RECAP: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat (1995): Paul Anderson

Kano…Liu Kang…Raiden…Johnny Cage…Scorpion…Sub-Zero…Sonya…

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: MORTAL KOMBAT!!!

Hero (3/10)

Mortal Kombat begins with a man and a boy fighting on a pagoda under a stormy, psychedelic sky. The man beats down the boy, stomping his back, and then he kills him. The man points to the camera and says, “Your brother’s soul is mine. You will be next.”

Liu Kang (Robin Shou) wakes from this dream to learn that his brother is dead. It was a dream, but also not. Liu travels to his old home, the Temple of Light in China, where he learns his brother’s death is partly his fault, and that he must assume his destiny and participate in a tournament for the destiny of Earth.

If ‘dos could kill, Liu Kang would never lose.

A little backstory: Once a generation a martial arts tournament pits the best fighters against each other. Fielded by two sorcerers, two teams battle in mortal kombat, and if one team wins 10 consecutive tournaments, that side, legally, wins control of Earth’s realm, and probably some other realms as well. Liu Kang is one of those fighting for Earth.

Joining Liu Kang are Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) on Lord Raiden’s (Christopher Lambert) team. The three fighters travel to wherever the tournament is being held, in the mystical realm of Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), leader of the other team trying to take over Earth in the name of an unseen Emperor. Also, Shang is the guy who killed Liu’s brother. Liu joins the tournament to seek revenge. Who are these humans?

Johnny Cage is the world’s most famous martial arts actor, but his ego is getting in his way. Tabloids believe he’s a phony, and Cage jumps into every fight to prove that he is not. Sonya Blade is a tough law enforcer with some unnamed agency. One of Shang’s men, Kano (Trevor Goddard), killed her partner, and she’s out to bring him to justice.

On Team Raiden, we have Liu, Cage, and Sonya. I’ll get to Team Shang later.

Liu rises to the top. He’s called The Chosen One, but no one explains why. He’s the descendant of an important person, but we never learn why that’s important. It’s something you have to go with, and it’s the only hole in this magnificent mov–

cough cough cough. I almost finished that sentence. Liu fights for his brother, but he’ll soon fight for Earth.

Villain (5/10)

Shang Tsung kills Liu’s brother in the movie’s first scene. He organizes the humans who will compete in mortal kombat against his champions and enslaved fighters, although Raiden also claims to be doing this. It’s very confusing. Shang is a great sorcerer, and his power lies in taking the souls of vanquished opponents. These souls go into his eye, and he can call on them to fight for him.

Taking tolls, taking souls.

Why Shang is allowed to gather the fighters who will oppose him is one of many questions the film leaves unanswered. No matter, he gathers them. Shang is the chief sorcerer of an unnamed emperor, and it’s this emperor who will claim Earth if Shang’s fighters win their tenth straight tournament.

Shang hosts the tournament on his mystical island that is part idyllic beach and part hellish mountain fortress. He sits on a throne of peacock feathers and directs the fights, some that end in death and others that don’t. I didn’t understand it, but when you are a sorcerer like Shang, you don’t care about making sense.

It’s his role as tournament facilitator that allow Shang to deliver the video game lines. “Flawless victory.” “Finish him.” “Fatality.” These are the words of the classic video game and Shang as he smirks over the matches.

Shang’s job is to look menacing and creepy, and he fulfills both roles like a champion. Tagawa works his eyebrows independently. His every word is strange. “You’ve been chosen,” he says to Sonya, “much to my delight.” Yeah, but didn’t you choose her?

Watch out if this guy visits you.

Shang’s undefeated champion is a four-armed, 12-fingered anthropomorph named Goro. Shang bases his entire plan to conquer Earth for the emperor on the skills of this freak. He also enslaves masked fighters named Scorpion and Sub-Zero, fighters with mystical skills that humans have never seen.

Action/Effects (2/10)

Mortal Kombat is about fighting. It’s why you came to the movie, and it’s the only reason you’ll stay. The best fight takes place between Johnny Cage and Scorpion. This fight is not a tournament fight. Is it legal, will it count in the standings if–aahh who gives a shit? FIGHT.

Johnny walks in a large tree grove for some reason. He doesn’t appear lost. His walk is about to be ruined. Scorpion steps into the scene and challenges Johnny by ejecting a snake-like head from his hand. The snake flies after Johnny, who gamely dodges it, until he outruns it.

Johnny hides behind a tree, hoping he’s in the clear. Scorpion cartwheels into view in the campiest image in this insane movie. He shoots the snake head into a tree, nearly killing Johnny. Johnny responds by delivering a flying kick that sends him into another dimension.

From the grove to a chamber full of bamboo and skeletons, Johnny enters the house of Scorpion. Scorpion says, “Welcome,” and then punches him in the face. That’s not welcoming.

The two fight on a bamboo bridge of sorts, and for once the camera actually shows the moves. Lots of high kicking. Then Johnny is on the ground, taking a dozen kicks to face and body. Johnny does a flip that sends Scorpion flying backward and cracking his shins on a railing. Scorpion then delivers a full 360 backflip, kicking Johnny in the face.

Test your might.

Johnny finds a horizontal pole to spin around gymnastically and to a bitching guitar riff. Johnny flies to a higher platform, which Scorpion tears down and sends Johnny to the ground among the skeletons. Scorpion comes down and rips off his face mask to reveal a naked skull.

Scorpion breathes fire at Johnny, who blocks it with a shield he found. Johnny throws a spear into Scorpion and attacks with the shield. Scorpion bleeds lava and, as Johnny runs for cover, explodes. Among Scorpion’s remains is a signed photograph of Johnny Cage. Whoda thunk?

Well, that was the best fight. What about the worst?

Shang’s great champion is Goro, who appears to be a human wearing a tall animatronic suit. Johnny challenges Goro for the final match of the tournament. Johnny’s crew, especially Raiden, thinks he’s acting foolishly, egotistically, exactly as they feared he would.

Johnny was likely going to fight Goro later, but he chooses to fight him now, and that’s bad. So we’re told. Don’t sweat it, guys, Johnny has a plan.

Johnny shows up to the match coolly wearing sunglasses that he coolly removes. Despite bringing at least six pieces of luggage to Shang’s fortress island, Johnny’s worn one shirt this whole time.

The match starts, and Johnny enacts his plan. He does a split and punches Goro in the balls. How could he be certain Goro had balls? Dude’s got four arms. Johnny runs away after his attack and hides on a cliff edge after traveling through a tunnel. Goro follows him, and Johnny easily kicks Goro into the abyss. That fight was a letdown as big as Goro’s fall over the cliff.

The effects are very bad. An invisible reptile slinks around Shang’s home, and it looks bad, 1980s bad. Good thing they didn’t try many other effects.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Johnny Cage and Sonya are two Americans who arrive at the tournament without caring a whit for it. Johnny is too worried about getting his luggage there, while Sonya just wants to arrest Kano, the guy who killed her partner. Slowly they learn about the dangers of Shang’s island and the tournament, but never do they show fear.

I’m super cool Johnny Cage.

Johnny is the ladies man, of course, because he’s a Hollywood big shot. Sonya is in constant eye roll mode when he’s speaking. She’s all business, and refuses help. It’s her big weakness, one she never overcomes. Johnny, who’s weakness is his ego, never overcomes that either. He does admit, much later, that he’s scared. Good for him. Taking big boy steps.

Everyone takes this seriously.

Their coach is Lord Raiden. Lambert is incomprehensible as Raiden, a sorcerer of power at least equal to Shang, though his powers don’t work on Shang’s island. Raiden sticks around anyway, offering timely advice and assistance to his charges. He places a bucket of water in exactly the correct spot for Liu to win a fight, for example.

You’ll find the worst acting coming from these three. Ashby is bad, Wilson gives it a good try in a hopeless movie, and, again, Christopher Lambert? What are you–why did you–huh?

Henchmen (3/8)

Shang enslaves Scorpion and Sub-Zero to fight for him. They wear matching outfits and face masks, Sub-Zero sporting ice blue and Scorpion yellow so you know who is who.

But it’s the animatronic Goro who is the star. A prince of subterranean realms, he’s undefeated in his history of fighting, however long that is, and in one montage he dispatches at least 20 puny humans. “I do not fail!” Goro roars at one point.

Goro was cool, if not a good fighter.

We never see Goro doing the dispatching, only hear him cheering himself and watching the humans eat dirt. That’s because Goro is a robot.

Or part robot. A single stuntman wore a huge robot suit weighing 125 pounds for hours at a time. They set up a video screen inside the suit, but he needed tubes fed into the suit between takes so he could drink water and breathe. That’s dedication to one’s craft.

Puppeteers controlled Goro’s arms, and they came out swinging in Goro’s one fight. He challenges Johnny Cage’s only friend, a guy named Art. Goro steps into the ring with Art and pummels him quickly and effectively. Art doesn’t stand a chance, and an excited Shang takes Art’s soul.

Suspension of disbelief is important in movies, never more so than watching Goro beat up Art. Goro does more celebrating than punching in this fight. Watching it, remember that there’s a guy inside Goro who’s waiting to hear “Cut” so an assistant to jam an air tube in there.

Stunts (1/6)

Fights, fights, and more fights, welcome to Mortal Kombat. The first fight is actually a fake one, a scene for Johnny Cage’s movie. It’s a while before real ones start, when they are fast and not always furious.

The silliest fight occurs between Sonya and Kano, a man with a silver-and-red mask covering his right eye for an unknown reason. Kano killed Sonya’s partner a while back, and she’s chased him to Hong Kong and now to Shang’s island to capture him. Well, here’s your chance.

Sonya waits in the sandy arena, warming up with punches and kicks. Kano steps from the shadows, shirtless, cocky, and Australian. Dangerous combinations. Kano steps into the ring and draws out a funky knife. “Put a big smile on your partner,” he says of the knife. “Ear…to ear.”

Kano make Sonya mad! She attacks, but Kano catches her fists. Sonya kicks him in his unprotected torso and then a vicious uppercut that knocks him down. Sonya lands the next few blows before Kano smacks her in the face. A couple Kano shots later and Sonya is on the ground sucking wind.

Snap that neck, Sonya!

Kano tries for a final blow, but Sonya surprises him by flipping her legs around his head. Shang, watching, is stoked to see such violence. Sonya brings Kano down. Shang stands and orders Sonya to finish him. Kano begs, “Gimme a break.” Sonya obliges, snapping Kano’s neck with her calves.

Many fights in Mortal Kombat, most of them bad, too short, too uncoordinated. The movie is based on a fighting game; it should have the best fights. One point only for the guy wearing the Goro suit.

Climax (0/6)

Liu and Johnny, with an assist from Kitana, enter the Outlands, where the emperor resides in a black tower. Also there is Shang, who has snatched Sonya, and who he has challenged in a final battle to determine the tournament’s champion. Sonya refuses.

Shang tries to challenge Sonya for the final battle to control the realms. She refuses, but agrees to wear leather.

A group of monks assemble in the chamber where Sonya is held, ready to watch the final fight, I guess. Of course Liu, Johnny, and Kitana are three of those monks, wearing habits as disguises. Liu, who came shirtless, challenges Shang to the final fight. Shang calls him an “impudent mortal,” but he accepts. Finally, this guy is going to fight.

Test your might!

Liu and Shang start with several arm blows, most of them blocked. The camera dances around the pair as they battle on the Mortal Kombat dragon logo. Shang hooks elbows with Liu and flips him over his back. It’s Liu who lands the first blow, knocking Shang to the ground and making him bleed his own blood.

Shang wastes no more time. He calls on some of the thousands of souls he’s sucked up during his long life. A half dozen fighters pop out from manhole covers that exist high in the tower for reasons unsaid. (You’ve noticed, by now, that many reasons are unsaid.) These fighters are armed and armored. There’s a samurai!

Liu battles them, catching one blade by clapping it. He twice dispatches the samurai and easily disables the others. But where has Shang fled? “Is that all you’ve got?” Liu taunts.

Shang stands above the fighting area. He says that he’s looked into Liu’s soul, and he will die. Well, duh, he’s mortal. Liu says that Shang can look into his soul, but he doesn’t own it. Liu climbs the stairs to join Shang. Recall that Kitana prepared him earlier for the final fight. Liu will face three challenges: his enemy, his self, and his worst fear.

Liu beat his enemy (Shang’s stolen souls), now Shang attacks Liu’s self. He transforms into Liu’s brother, saying that Liu let him down, and didn’t he remember saying he would look out for him, and all that. Liu struggles with seeing the image of his brother, his actual soul, but he stands firm. “Every man is responsible for his own destiny,” he says, echoing Raiden from earlier.

Shang sees his plans have failed. Meanwhile, a series of blades have poked up from the floor below. Shang can do nothing to answer Liu’s attacks and poofy hair. “I am the chosen one,” he shouts. Shang is losing souls from his face. Liu delivers a smack down. “I pity you, sorcerer,” he says. Liu double punches Shang in the chest, and there’s a sorcerer-like orange spark in the punch that knocks Shang over the edge and onto a blade, impaling him.

Liu, standing above, looks down. “Flawless victory.” Shang’s captured souls escape, including Liu’s brother, who tells him to go in peace.

Back on Earth, all is well at the Temple of Light. Raiden greets Liu and Kitana, Cage and Sonya. Suddenly the emperor shows up, eager to fight for Earth, which I thought was out of the cards because his team lost the tournament. The five fighters get into a stance, ready for more.

Jokes (2/4)

Considering that the entire movie is a joke…two points.

Setting (4/4)

When the movie’s best aspect is the set design, it has problems. Mortal Kombat‘s best parts are its sets.

Most of the budget went to building huge sets, I know this because they skimped on acting and special effects.

The islands scenes were shot in Thailand, and the beaches there are world famous for being perfect. Perfect 10s for the location scouts.

Interiors were shot in California, and they also look fantastic. Shang’s lairs are large, creepy, and well lit. Sub-Zero hangs out in a blue-tinted, cobwebbed maze, while Scorpion’s lair includes dozens of skeletons, acres of bamboo poles, and an orange haze. These rooms exist in Shang’s palace, I think.

Shang’s aesthetic is candlelit dungeon with ample space for eating. This space can quickly turn into fighting space, as happens when the three human contestants have a feast interrupted so Sub-Zero can show off his freeze ball skills. That sentence made as much sense as that scene.

Raiden’s three champions wander the fortress and find an abyssal space traversed by stone bridges. And no, these bridges do not have rails.

The final world, the Outlands, is in another dimension. Controlled now by the emperor, it appears to consist of a ruined road lined with statues and crumbling buildings.

I must mention the amazing dragon boat Shang sails into Hong Kong, complete with accompanying mystical fog and tattered sails. No ghost boat in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was ever as cool.

Commentary (0/2)

Forget it.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Mortal Kombat is a pretty woke film. The hero and the villain are Asian actors in a Hollywood movie. The game did the same, of course, but consider giving the studio a good score for not changing these aspects. Also, you got Sonya in there breaking the neck of a guy twice her weight.

Others

  • One time I saw an add for a novel titled Mortal Combat. My first thought was “They spelled ‘Kombat’ wrong.”

Summary (22/68): 32%

For a movie based on a fighting video game and called Mortal Kombat, you’d expect better fight scenes. You’d be disappointed. This movie deserves the appellation “cult classic.” It’s funny for being so bad and silly.