By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It only took 24 years, but Mortal Kombat is back! So was it worth the wait? If you are a Mortal Kombat fan, then get over here! For the younger generation who are not familiar with the Mortal Kombat brand, it took center stage as a 2D fighting video game created by Midway. It was the first game to feature massive blood and gore in a video game and cause some controversy in the 1990s. The first Mortal Kombat movie was released in 1995, with a sequel called “Annihilation” in 1997. While the first movie enjoyed box office success, the second was a flop.
I was excited when I heard James Wan was the producer since I am a big fan of “Saw” and “Aquaman.” I was not expecting an amazing storyline, but it feels straight out of an old school video game. Let me explain. Mortal Kombat champions are born with a dragon insignia and have to fight in a tournament for the fate of Earth. Another way to get an insignia is by killing another person who has it. A Mortal Kombat tournament will determine the fate of Earthrealm. Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and his minions, who are stuck in the Outworld, have already won nine out of 10 times. If they win one more time, Outworld can take over Earthrealm. There is a prophecy that a “blood of Hanzo Hasashi” will unite good and stop Outworld victory. To make sure the prophecy does not come true, Shang Tsung decides to kill all the Earthrealm champions before they have a chance to enter the tournament.
The movie starts out with some backstories on all the champions. Bi Han (Joe Taslim) leads a group of assassins to attack their rivals, Shirai Ryu ninja clan and responsible for the murders of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), his wife, and son. If you ever played the game, you probably have a good idea where this is going. Then the story follows Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter, who thought his dragon insignia was just a birthmark. He meets Jax who helps him escape a dangerous situation and tells Cole to meet up with Sonya Blade. At Blade’s compound, we discover she has captured Kano.
Along the way, Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and his cousin, Kung Lao (Max Huang), help them find Raiden (Tadanobu Asano)’s temple to train. Their goal is to find their arcana so they can perform special moves like in the video game. There are bad champions, too. Nitara (Mel Jarnson), a half-female vampire, has some brief screen time. Then more fighting. Like other movies based on fighting video games, they have to introduce way too many characters so there’s no room for development or anything else.
Although I was never a big fan of Mortal Kombat, I did play a few versions so I got most of the game references in the movie. They even address Kombat being spelled with a K. Famous catch phrases are littered all over the movie, “Get Over here,” “Fatality,” “Test Your Might,” and “Flawless Victory.” I thought adding in Mortal Kombat references was corny but effective. I wish they had gone the extra mile and was hoping for comedic video game references incorporated in a witty way. A Mortal Kombat arcade machine cameo would have been perfect. Friendships and Babalities would have also made surprising additions. There are a ton of Sub-Zero fight scenes, but not once did Sub-Zero freeze the floor and make his opponent slip on the ice. That would have been hilarious and would have really made the movie!
There are some positives to Mortal Kombat. I counted seven Asian actors. That is some good Asian representation! Hiroyuki Sanada was the only actor I knew at the time of watching. I had to look up the other actors afterwards. To my surprise, they were in many roles in other movies I have watched.
I definitely miss going to the movies. It was one of my favorite pastimes before the pandemic.
However, I recommend “testing your might” at home with HBO Max. I rewatched some scenes a few times to catch a few Mortal Kombat references I missed my first time.
Mortal Kombat is playing on HBO Max for 30 days and in local theaters.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.