asia is approaching 8, 9, 10%. We didn't cast Robin for that reason, but those countries--Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand--I believe will be huge [for Mortal Kombat at the box office].

GS: How did you land the rights to Mortal Kombat?

LK: I knew the people at Williams Valley Midway because I had sold them the T2 game rights. I want to take intellectual property and translate it into all media--animated, video, CD-ROM, games, internet website. It was two years ago today, my birthday. I talked all summer to get the rights. I waited until Mortal Kombat came to the home market. I had four studios who wanted to finance the movie. New Line was unique in that it completely understood the essence of what we wanted to do. We wanted to make it not from the video game but from the story it was based on. It's a great story.

GS: When did you start working on it?

LK: We started working on a script January 1 [1994]. We were in preproduction May 1. Every day we worked with a writer, every day we worked with developing the effects. The day of the LA Earthquake we were supposed to have a writer's meeting. We worked until 4 in the afternoon with CNN on.

GS: How do you choose your movie projects?

LK: I have two criteria: do we love it and do we think it will work with a lot of martial arts. Action and supernatural are the two big elements of our movies.

GS: How will Mortal Kombat stack up against Batman Forever?

LK: I've taken a property that now has over a billion dollars of sales behind it. I've turned it into a CD ROM, [I've done] all kinds of merchandising deals. So in terms of launching this particular rocket ship, I've filled it with all the best rocket fuel. There's no reason why it shouldn't go as far as any other in the world.


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