'He’s just such a sad character... I wanted to use pain as the seed for me to play this character.'
'The Raid' made Joe Taslim a star. Now, he brings depth to Sub-Zero in 'Mortal Kombat' and dreams of doing more.
on set in Australia, the Indonesian actor and martial artist could be found in his hotel room playing guitar covers of ‘90s R&B love songs by Babyface, Toni Braxton and Brian McKnight.“‘Ribbon in the Sky’ is my favorite song of Steve Wonder’s,” said Taslim over videochat from Jakarta, Indonesia, revealing his musical passion with a smile. “But I’m shy. I like to sing by myself at, like, midnight.”
After breaking out internationally in the 2011 Indonesian hit “The Raid,” Taslim quickly established himself as one of the top action stars of his generation, scoring studio gigs in “The Fast Saga” and “Star Trek Beyond” for director Justin Lin, wielding a blade in the South Korean film “The Swordsman” and facing off against “Raid” co-star Iko Uwais in Timo Tjahjanto’s gory crime movie “The Night Comes for Us.”
Taslim, 39, has also starred for two seasons and counting as the enforcer Li Yong in Cinemax’s martial arts-fueled period drama “Warrior,” based on the writings of Bruce Lee. (A just-announced third season will relocate the series to HBO Max, where “Mortal Kombat” gave the streamer its biggest premiere draw yet.) But while he’s simultaneously found more versatile acting roles back home, Western audiences have yet to see all he can do. headtopics.com
AdvertisementIt was just over a decade ago that Taslim hit “send” on the message that changed his life. In his late 20s, the national judo champ had finally retired from competitive sports to pursue his lifelong acting dream, inspired by stars like Chuck Norris, Alain Delon and Bruce Lee, whose films had filled him with wonder as a boy. He’d landed only a few roles before he caught an action film, “Merantau,” that took his breath away. After finding the filmmaker on social media, he made a Hail Mary via Facebook: “Give me one chance to audition,” he wrote. “If you don’t like me, just kick me out of the room.”
To Taslim’s surprise, Gareth Evans wrote back in minutes. He was, in fact, making his next movie and invited the self-described “judo guy” to try out. “Serbuan maut (The Raid)” would become a groundbreaking showcase forsilat, a martial art Taslim wasn’t trained in, but he was a quick study. His performance as a sergeant leading his squad through a relentless ambush, opposite co-stars and fight choreographers Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, would propel all three, plus Evans, into action history.
“That was the start of my career,” Taslim said, grinning. Now, in “Mortal Kombat,” he breathes frosty life into the lethal assassin Sub-Zero — a character he came to view as a tragic figure, not merely a villainous cryomancer with a penchant for centuries-long vendettas and crafting makeshift daggers out of his enemies’ frozen blood.
And once again, he’s ready to manifest his next breakthrough role. “I love ‘Phantom Thread,’ by Paul Thomas Anderson,” said Taslim. PTA, are you reading this?Joe Taslim as the deadly assassin Sub-Zero, who possesses icy superpowers in the martial arts video game adaptation “Mortal Kombat.” headtopics.com
(Warner Bros. )Was it an easy decision to say yes to playing Sub-Zero in a new ‘Mortal Kombat’ movie?Honestly, it was not hard. I’m quite a nerd. I’m a gamer. Little Joe inside was like, “Eeeee!” But of course, I needed to read the script. Because I watched the two previous ‘Mortal Kombat’ movies and [I wanted to know] if they wanted to go in that direction, or they wanted to go more serious. While they’re both amazing, if they wanted me to be part of it, I’d want to give more. So I read the script and I really liked the beginning of the movie. In the first 10 pages of the story of what started the rivalry between Sub-Zero [and Scorpion] hooked me straight away. I thought, OK, I don’t need to read more. This is a definite yes.
Also, I asked my son for his opinion and he said, ‘All my friends say you look like Sub-Zero. You should play Sub-Zero.’ He’s 10. I said you can’t play the game, it’s too violent! But somehow behind my back, I don’t know … he’s a kid. [Laughs]Advertisement
If you want an honest opinion, ask a 10-year-old. It can be a challenge to bring details to a character who spends most of the movie wearing a mask. We meet him first as Bi-Han, the person he was centuries ago, which humanizes Sub-Zero in a surprising way. Why was it important to show us both Bi-Han and Sub-Zero?
I researched a lot. I wanted to do justice to the character but I didn’t want to betray the fans, so I used all the materials I got from the internet, the producers and the writers. I had information about him before he’s Sub-Zero and after he transforms into another character. headtopics.com
He’s just such a sad character, I’ve got to say. Even though he’s the main villain of the movie … at the same time, if you look back, he was abducted as a kid. It was not his choice to be an assassin. The Lin Kuei attacked [his] family, killed the parents, abducted him and his brother, indoctrinated him to be an assassin — that’s sad. I told [director] Simon [McQuoid] that I wanted to use pain as the seed for me to play this character. Whatever I do in front of the camera, I want you to know that it’s not actually evil, it’s pain.
There’s a moment when, during their opening face-off in feudal Japan, Bi-Han speaks first in Chinese and then Japanese as he confronts his nemesis Hanzo (Hiroyuki Sanada). It’s an intriguing linguistic moment; what did that aspect of the character mean to you?
AdvertisementThere was an option to do it in English, but me and Hiroyuki [Sanada] and the director thought that we needed to do it right. It’s feudal Japan, and if you want to be honest to play this character and give it truth, we need to speak our own languages. For Bi-Han to be bilingual, or maybe more, is in my research as well, because the Lin Kuei organization is not old-fashioned. It’s actually high tech and full of resources. When they train assassins they don’t train them just in martial arts, they educate and probably teach them three or four languages because in order to be good assassins you can’t just have muscles, you have to have the brains. So for Bi-Han, I believed as part of my character that I needed to be able to speak at least three or four.
He’s just such a sad character... I wanted to use pain as the seed for me to play this character.Joe Taslim on ‘Mortal Kombat’ villain Sub-ZeroHow did you get that dialogue right?[Castmate] Ludi [Lin] taught me a lot about how to pronounce Mandarin. I speak very basic because in Indonesia, my mom when I was a kid used to speak Mandarin to me. I have this memory of the Mandarin language and a familiarity with the language. But to be able to perform the language right, I had a teacher from Beijing, research on how to pronounce it right, and Ludi helped me a lot. “Ludi, Ludi, come here, let’s practice!” Then the Japanese language, Hiroyuki taught me on set.
AdvertisementThat’s one way it can pay to have a multicultural cast in your movie.I’m very fortunate that in the process of shooting everybody was together, one family, and tried to shine themselves but at the same time you want to shine your co-actors. It was collaborative, beautifully diverse and it felt like family.
On set many of the actors performed their own stunts. Is there such a thing as finding action chemistry within a cast?Trust is No. 1 and then you’ve got to always match the pace of your partner, because it’s like dancing … in a violent way! A violent dance. That’s why it’s so artistic. You can’t be too fast, or too slow. You’ve got to find the pace that you can both dance to together. Rather than, “I’m going to do this really fast so you can’t keep up with me,” or “I’m going to do it really slow so you look bad.” There’s an ego in actors, most actors, that want to look more badass than the other, and that’s the hard part of doing a good fight scene.Read more: Los Angeles Times »
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