Talking Movies [MK Day]: Mortal Kombat (1995)


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To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence and I think that it’s only fitting that we continue celebrating this influential fighting series every September 13th.


Released: 18 August 1995
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Distributor:
New Line Cinema
Budget:
$18 million
Stars:
Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Trevor Goddard, Talisa Soto, and Christopher Lambert

The Plot:
To decide the fate of Earthrealm, warriors are pitted against each other every generation in a life-or-death tournament called “Mortal Kombat”, which is hosted by Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Tagawa). Lord Rayden (Lambert), God of Thunder and protector of Earthrealm, gathers his forces for the decisive tournament that will decide the fate of the Earthrealm but his chosen champions, disillusioned former monk Liu Kang (Shou), egotistical movie star Johnny Cage (Ashby), and stubborn soldier Lieutenant Sonya Blade (Wilson) must first overcome their own demons before they can hope to save their world.

The Background:
I’ve already detailed how, during the nineties, competitive fighting games were all the rage thanks to the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). To compete with this title, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias took inspiration from movies like Enter the Dragon (Clouse, 1973), Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988) and Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter, 1986) to create an ultra-violent tournament fighter that changed the genre with its simple fighting mechanics and controversial violence. Development of a live-action adaptation began with producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who saw the potential of the videogame not just as a live-action movie but as an entire multimedia franchise. Spearheaded by Kasanoff, the project took shape with the hiring of director Paul W. S. Anderson, who substituted the videogame’s brutal violence for a focus on the game’s more fantastical elements and martial arts. Although the filmmakers failed to secure Jean-Claude Van Damme for the film, they incorporated both ambitious animatronics and early CGI effects alongside Shou’s martial arts background to make the fights as engaging as possible to help bolster the special effects. Mortal Kombat was a smash hit, making over $122 million at the box office. While videogame adaptations are often criticised for being universally bad, Mortal Kombat was notably praised at the time and has gone on to break free of its cult following to be largely regarded as one of the best videogame adaptations. The film and its depictions of these characters came to be incredibly influential on the videogames and, while the sequel was a monumental flop, the original film has always been one of my favourites, so much so that I dedicated an entire year of my life to researching and studying it as part of my PhD thesis.

The Review:
I mentioned up top that Ed Boon and John Tobias were influenced by martial arts films like Enter the Dragon and action films like Big Trouble in Little China when developing Mortal Kombat, but this is honestly just scratching the surface of the influence of kung fu and martial arts movies on not just Mortal Kombat but the entire fighting game genre as we know it today. Martial arts (or wu xia pian) films been produced overseas since 1905, with kung fu movies being around since 1949, but became incredibly popular between the early-sixties through to the 1970s once Bruce Lee was introduced to the world in Five Fingers of Death/King Boxer (Chung, 1972). Bruce Lee’s skill, charisma, and heavily kinetic energy was the perfect platform for this new style of cinematic combat that emphasised realistic action and application of martial arts. Lee famously multiple martial arts styles into his trans-cultural Jeet Kune Do style that showcased the best of Chinese martial arts, and Enter the Dragon not only reinvented him as an introspective Shaolin monk who could instantly become a lethal whirlwind but it was also engineered as a showcase of Lee’s unparalleled charisma and unique choreography. Lee became a national (and international) sensation after the film’s success, but tragically died six days before Enter the Dragon’s U.S. premiere, and has “haunted” martial arts films for decades as producers and filmmakers both perverted his legacy by awkwardly using limited footage of him and presenting it as new and attempting to substitute him with lookalikes and replacements.

Enter the Dragon had a profound influence on the Mortal Kombat games and movie.

The most obvious link between the fighting videogames and martial arts films is their inclination towards tournament structures, which allows fights to be staged onscreen not merely for our viewing pleasure but as necessary narrative components. These battles become a literal “game of death” based around increasingly-difficult fights between diverse characters, and related the two mediums in their ability to instill an intense excitement in the viewer (and/or player) through the gratification (or humiliation) of the fight. The film’s influence on the fighting game genre couldn’t be more explicit in the first two Street Fighter games; the plots are essentially the same (evil mastermind hosts a fighting tournament) and characters (such as Ryu, Ken, Geki, and Balrog/Vega) owe their design and personalities to those seen in the film. However, it’s in the Mortal Kombat movie that we see the most direct influences of the film, and fittingly so; there’s something poetic about Enter the Dragon influencing the Mortal Kombat videogame and the Mortal Kombat adaptation turning to Lee’s popular martial arts classic for inspiration. Indeed, I’ve long argued that Mortal Kombat is essentially a remake of Enter the Dragon: a host of martial artists (including three distinct main characters) are drawn to a mysterious island to fight in a tournament and battle an aging madman; despite their different levels of knowledge and skill, and their conflicting personalities, they bond and are faced with tougher and tougher opponents until the righteous monk ends the antagonist’s threat in one-on-one combat skewed in the bad guy’s favour. The structure of the narrative and fight scenes are all very reminiscent of Enter the Dragon, but made all the more unique through the steady introduction of Mortal Kombat’s more fantastical elements; these are introduced to us slowly throughout the film, and explained in a way that both we and our sceptical main characters can understand them. While this means that we don’t get to see many of the superhuman and mystical special moves of the videogames, it does help to keep the focus on the characters and the film’s impressive fight scenes.

Tormented by guilt and self-doubt, Liu Kang’s greatest enemy is himself.

Although Mortal Kombat has three main protagonists, it’s fundamentally Liu Kang’s story; the pure-hearted hero of the franchise since game one, Liu Kang is presented as a disenchanted and doubt-ridden former Shaolin monk who rejected his upbringing at the Temple of Light in favour of the bright lights and excitement of the United States. Having been raised with full knowledge of the Mortal Kombat tournament, Liu Kang believes that the legends of Outworld are little more than nonsense fairytales designed to indoctrinate and brainwash the Order’s pupils. Indeed, while his grandfather (Lloyd Kino) fully believes in the tournament and pays reverence to Lord Rayden, Liu Kang angrily rejects the stories and questions Rayden’s legitimacy out of anger since he believes that the Order’s teachings were directly responsible for the death of his younger brother, Chan (Steven Ho). Crucially, Liu Kang enters the tournament not to defend Earthrealm but to avenge his brother’s death and is stunned to learn that not only is Rayden truly the God of Thunder but all of the legends he grew up with about Outworld are true; he quickly turns from a sceptic to a source of exposition for his new allies, but remains haunted by his doubts regarding his destiny. Rayden claims that Liu Kang fled the temple because he couldn’t handle the responsibility that comes from being the “Chosen One” and Liu Kang struggles with his heritage as he’s the descendant of the Great Kung Lao, a martial artist who secured Earthrealm’s fate generations ago. As a result, Liu Kang’s greatest enemy is not the array of fantastical and monstrous fighters placed in his path by Shang Tsung, it is himself and his character arc involves learning to overcome his doubts and embrace his destiny as the saviour of Earthrealm.

The egotistical Johnny Cage sees to prove himself and provides much of the comic relief.

As charismatic and likeable as Liu Kang is, however, it’s the egotistical showboat Johnny Cage who steals the show at every opportunity. Played to perfection by Linden Ashby, Cage is an arrogant braggart and something of a diva when on set, but his failings as a character come from a deep-seated frustration at being labelled a fake by the press and media. In actual fact, Cage is one of the greatest martial artists in the world and the tournament gives him the opportunity to prove that on the grandest and greatest stage possible; desperate to be taken seriously as a fighter, he willingly makes the journey and remains oblivious to the tournament’s true purpose. Cage acts as the film’s comic relief and every line and character beat of his lands perfectly (his assumption that Liu Kang is a porter is hilarious, as is his struggles with his luggage upon arriving on the island, and he’s never a moment away from a witty retort); while Ashby is far from the accomplished martial artist like Shou, he holds his own in fight scenes and is presented in a way that plays into his strengths, which helps make Cage a very grounded and realistic character. Instantly taking a shine to Sonya, Cage tries and fails to win her over with his boastful character but soon forms a real bond with her, and Liu Kang, based on their shared sense of awe at the scale of the tournament. While Cage goes out of his way to protect Sonya out of a mixture of chivalry and confidence, his character arc is specifically geared towards accepting his limitations and his abilities; rather than rushing head-first into battle to prove himself a legitimate fighter, Cage must learn to use his head and plan ahead, something that he accomplishes when he’s able to outwit and outmatch the lumbering man-mountain that is Goro (Tom Woodruff Jr./Kevin Michael Richardson/Frank Welker).

Sonya is obsessed with her vendetta against Kano and is forced to learn to rely on others for help.

Finally, there’s Sonya Blade; a strict and focused soldier, Sonya is a grim and stoic young woman whose military drive has been superseded by a bloodthirsty vendetta against Kano (Goddard), the unscrupulous criminal who murdered her partner. Sonya has become so razor-focused on pursing Kano, that she ignores the warnings of her partner, “Jaxx” (Gregory McKinney), and boards Shang Tsung’s boat to apprehend her target. Accordingly, Sonya has no clue about what’s really going on and is incredulous to the advances of Shang Tsung and the supernatural events happening around her; of the three, she’s the most cynical and dismissive of the tournament’s true purpose and she remains obsessed with bringing Kano to justice even after learning of Mortal Kombat’s true nature and the legitimacy of its mystical elements. Initially, Sonya pursues Shang Tsung to get closer to Kano and is reluctant to join forces with Liu Kang and Johnny Cage; her character arc revolves around her being afraid to trust others, which goes a long way to explain her prickly demeanour as she makes a conscious effort to push others way to avoid losing someone she cares about, like her partner. This pays off in the finale, where she’s reduced to a mere hostage and is forced to rely on her newfound friends to come for her since she’s no match for Shang Tsung.

The enigmatic Shang Tsung has some formidable and sadistic minions at his disposal.

Speaking of whom, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa makes for a truly fearsome and enigmatic villain; Shang Tsung commands the screen whenever he appears with his presentation, charisma, line delivery, and tangible magnetism. Shang Tsung is presented as a cold, sadistic threat; despite appearing to be a middle-aged man, he’s described as being “far more dangerous” than even the fearsome Goro since he can literally steal souls at will. An alluring and cruel villain, Shang Tsung delights in witnessing his forces triumph over Rayden’s chosen warriors and exudes authority and menace simply by being present in a scene or with a few ominous words. His unsettlingly sexual perversion towards Sonya and vehement hatred of Liu Kang only add to his disturbing aura and, while he bends and manipulates events to avoid fighting Liu Kang, he proves himself to be every bit the formidable opponent in the finale thanks to his centuries of experience and the power and knowledge of the souls he has absorbed. Similarly, Trevor Goddard clearly threw everything he had into making Kano an absolutely reprehensible villain who makes a distinctive impression thanks to his guttural grunts, faux Australian accent, and sadistic mean streak that forever changed Kano’s portrayal in the videogames. Both villains convey so much personality and menace whenever they’re onscreen and through their sheer demeanour and a few lines of dialogue; we get a glimpse into Kano’s background but his callous mean streak and attitude help make him a surprisingly well-rounded character and elevate Kano beyond a mere one-dimensional henchman. Both Shang Tsung and his chief champion, Goro, are seeped in mystery and menace; each one are pawns of the ominous Emperor (voiced by Frank Welker) but are significant physical threats in their own right and there’s a real sense of desperation behind them as they’ve never been so close to absolute victory before and are determined to please their Emperor by besting Rayden’s warriors.

Our heroes meet a number of cryptic, ill-fated, and beautiful allies in their quest to save their world.

Like Tagawa, Lambert perfectly embodies Rayden and his portrayal of Rayden forever changed the Thunder God from a destructive deity who is blasé about destroying life into a wise and benevolent mentor figure; Lambert’s distinctive, rasping voice makes for a strangely ominous character who exudes an absolute confidence thanks to his status as a God. Rayden offers both cryptic council to the protagonists and exposits information about the tournament and the plot that is necessary for them (and us, the audience) to hear but it’s never laborious to sit through thanks to Rayden having a cackling, mocking sense of humour that makes for some truly amusing moments. Johnny Cage meets a fan and makes a fast friend in bit-player Art Lean (Kenneth Edwards), an original character who mainly exists simply to fuel Cage’s animosity towards Goro, and Liu Kang becomes enamoured by the alluring and mysterious Princess Kitana (Soto). Though not really asked to do more than be beautiful and captivating, Kitana plays a pivotal role in delivering another layer of exposition to the protagonists about Outworld and helping facilitate Liu Kang’s larger character arc, and the character is an interesting shade of grey in a film of extreme black and white since she’s technically allied with Outworld but is secretly plotting to aid Earthrealm since the Emperor destroyed her realm.

Despite some dodgy CGI and being reduced to minions, the three ninjas remain a highlight of the film.

The deck is definitely stacked against our heroes, though, as they are also faced with a couple of menacing ninjas, Sub-Zero (François Petit) and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa/Ed Boon), two largely mute henchmen whom Shang Tsung has made into mindless slaves with his power. As a big fan of both characters, I am understandably disappointed that their famous rivalry is entirely absent from the film and Mortal Kombat definitely set an annoying precedent for Scorpion being portrayed as a purely evil character (when, in actuality, he’s either neutral or the more virtuous of the two), but as a kid I had absolutely no complaints at all about how the two were portrayed because they stole every scene they were in. Both characters represent how dire the stakes are for our more recognisably human characters; Sub-Zero is able to summon ice and freeze opponents in an instant and Scorpion can send out a deadly, serpent-like tentacle at will and, while these effects haven’t aged too well (and it’s still really weird that Scorpion’s roped kunai was interpreted as a living extension of himself), they clearly define these characters as being otherworldly and a danger that is far beyond a simple martial arts contest. Compounding matters further is the presence of Reptile (Keith Cooke/Frank Welker), an absolutely ugly CGI monster that stalks Kitana (and our heroes) at every turn from the shadows; Reptile is constantly seen following the protagonists while cloaked but proves to be every bit as daunting an opponent as his videogame counterpart when he’s tossed into a corpse and takes physical form. Again, this is a very strange interpretation of the character, but my God does it make for an awesome fight scene between him and Liu Kang! Bolstered by Traci Lords’ incredible techno beat, “Control”, this fight represents Liu Kang’s final hurdle on the road to Shang Tsung and, when placed alongside the battles and scene-stealing, ominous presence of his similarly-attire cohorts, goes a long way to making the masked ninjas an undeniable highlight of the film even if it’s true that they were the most changed by the adaptation process.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the many ways Mortal Kombat has earned its reputation as one of the best videogame adaptations is in the fantastic and pulse-pounding techno-inspired soundtrack; the Immortals’ iconic title theme remains one of the best and most memorable theme songs of all time and I’m honestly disappointed that it hasn’t been evoked in the videogames more often. Many of the film’s characterisations and environments would eventually make their way into the videogames and other Mortal Kombat adaptations, with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, especially, reprising his unforgettable role more than once, though again I can’t help but be disappointed that the film’s cast weren’t brought back to voice their polygonal counterparts sooner in the modern videogames, so iconic are their performances. I think what makes Mortal Kombat such a good videogame adaptation, though, is how perfectly it encapsulates the spirit of the source material; one of the difficulties of videogame adaptations is the fact that you’re taking an interactive medium and making it a purely passive piece of media, so the audience’s engagement with the media is very different. Players relish the opportunity to pummel their opponents and the thrill of making a comeback from a beating or executing one of the franchise’s patented Fatalities, so if you’re going to remove that element you need to replace it with an enjoyable film full of engaging characters and exciting action, and Mortal Kombat definitely delivers in that regard. This is why I continually argue that you can’t go into a videogame adaptation expecting it to be the same as the source material because, by its very nature as a different medium, it can’t be the same; instead, you have to see if it works as an enjoyable film first and foremost and then hope that it’s as faithful to the source material as the new medium allows.

Although the movie’s tamer than the videogames, it’s still pretty violent and captures the game’s spirit.

I can understand why fans of the videogame may have been disappointed that characters aren’t all tossing out fireballs and energy waves, however; such abilities are specifically limited to the forces of Outworld or magical beings like Rayden, which is a conscious decision that frames the foreign “other” and otherworldly aspects of the film as being strange, different, and (most importantly) a force to be feared. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are given basically no backstory in the film, and it’s heavily implied that they’re aligned with (or even part of) the mysterious Outworld, so when we see that they wield these incredible and deadly powers, we know that the odds are heavily stacked against our more traditionally-armed protagonists far beyond more explicit threats like the monstrous Goro. Of course, one of the disappointments about Mortal Kombat is the lack of gore and the tame nature of its Fatalities compared to the source material. This can be directly attributed to producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who specifically sold and marketing the Mortal Kombat property not on the violence, but on the story: Kasanoff saw the story as “the centre of the wheel and the videogame [as] the extension of one of the spokes” (Russell, quoting Kasanoff, 2012: 148), and as being “rich in mythology, character, adventure, excitement and positive messages” regarding the sanctity of life (Derek, 1996). Kasanoff believed in Mortal Kombat so much that he sold it as a multimedia franchise rather than simply one violent movie that would appeal to a small segment of the audience, and his focus on the story permeated every aspect of Mortal Kombat’s production: both writer Kevin Droney and director Paul W. S. Anderson emphasised the diversity and realism of the characters and worked to present intense and impactful martial arts fights that would live up to Lee’s high standards.

Focusing on the characters keeps the film entertaining and grounded, even when things get crazy.

Accordingly, much of the film’s appeal and popularity can be traced to the personalities of the three main characters and their supporting cast; each actor underwent unique and intense fight training so that they’d be able to pull off a lot of the moves seen onscreen and the rapport between Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Sonya Blade is one of the film’s many highlights. Ashby shines as the arrogant and snarky Cage, offering glib quips and conceited remarks about seemingly everything around him but still being brave-hearted and loyal. Robin Shou is so much more than a Bruce Lee standee, exhibiting a likeability and vulnerability as Liu Kang that makes him a compelling and enjoyable character to watch; he’s filled with doubts about his “destiny” and has been trying to hide from his true calling. He is unique among the three because he has been raised on the Mortal Kombat legend but is just as awestruck to find that it’s real and not just a myth; additionally, he has a further emotional stake in the tournament thanks to his personal animosity towards Shang Tsung, all of which tells a fantastic tale of a man learning to fulfil his true potential and safeguard the world in the process. If there’s a weak link of the three, it’s definitely Bridgette Wilson but, even then, it actually works in the context of the film: Sonya is a stoic, no-nonsense military brat who is obsessed with the mission and her vendetta against Kano. She has no time for Cage’s posturing, is highly sceptical of the supernatural and mystical events happening around her, and is focused solely on getting her hands on Kano. However, like the others, she has a lesson to learn (to trust) that comes to fruition as she bonds with her newfound allies and is forced to rely on them when she’s taken hostage in the finale.

The three ninjas deliver the film’s most intense and exciting fight scenes.

One element I’ve always enjoyed about Mortal Kombat is how well it juggles its pacing and cast; rather than cramming every single character from the first two games into the film, Mortal Kombat primarily focuses on the nine characters featured in the first game, with Kitana included as a further source of exposition and a potential love interest for Liu Kang. Sadly, for many fans (including myself), Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile suffer a bit from the film’s construction; while it makes sense for Reptile to be depicted as a minion of Shang Tsung, the brutal and complex rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion is completely swept under the carpet to make them largely mute henchmen for the enigmatic sorcerer. Still, all three more than make up for this with their impressively faithful outfits and absolutely incredible fight scenes; the battles between Cage and Scorpion, Liu Kang and Sub-Zero, and Liu Kang and Reptile are three of the best (if not arguably the best) fights in the entire film, with each one doing a wonderful job of being both an intense and exciting martial arts showcase while capturing the spirit of the source material brilliantly. Cage/Scorpion is bolstered by being visually distinct from other fights in the film, beginning in a forest of dense, thin tree trucks and ending in what appears to be the Hell-like Netherrealm; not only that, but it features Scorpion’s iconic “Toasty!” Fatality and even a fun little nod to Cage’s Friendship. Liu Kang’s fights against the masked ninjas are far more intense, however, thanks largely to Shou’s involvement in the fight choreography and the undeniable skill of his onscreen opponents; Shou flips and kicks and strikes at his foes with an incredible intensity, and both Sub-Zero and Reptile prove themselves to be formidable and incredibly aggressive opponents. Reptile especially, pushes Liu Kang to the limit (it’s fitting that this is Liu Kang’s most difficult fight considering how cheap and challenging Reptile was in the original Mortal Kombat) and sparks a killer instinct in the former monk that serves him will in his climatic battle with Shang Tsung, while Sub-Zero’s ice powers force Liu Kang to act on Kitana’s cryptic advice to turn his opponent’s deadly magical abilities against him.

Goro, like Kano, is intimidating and menacing but ultimately defeated by his own hubris.

We see similar tactics in other fights in the film, too; while the battle between Kano and Sonya may be one of the weaker bouts (succeeded only by the half-hearted, semi-flirtatious “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana), it’s quite brutal in its own way as Kano has no compunction about striking a woman or kicking her when she’s down. Kano’s arrogance in his greater strength and knowledge of Sonya’s abilities proves to be his downfall, however, as he’s easily caught off-guard by Sonya’s impressive (and incredibly sexy) head scissors and finally put out of his misery with a quick (if somewhat anti-climatic) neck snap. Fittingly, there’s a great deal of effort put into building up the reveal and threat of the monstrous Goro; this titanic creature may look a little too tall and janky nowadays but that doesn’t stop Goro from being a triumph of practical effects and complex animatronics that cost Amalgamated Dynamics $1 million to bring to life. The massive suit and puppet creature makes a lasting impression thanks to being an actual, tangible, in-camera effect and easily sits alongside Jim Henson’s best work; although his fight scenes are often, understandably, a little clunky (or avoided entirely in favour of a quick montage), Goro is presented as the ultimate, unconquerable force who can easily beat an opponent to death and shrug off attacks. Enraged at having witnessed the death of his friend, Art Lean, at the creature’s hands, Cage finally puts aside his ego (…mostly) to challenge Goro in order to take him off the board. What follows is an amusing and innovative glorified chase sequence rather than a traditional fight as Cage delivers his patented split/nut punch and then lures Goro to the top of a nearby mountain, where he’s able to catch the prideful champion by surprise and send him plummeting to his death.

Liu defeats Shang Tsung and frees Chan’s soul, but his victory is short lived when the Emperor shows up!

Of course, it all culminates with a showdown between Liu Kang and Shang Tsung; Shang Tsung does everything he can to avoid battling the descendant of his hated enemy but, when backed into a corner, accepts the challenge and relishes the opportunity to taunt and overwhelm the Shaolin monk with his impressive fighting skill. However, Liu Kang doesn’t just face one foe when fighting Shang Tsung, he faces three, both literally and figuratively; by calling upon the thousands of souls he has absorbed over his centuries of life, Shang Tsung is able to conjure a number of minions that Liu Kang must fight through and Liu Kang also has to face “himself” (as in, accept the destiny he has long avoided) and his worst fear. For Liu Kang, this is personified by his younger brother, Chan, whose form Shang Tsung assumes to lure Liu Kang into lowering his guard. However, thanks to Rayden’s teachings and the lessons he has learned throughout the film, Liu Kang finally accepts that he was powerless to help Chan, and all Shang Tsung’s deception does is give Liu Kang the motivation to pummel his foe into submission and deliver a blast (that somewhat resembles his trademark fireball) that sends the sorcerer careening down onto a bed of spikes below. Defeated, Shang Tsung instantly decays into a corpse and all of the souls he has taken are finally freed, allowing Liu Kang to have one final, emotional farewell with his brother and return to Earthrealm victorious. However, while he and his friends celebrate their victory, the Temple of Light suddenly bursts apart as the hulking, monstrous Emperor bursts onto the scene and ends the film on a massive cliffhanger that had me so excited for a follow-up…only to end up being massively disappointed (though that’s a story for another time).

The Summary:
It might be difficult for younger people to understand just how big of a deal Mortal Kombat was back in the day; videogame adaptations were still quite rare at the time and all me and my friends cared about was seeing our favourite videogame characters in a movie. It was exciting and mind-blowing, especially as we were big videogame fans and Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were so big and popular at the time; I remember going out of my way to rent Mortal Kombat on video to watch with my friends on my birthday, convincing my mum to let me buy a copy from a market stall, and waiting for what felt like an eternity for the sequel to come out, all while absorbing every piece of related media available that I could. It’s crazy how good this film is; yes, the plot is pretty basic, the concept is outlandish, and some of the performances and effects don’t land quite well, but the film is full of humour, character, and spectacular fight scenes that more than make up for these failings.

Still one of the best videogame adaptations for how well it captures the spirit of the source material.

By focusing on Mortal Kombat’s rich lore and marrying the series’ more fantastical elements with some grounded, relatable, and humorous characters, the film excels at being an entertaining fantasy/action piece. Bolstered by an iconic soundtrack and some fantastic performances from the main cast, Mortal Kombat more than makes an impression with its intense martial arts scenes and wonderfully transplants the themes and spirit of the source material into the familiar trappings of classic kung fu movies like Enter the Dragon. It’s astounding that more videogame adaptations (including those by this film’s director) weren’t able to learn from the standards set by Mortal Kombat; it’s difficult to adapt videogames into movies but I maintain that it’s not impossible, and one must strive to make an entertaining film first and foremost and then find ways for the source material to work in its new medium. Mortal Kombat does this expertly at a time when no one was expecting it and remains so much more than a cult classic; it’s honestly one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen and a must watch for fans of the series even with its tame depiction of the franchise’s more violent aspects.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat? How do you feel it holds up today and when compared to the sequels, remake, and other adaptations of the source material (and other videogames) that have come since? Which of the three protagonists your favourite? Were you a fan of the villains in the film and what did you think to the depiction of Goro and Reptile? Were you disappointed to see Scorpion and Sub-Zero neutured into mere henchmen? Do you have any fond memories of this film or the franchise from your childhood? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat, either leave a comment on my social media or sign up and write your thoughts below.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Hong Kong cinema, the impact and legacy of Bruce Lee, and how Mortal Kombat was adapted into a feature film, check out my PhD thesis or some of these resouces:

Derek, S. C. (1996) A Writer’s Guide to Mortal Kombat.

Hunt, L. (2002) ‘‘I Know Kung Fu!’: The Martial Arts in the Age of Digital Reproduction’ in King, G. and Krzywinska, T. (eds.) ScreenPlay: videogames/interfaces. London: Wallflower Press: pages 196 to 201.
________ (2003) Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger. London: Wallflower Press.

Logan, B. (1995) Hong Kong Action Cinema. London: Titan Books.

Russell, J. (2012) Generation Xbox: How Video Games Invaded Hollywood. East Sussex: Yellow Ant.

West, D. (2006) Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Limited.

2 thoughts on “Talking Movies [MK Day]: Mortal Kombat (1995)

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