Starring Robin Shou, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (CHT), Christopher Lambert, Keith Cooke (cameo), Bridgette Wilson, Linden Ashby
Fight Choreography by Pat E. Johnson
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
For martial arts fans in the US, the early and mid 90’s were rough. Unless you knew a buddy who got the bootleg stuff from Hong Kong and Japan, you were left with Steven Seagal with the ever-expanding waistline, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, master of the ass shots and splits. In other words you were shit out of luck. There was cool martial arts to be found in video games, with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat leading the way. Hollywood thought they would both make a good film, and they were half-right. Little did we know that Jackie Chan was about to change US cinema forever with Rumble in the Bronx a year later, but at that time we were given Mortal Kombat…
The film opens following three characters: Liu Kang (Shou), who wants to avenge the death of his brother Chen by the murderous Shang Tsung (CHT), Sonya Blade (Wilson) who is hunting a smuggler who killed her brother and has lured her into the tournament, and Johnny Cage (Ashby) a Van Damme-like movie star who enters the tournament to prove he’s the real deal. They make their way to an island owned by Shang Tsung (doesn’t the plot remind you of another martial arts classic?), and meet his fearsome fighters: Sub-Zero, a ninja who has perfected a freezing technique, and Scorpion, a ninja returned from the dead with a grapple claw and fire breath, which I hear is standard fare for all resurrected ninjitsu warriors. They also have to face Goro, a six-armed 7 foot tall muppet, and Reptile, a lizard who can transform into a ninja fighter. They are all from another dimension called Outworld, ruled by their master Shao Khan.
Our heroes are aided by Princess Kitana (Soto), the former ruler of Outworld, and Rayden (Lambert), the god of Thunder and Lightening, worshipped by the chinese monks for being a god of Thunder and Lightening. And a kung-fu master. And French. Liu Kang and his new friends soon find out they aren’t just fighting in a tournament, but are fighting for the fate of Earth, and each of them learn a valuable lesson about themselves in the process.
Yes, this is truly a silly film, but it’s still fun, probably one of the better video game adaptations done. They rip off the plot for Enter the Dragon wholesale, but hey, someone was going to eventually. Robin Shou does okay for Lui Kang, but his acting leaves a lot to be desired. His fighting isn’t so great either. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not bad. His kung-fu is technically good, but he doesn’t have the grace and speed of Donnie, Jackie or Jet. Everyone else is cut from that same Hollywood cloth of actors who don’t really know any martial arts but has a lot of stunt people doing it for them. In the case of Johnny Cage some of the stunts are done by JJ Perry, the fight choreographer fromUndisputed 2, and Blood and Bone, and Keith Cooke, he of China O’Brien.
The fights themselves are either pretty good or really weak. Sonya Blade’s fight is really weak, but Lui Kang versus Sub-zero and Reptile is pretty damn good. The best, in my opinion, is the fight between Johnny Cage and Scorpion. That has a great fight in Scorpion’s lair, with really good choreography, the best in the film. CHT brings the villany as he always does, and gives a decent fight to Lui Kang at the end of the film, but his-and Lambert’s scene chewing are the best moments of the film, aside from one last thing:
The Music. George S Clinton brought techno music to the attention of pop culture after being in the underground scene for years. Suddenly we became aware of acts like Orbital, Utah Saints, Massive Attack, Juno Reactor, and more. The Mortal Kombat theme itself wants to make you get up and smack someone. Think not? Listen to this:
Makes you want to jump up and give someone a tornado kick to the face! If anything, this film was a good mix of old school martial arts and special effects that had good and weak moments for both, but overall is an enjoyable film, but the soundtrack makes the film better than it actually is.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Good choreography for an American film, and could have been better if the actual stars of the film outside of Robin Shou and CHT (I don’t think he knows much) actually knew martial arts.
STUNTWORK: (8) These guys had to hold up the actors who didn’t know martial arts and did a good job at doing so. The guy wearing the Goro suits deserved a raise.
STAR POWER:(6) CHT is money in the bank as always, and Christopher Lambert is always a treat. Robin Shou doesn’t have the charisma to be a big star. Everyone else is fairly forgettable. Some of the stuntmen in the film went on to bigger and better things.
FINAL GRADE: (7) One of the best video game adaptations ever, which is faint praise, but is a good check-your-brain-at-the-door film for martial arts film buffs.