Actor Mike Moh has admitted that he “can’t please everyone” after facing backlash for being cast as the new voice actor for Lo Wang in Devolver Digital’s upcoming Shadow Warrior 3.
After the success of Duke Nukem 3D in 1996, Developer 3D Realms would go on to make another FPS with a catchphrase spewing protagonist. This manifested as Shadow Warrior in 1997.
It told the story of Zilla Enterprises enforcer and bodyguard Lo Wang as he finally turned against his masters’ insatiable desires after they began to use terrible ancient creatures to take over Japan.
In the original title, Lo Wang had a heavy ‘Engrish’ accent – considered an offensive stereotype of Asians living in the west – and made many surface-level references to Asian culture. Even the character’s name could be considered a pun on the slang term for penis, ‘wang’.
While the character embodies the trope of a wizened martial artist or ninja master, he also cracks jokes and makes perverted comments to or about women.
In 2013, Shadow Warrior was rebooted by Devolver Digital and developer Flying Wild Hog.
Prior to the release of the first game in the new series, Devolver Digital founder Nigel Lowrie told Engadget that they had attempted to keep the tone of the original, while not being offensive and offering more substance.
“What we’ve tried to do here is create a lot of that humor and still have those one-liners,” Lowrie said. “But put together a character that starts off rather immature, and as [Lead Writer Jan Bartkowicz] puts it, is a little bit of a douchebag at the start, but you kind of see him transform over time.”
“But one thing we did take out was a lot of the cheap jokes that had a lot of racial stereotyping and kind of sexist jokes,” Lowrie revealed, before noting that the studio had replaced said jokes with “a little smarter comedy than the cheap ones that were in there.”
Further, Lowrie asserted that there were “a couple things that in the [original game’s] writing that were definitely offensive, like the use of names that we certainly wouldn’t use now,” further reassuring that the then-upcoming Shadow Warrior sequel would only receive “a change in tone and a change in writing style that really shines through”.
However, he then admitted that “if someone was really looking for those particular elements… then yeah I’m sure they’ll be a little disappointed.”
“If you bought any game for those specific reasons, then you probably were enjoying them for the wrong reasons anyway,” he declared.
Eventually, when the first Shadow Warrior title under Devolver Digital was released in 2016, fans soon discovered that Lo Wang had been made younger and was given a comparatively-not-as-heavy Asian-American accent, as well as an attitude more akin to being overconfident in himself than a true combat master. Quips referencing Asian culture are also lessened.
Still full of demeaning and crass banter against his foes, Wang seemed to mature across the new trilogy, admitting his flaws and being more humble and respectful at times.
Nonetheless, the original Wang still cameo’d in 2016’s ‘Oh…Sir!! The Insult Simulator’ from Good Shepherd Entertainment.
On January 31st, players were treated to a new ‘release date announcement’ trailer for Shadow Warrior 3, wherein it was discovered that Wang’s previous voice actor, White-American VA Jason Liebrecht, had been replaced by Asian-American actor Mike Moh (Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood).
Based on the game’s 2020 teaser trailer, it seems Liebrecht had initially been hired to voice Wang, only to be later replaced by Moh sometime prior to production on the aforementioned release date announcement trailer.
Further, it was also revealed that Sung Won Cho had been brought in to voice Zilla, taking over the role from Black actor Eugene Lee.
The reason for this cast change was explained as a way to make amends for not having previously cast Asian actors for Asian characters.
“Since rebooting the Shadow Warrior franchise,” Devolver Digital Marketing Manager Robbie Paterson explained to PC Gamer, “Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital have aimed to modernize the series, and part of that is correcting our mistake of casting a voice actor inconsistent with the hero Lo Wang’s cultural background.”
“Both teams are excited to begin a new chapter with the amazing Mike Moh and are forever thankful to Jason Liebrecht for his work on the series,” Paterson gushed. “Mike also used to literally kill dragons as a small child, so we’ve used that sweet, sweet stock exchange money for some absolutely reckless katana purchases in case he ever wants to teach us how to do that.”
During a recent interview with NPR given alongside Moh in promotion of Shadow Warrior 3, Lowrie further detailed that Liebrecht had not only been involved in discussions regarding Wang’s recasting, but agreed with the move.
“[Liebrecht] was awesome in what was a difficult situation for him,” Lowrie lamented, “and we of course paid his full contract for the work he had done and would have done for the game in the future. We 100% want to work with him again in other games — he’s great.”
He then confessed, “The casting process took a bit longer than we anticipated, but obviously we’re very happy that we did and with how well Mike took to the role,” explaining that the team ultimately decided on Moh as he had the same “semi-clueless but always enthusiastic” energy Liebrecht brought to the role.
“I wanted to give his voice the bravado of Bruce Lee mixed in with the sass and wit of Deadpool,” Moh said, elaborating that he did not wish to copy what he did in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. “Ultimately, my goal was to create a fresh new voice for Lo Wang to go with his new look without straying from the original voice actor.”
Lowrie next divulged, “Devolver and Flying Wild Hog always let the voice actors drive a bit of the role for themselves to find something that they feel good about while nailing the tone we want for the character.
“While humor is what the series is known for with actor performances,” he recognized, “the new game continues what the first games established with some real emotionally meaningful moments which we think Mike really helped bring to life.”
Moh was also grateful on how Wang was portrayed in the newest game and avoided stereotypes, telling NPR, “I also appreciate how passionate the fans of this series are and how loyal they are to the series.”
“I understand you cannot please everyone, especially when making a big change like this,” the actor asserted, “but I am grateful for all the people that have welcomed me into the fandom.”
The subject of a voice actor or actress matching their character’s race has been an increasing common topic of discussion ever since comedian Hari Kondabolou released his 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu,” in which he accused the character of being an offensive stereotype and took offense to him being voiced by White actor Hank Azaria.
Despite The Simpsons mocking nigh-everyone, and Apu having some of the least number of negative character traits on the show, the backlash resulting from Kondabolou’s film led Azaria to retire from voicing the character and declare that he would like to apologize to every Indian in North America over his portrayal. of the character.
In the video game industry, the debate has resulted in such occurrences as Sam & Max Save The World recasting Bosco with a Black voice actor and Erin Fitzgerald stepping away from Ramlethal in Guilty Gear “so they could cast more appropriately.”
Did Devolver Digital make the right decision? Let us know on social media and in the comments below.