Michael Jai White on Batman: Soul of the Dragon, Arrow, Spawn, and His Live-Action Superhero Ambitions

This week saw the DVD and Blu-ray release of Batman: Soul of the Dragon. While the Dark Knight is [...]

This week saw the DVD and Blu-ray release of Batman: Soul of the Dragon. While the Dark Knight is the title lead, the Year One-style story actually centers around a quartet of DC characters, one being Batman, and the other three being people he trained with during his time in Nanda Parbat. In the movie, Batman (David Giuntoli), Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos), Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White), and Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu) take on a cult being led by one of their former peers under the martial arts master O Sensei (James Hong).

Soul of the Dragon is one of the coolest and most innovative of DC's long line of direct-to-DVD animated movies, in part because the whole thing is played like a '70s kung fu/action movie, with nods to Bruce Lee, James Bond, blaxploitation, and other ideas and genres that aren't naturally at home in a superhero movie. Between this and the recent Batman: A Death in the Family disc, which gave fans an opportunity to choose their own path through the story, it seems as though Warner's DC animation is getting really creative in its post-Justice League Dark: Apokolips War era.

White joined ComicBook to discuss the movie, his impressions of the end of Arrow and the Spawn revival, and more.

If the Bronze Tiger you played on Arrow had to fight the Bronze Tiger you played in Soul of the Dragon, who would win?

Oh, the Arrow guy, because he's a lot more vicious.

Speaking of -- you teamed up with Richard Dragon, but did you realize when you were reading the scripts that Richard Dragon is Ricardo Diaz from Arrow?

No, I didn't realize that. Okay, this guy has done his homework.

I love the idea of doing this film as a period martial arts/spy piece. Was it fun to be able to inhabit that space?

Yeah. I mean this was a great opportunity for me, because this is the stuff I grew up on. I love of course, Enter the Dragon, kind of created the martial arts tournament type of adventure. It's kind of homage to Enter the Dragon, 007, all those things that were fun back in the '70s. It really grabbed on to the style and everything.

As somebody who wrote and starred in Black Dynamite, you know I'm a big fan of that genre. That's why I even created Black Dynamite. To be able to walk in the '70s, the platforms again, that was great for me.

You did Arrow and you did Spawn, and you have been kind of omnipresent in the genre space. Is that something that you go after? Or is it just a question of like, "He's the dude who can fight and act. There's only like five of those; we've got to keep him locked in?"

I think kind of. There's certain things you fit and I just kind of fit in this world, and that's why I get invited to come back into the world often.

Every 10 years you've got a new one of these roles that redefines you for the audience. Have you gotten to the point yet where you're at conventions, and somebody's got their ten-year-old and they're both there asking you to sign different stuff?

Oh yeah. That's happened quite a bit, because I tend to play these roles that have these names that people shout out. Like whether they're saying, "Oh, there's Spawn. There's the Bronze Tiger." A few others, and I'm running into fathers and sons who have both been fans, which is kind of trippy.

It seems like it's been like exactly a generation since you became a household name to a lot of people.

Yeah, it is a little weird. I don't feel old at all; I feel like I'm just beginning. I really look forward to doing another type of superhero kind of role in live action.

If they call you up and said, "Hey, we want you to do that in whatever the new Spawn is," when it finally happens, are you on board for something like that?

Well, yeah. I just out of respect for the fans who put me where I am, I would have to say yes. Just simply from that.

Do you think there's more to mine in this world, or do you like the idea that in a movie that's so influenced by like 70s kung-fu stuff, that that ending almost feels like the freeze frame from the end of Fist of Fury, where Bruce Lee's in mid-air, and the movie just cuts?

Well, I mean, I'd love to continue with it, of course, let the party keep going on, if possible.

Is the itch still there to try and push for a live-action gig, though? Obviously you haven't lost your martial arts skills.

Well, even beyond just for me, I know what I'd be able to do with the lead action, superhero role that is just not in the genre at all. Because most people don't fuse the action and the acting together.

This is something that I've honed for a very long time. There is a level of action that has not been in any of these superhero movies or shows, that I would be dying to portray. I got a chance to do a little bit of it in Arrow, but that's the schedule on a television show and, of course, I'm not the lead character. But what I'd be able to do as a lead character, week to week, or in a film? It'd be something that Hollywood hasn't had in a long time.

Toward the end of Arrow, you had that mini-arc where you had an uneasy alliance with Oliver. Was that a nice surprise? Was it nice for them to call you up toward the end, like, "Hey, we want to make sure you get some closure. We're going to have you in for a bunch of episodes and do some cool stuff?"

Well, they were keeping everything close to the vest. But being a friend of James Bamford, who acted in a number of those episodes and who was also an amazing choreographer and stunt coordinator, he couldn't contain himself. When I was in the second episode, he says, "Wait till seven, wait until episode seven!"

I'm like, what's supposed to happen on episode seven? Until when we actually did it, I was like, "this is what he was talking about." And I swear I hold up that that episode could have been a movie by itself. James directed that episode, and that's one of those things where that really represents where a superhero action series could be.

There actually almost was a Green Arrow movie, all about him breaking out of a supermax prison.

Really? You know, we had this rapport that we built it up and I think it was just like, it was just such a payoff to see these two guys fighting side by side. I'm very proud of it.

Did you feel like there was a little bit of similarity there with Ben and Bruce in this movie? In the sense that in both cases, it kind of felt like to some extent you were Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.

You know, this was a total ensemble. So I think there is that connection with Bruce Wayne and Ben Turner from the DC Universe that they have this connection or rivalry. So I think it was right to put those two guys together like that. But yeah, but this ensemble cast and thing was, it made for a great adventure and made for a great movie, I think.

Obviously you and Mark and Kelly are all ass kickers in live action pretty regularly. Was it kind of a trip doing this? In your head, I feel like you could pretty much see this movie playing out with these actors. a

That is really cool because I mean like Mark, Mark is amazing. You know, I've known Mark, I've known these people like 20 years. I think it's maybe a cool thing for the audience to go, "Hey, and these guys should do this in real life too. These would be the people that like to see in the live action." That's a nice little touch.