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The original Mortal Kombat game, created by Ed Boon and John Tobias of Midway Games in 1992, has since spun off into almost every vertical imaginable, including games, toys, soft goods, comics, a couple of animated series, and, yes, movies — with a new one coming soon.
It’s been 26 years since the first Mortal Kombat movie hit theaters — just three years after its namesake game hit arcades. Despite critics' generally unfavorable reviews, nostalgic, hardcore fans of the game feel the 1995 film, starring Christopher Lambert, is a classic. However, the follow-up feature, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was universally panned. By 2010, Warner Bros. Interactive managed to salvage what was left of the now-defunct Midway and start NetherRealm Studios, placing Boon at the helm. He immediately went to work on the popular Mortal Kombat Legacy web series, which gave fans hope that a full reboot might be on the way.
They were right, and for the past 11 years, Warner Bros. and New Line have been working to bring a full-length, live-action reboot of Mortal Kombat to the big screen.
In 2016, Mortal Kombat, now set to premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on April 16, was officially announced, followed by the casting of Joe Taslim (RAID: Redemption, Star Trek: Beyond) as cryomancer Sub-Zero. Principal shooting began in September of 2019. In December of that same year, SYFY WIRE visited the Mortal Kombat movie set at Adelaide Studios in Adelaide, Australia, after about 60 percent of the film was complete.
While there, SYFY WIRE got a chance to talk with commercial director Simon McQuoid and producers Todd Garner (XXX: State of the Union, The One) and E. Bennet Walsh (After Earth, Edge of Darkness), along with several cast members, about what it took to bring one of the most anticipated movies in recent years to the big screen. Here, we share with you the biggest, most exciting facts and plot details we learned along the way.
THE MOVIE WILL FOLLOW THE GAMES' LORE
For the uninitiated, the broad strokes initial concept for Mortal Kombat is an Enter the Dragon-esque martial arts tournament in which competitors not only fight for their lives but the lives of everyone in their universe. There are two warring clans, the Shirai Ryu and Lin Kuei, who battle for control over several realms, including Earthrealm, Otherworld, Chaosrealm, Netherrealm, and more.
McQuoid and his team had their work cut out for them, extracting which storyline to use and which characters (there are close to 90 in the game) to include. The new story needed to capture audiences unfamiliar with the story, charm long-time fans, and introduce this universe to a new generation of potential superfans. “One of the things we've been talking about all through development is respect. Respect for the fans and respect for the characters and respect for the canon of the game,” McQuoid says.
“I've been on this movie for six years, but they've been developing it for 10,” Garner says. “So we decided to make a classic movie that can set up the world for everybody and satisfy the fans' lust for the movie — which we obviously love — and be true to them.”
THERE WILL BE A SCORPION ORIGIN STORY
“We start off the movie in 15th century Japan,” Bennett explains, “where you have Joe Taslim [Sub-Zero] and Hiroyuki Sonata [Scorpion] in a fight.” As previously announced, Taslim will be playing Bi Han — the first cryomancer to call himself Sub-Zero — who competed in the Mortal Kombat tournament. Add to that the multiple costumes and prosthetics we saw on set of Sonata’s head and designs of a woman and child frozen in a block of ice, and it’s pretty safe to say that the franchise is taking us back to the origins of the game lore, in which Sub-Zero kills Sonata’s family and his clan. Later, Sonata is resurrected as the pyromancer Scorpion, with revenge serving as his purpose for entering the tournament.
COLE YOUNG WAS CREATED FOR A NEW AUDIENCE
Lewis Tan’s (Deadpool 2, Into the Badlands, Wu Assassins) character Cole Young is new to the franchise. A down-on-his-luck MMA fighter, his daughter is both his biggest fan and his trainer as she is trying to get him back into fighting shape. Cole sees the tournament as a place to redeem his former glory but also has a mysterious birthmark that is an exact replica of the dragon-headed Mortal Kombat logo, which might mean he is related to an existing character in MK lore.
“We needed an access point for everybody to come into the story that would [keep existing canons] intact,” Garner explained. “That's the character Lewis is playing. He's the eyes of anyone who's never played the game.”
IF YOU LOVE MARTIAL ARTS FILMS, THIS IS YOUR MOVIE
One of the blessings of working with actors who can also perform fight choreography is the resulting epic fight scenes.
“We have scenes with over 200 beats of fight choreography in one shot,” Garner explains.
Tan has significant training in Muay Thai kickboxing but trained in several styles to pull off his character’s MMA origins. “It's great to work with artists that can do their own fights. I think the fans deserve and want that authenticity,” Tan says.
Ludi Lin (Power Rangers, Aquaman), who plays Liu Kang, also has extensive training in both Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu. Max Huang (The Foreigner, Kingsman: The Secret Service), a member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, has Wushu training that came in handy for his character, Kung Lao. Then, of course, there’s Joe Taslim, who is known for his Indonesian-style silat fast punches, and the legendary Hiroyuki Sanada, who started his career as a Japanese action star and is the protege of Sonny Chiba.
“The first thing I said to Kyle, our stunt coordinator, was, ‘You have to make the best fights that have ever been put on film,'” McQuoid says.
SO MANY FATALITIES
Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Mortal Kombat games are fatalities: creative, match-ending, gruesome deaths.
Fans will be delighted to know that this concept is going to be a part of the film as well, which is primarily why the movie has an R rating. But McQuoid doesn't want you to think that the movie is plotless gorefest. "There's a lot of blood, but I didn't want it to get comedic when I wanted a serious moment," the director says.
"But I've seen drums of blood sitting around the set," he adds.
ALL ABOUT KITANA AND THE OTHER CHARACTERS WE WILL SEE...
With so many characters to draw from, there's a lot of speculation about which Mortal Kombat fighters we'll see in the upcoming film. We may have gotten a few hints during our set visit.
Although we only briefly spotted newcomer Sisi Stringer (Bloody Hell) onset in a mask dressed in Mileena’s signature purple outfit, we also spotted a similar blue number when strolling through the costume department. Propmaster Lisa Brennan also displayed a beautiful set of Kitana-style fans in the prop department. Although casting for the character has not been announced, it’s safe to assume that Stringer would play Kitana as well, given that they’re cloned “twins.”
Another Easter egg we spotted in the prop department were Kabal’s twin blades. And the special effects department revealed a specially rigged “tongue” that can whip out and wrap around a body, hinting at Reptile's appearance as well.
MILEENA DEFINITELY HAS MORE BITE
Speaking of Stringer, some fans weren’t impressed with Mileena’s face reveal in the trailer. Her game counterpart features a signature Tarkatan mouth with large, razor-like teeth, much like her fellow Tarkatan Baraka. Makeup and special effects artist Larry van Duynhoven assured us that Mileena’s teeth would be a combo of practical and CGI effects. “The finished look will have her mouth sort of disengage in the way that it does in the game,” he says.
While on set, we were able to see designs for Mileena’s crocodile-like maw, so we’re going to assume that Stringer’s knife-licking move in the trailer is either before her full transformation or an unfinished CGI shot. Producer Todd Garner also confirmed Mileena's look on Twitter.
WHAT ABOUT JOHNNY CAGE?
One of the biggest questions fans have had about Mortal Kombat is whether or not Johnny Cage, one of the original characters and the ostensible main character of the 1995 adaptation, is in this movie. Sadly, there was no evidence of the character anywhere during our set visit.
However, Garner teased: “I definitely will not say that there is no Johnny Cage in this movie when pressed on the subject. And I promise you that Johnny Cage lives in the Mortal Kombat universe.”
So don’t lose all hope just yet.
Mortal Kombat will premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on April 16, where it will be streaming for one month.