When director Simon McQuoid and his team began pre-production on Mortal Kombat, there were three things that he knew he would have to pay close attention to: the fights, the fatalities, and the fans. It took more than a decade, a pandemic, and three rescheduled premiere dates, but now fans are (fingers crossed) so close to seeing their favorite characters on screen for the first time in 25 years.
Fans aren't the only ones who are looking forward to the long-awaited moment, though — the cast and crew are proving to be just as excited for fans to see what they've built. With less than a week before Mortal Kombat hits theaters and HBO Max on April 23, SYFY WIRE spoke with McQuoid and the cast one final time before the premiere to talk about the hype, the fans, the training, and the delays.
If fans are getting impatient, Joe Taslim (Warrior, The RAID) can relate. Taslim was the first actor cast in the film as cryomancer assassin Bi-Han, aka Sub-Zero. But it took McQuoid, producer Todd Garner, and the casting team so long to complete their meticulous casting process that Taslim got a little nervous. "I thought they canceled or postponed the movie at first," Taslim says. "I called the producer and asked him, 'Are you guys still doing this? This movie isn't just about Sub-Zero, right?'" Garner and his team assured the Indonesian action star that the movie was indeed still happening — they were simply looking for the best actors to play alongside him in the film.
The wait proved to worth it once the next cast members were announced. Actor and martial artist Ludi Lin (Power Rangers, Aquaman) and Jackie Chan-trained stunt performer Max Huang (Kingsman, The Foreigner) joined the fight to play Liu Kang and Kung Lao, respectively. "Mortal Kombat is such a violent and gory game," Lin says, "but the fans are all just lovely people. And I think that speaks to the inner child inside each of us that really enjoys it for just the fun of it."
Huang is just as excited for fans to see Easter eggs from the game in the film. "You can already see a lot of fatalities and fight scenes in the trailer. But once you watch the film, I think it's going to blow your mind," he says.
Naturally, the cast went through plenty of martial arts training to prepare for the movie, but Lin, Taslim, and most of the cast played the Mortal Kombat 11 video game as well. "My favorite Sub-Zero fatality is in MK11," Taslim shares. The actor kept the game in his trailer while shooting and would challenge other cast members.
"Four months before the movie started shooting, MK11 was the bulk of my training. I'm not joking," Lin says. "Look, I'm worried that after it comes out, people are going to start challenging me on Twitch, and there's no way I'm losing as Liu Kang to any fan."
Keeping the hype train moving, Warner Bros. also dropped more international teasers and trailers over the past week to showcase more characters that will show up in the film, including Kabal, Reptile, and Nitara. "Some extra characters were purposely held back a bit [for marketing purposes], and I think Nitara at this point has been undersold," McQuoid teases. "And I'm delighted with how Kabal turned out."
But if there is one character that made the director nervous, it would be Goro, the four-armed, half-human, half-dragon who was hilariously puppeteered in the '90s movie. "Early on, we'd done some experiments [with Goro special effects] and I knew that it would be a long process to get him to sit inside this film as elegantly as possible," McQuoid remembers. "I think the guys at Method, the visual effects company in Melbourne, Australia, are incredibly talented and did a great job. I'm really proud of Goro."
Method's special effects team also took on cyborg Jackson Briggs' enormous mechanical arms. But actor Mechad Brooks (Supergirl, True Blood) also worked hard to transform his body and performance to match the intensity of one of Mortal Kombat's most popular characters —with some surprising results. "The training regimen was crazy. I was working out six days a week, sometimes twice a day, even if we were shooting," Brooks says. "I gained 45 pounds of muscle; none of my clothes fit. I was so clumsy I was falling up the stairs... I learned how to move like Jax in the video game by watching a ton of footage of Mike Tyson and Joe Frazier, and I trained in choreography and boxing five days a week."
"I'm a pacifist, but it makes me realize that if I had to, I could fight," Brooks adds.
The other actor who learned to fight onset was Rebecca McNamee (The Meg), who plays Brooks' Special Forces comrade and fan-favorite character Sonya Blade. Her character, along with Jax and Kano, are the power fighters of the game and the actors are excited to bring that aspect of their characters to the big screen. "We are brawlers. It's rough, it's dirty, it's messy and gross," the Australian actress says. "I mean, it was really fun, though. We don't need quite as much finesse as some of the others to brawl. And [Sonya and Kano] really hate each other."
Fellow Aussie Josh Lawson (Anchorman 2, House of Lies), who plays Kano in the film, agrees. "Kano is a dirty fighter. He'll kick you when you're down. He'll throw sand in your face and a knife in your back," Lawson says, also noting the vast number of other fighting styles in the film: "From the exquisiteness of Shaolin kung-fu and spectacle of wushu to just pub brawling."
Another actor who is hoping that fans truly enjoy his character is Lewis Tan, who plays Cole Young, a new character introduced to the MK universe for the film. "As an actor, as a performer, and as a martial artist," Tan says, "I dearly love this franchise, and I'm a huge fan of it and [like Cole] I put in a thousand percent of my effort into earning a spot there."
Although many seem to have already written Cole off as a plot device merely to help introduce new fans to the franchise, by the end of the film, Tan hopes everyone will realize that he's more than just an Earthrealm tour guide: "I think that as Cole's journey goes on and he meets all these iconic characters, he understands more about himself and his history, and his character develops into something worthy of being in this film as more than just the eyes and ears of new fans."
Tan knows his way around a fight. He's done his own stunt work in almost every project he's appeared in, including Marvel's Iron Fist, AMC's Into the Badlands, and Netflix's Wu Assassins. In Mortal Kombat, we see those skills put to the test as Taslim's Sub-Zero is clearly after Cole, and a new featurette showcases just how incredible some of their fight scenes are. "Joe has one of the greatest performances I've seen. Not just in a video game movie but any movie," Lewis praises.
Taslim has similar praise for Tan. "It was easy working with Lewis because he's a great martial artist, and he knows what he's doing," Taslim says. "This meant we can focus more on work, timing, and technical stuff. But the fight choreography? The dance? He's a great dancer. I had so much fun, and it just made the job so much easier."
As of this writing, there is no sequel planned for Mortal Kombat 2, but the cast and crew all agree that the fans can make it happen. "We get to play some iconic characters from the video games, and I hope you guys like it so much that we get a second one," Lin says.
McQuoid echoes this sentiment: "I think what we wanted to do was build a framework... so if the fans tell us they want to sequel, then we can make a sequel."