Mixed Martial Arts fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) doesn’t know why he was born with a dragon mark on his chest. What he does know is that the assassin after him and the Special Forces Major trying to help him both bear the same mark. As the mystery unravels, Cole is led into the world of Mortal Kombat. Joining fighters Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), Kano (Josh Lawson), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Cole must defend his family and Earthrealm against Outworld in a gladiator fight for the universe.
This is the Mortal Kombat universe that producer James Wan (The Conjuring, Aquaman) is excited to bring to a whole new generation. “My team and I were gung-ho about creating a new, updated version with today’s technology while being respectful to the tone, violent action, and gore of the game that fans have come to love,” Wan told SYFY WIRE and other members of the press via a statement for a special screening event. “As a fan myself of the games and movies, I, too, wanted to see another theatrical version of this, and felt it was time again to revisit this IP that has been kept relevant in the game world but not as much in the feature world.”
At the event, during which we saw the first 12 minutes of Mortal Kombat, both director Simon McQuoid (MK is his first feature) and producer Todd Garner (The One, Into the Storm) agreed with Wan's sentiment. In a virtual roundtable discussion with other members of the press, we caught up with the pair for the first time since our set visit in Adelaide, Australia, in 2019. Although the team did not confirm any new characters (sorry, Johnny Cage fans), we can share a short, exclusive clip (below) from the movie featuring legendary action star Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai, The Wolverine).
Oh, and we can share everything we learned from the first 12 minutes of the movie.
Spoilers ahead for the first 12 minutes of Mortal Kombat. (Skip this section and look for the "End Spoilers" note to get to our spoiler-free interview with McQuoid and Garner!)
Mortal Kombat begins in 1617 feudal Japan at the home of Hanzo Hasashi, the leader of the Shirai Ryu clan. A loving father and doting husband, he and his wife share a tender moment before he heads off to fetch water from the river as his wife gardens and his son, Jubei, heads to the house to try to stop his baby sister from crying. While Hanzo is away, Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), leader of the Lin Kuei rival clan, attacks, but not before Kana hides the baby.
When Hanzo returns, he only has moments to mourn his wife and son, frozen in a block of ice, before he single-handedly takes out all 15 Lin Kuei assassins with brutal efficiency. Bi-Han waits until the final members are dispatched before calmly explaining, "This is the end of your bloodline, your mighty clan, the Shirai Ryu have been exterminated by me, Bi-Han.” Hanzo, who does not speak his language, does not understand his words, but the meaning is clear and the two finish their discussion through an epic, brutal fight in the woods.
After Bi-Han delivers the killing blow, Hanzo spends his final moments bleeding out, trying to get back to the house to protect his crying baby girl. After his final breath, fire erupts from within his body, reducing him to ashes, and moments later, a bolt of lightning brings Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) to Earth. He finds the baby girl hidden under the floorboards of the Hasashi home and leaves with the child the way he came.
The first thing you will notice about Mortal Kombat is not the fight scenes or the gore, but rather the cinematography. It’s beautifully shot, and somehow, production designer Naaman Marshall found a pine forest in the Australian outback to use as the fictional Shirai Ryu compound in feudal Japan. The juxtaposition of tight closeups with moments of action in wide shots feels more like a Kurosawa study than an action film, and that’s by design.
“It's cinematically really beautiful and very authentic and very real,” McQuoid says. “What I wanted to show in those 12 minutes was this is a beautiful, cinematic, elevated rendition of the brutality and the power of what Mortal Kombat is."
As epic and bloody as the opening fight scenes were, there is a limit to how many spine-ripping disembowelments you are allowed to show onscreen before the gore slides you right into an NC-17 rating. “Everyone wanted to do justice to Mortal Kombat, no one ever wanted to pull back. And that was from day one,” McQuoid explains. “It's different in a video game when it's not real, human beings. There were certain things that are in the game that if we showed them [in live action], the film would simply be unreleasable."
The director was quick to point out, however, that there are plenty of game-reminiscent “fatalities” still in the movie. “There are several fatalities, and there's some stuff that you all will see that gets quite close to the line,” McQuoid reassures us.
The authenticity that McQuoid was dedicated to included shooting as much of the film as practically as possible. Backgrounds included.
“Simon set the tone,” Garner explains. “I told him we could do it like Marvel does and shoot the movie in a parking lot in Atlanta with a green screen. And he said, ‘Or you can move to Adelaide for five months.’ So I moved to Adelaide for five months, to the middle of the frigging Outback in 110-degree heat with flies and practical sets."
Aside from Australia’s heat, nothing much surprises Garner, a veteran studio executive, but even he admits that what he witnessed on the Mortal Kombat set blew him away.
“I was watching these guys do 28 beats of fight choreography as fast as they possibly could, full-tilt. Just kicking the sh** out of each other. Fast. And not dying!" Garner exclaims. “They cared so much about this movie, and they worked so hard. Sisi, Jessica included. They worked their asses off." According to McQuoid, the cast was following the examples of lead action stars Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim, who play Scorpion and Sub-Zero respectively.
“It was a great delight and honor for me to be able to watch Hiro and Joe work together,” McQuoid says. “It was pretty amazing.”
The only character in the film that is 100 percent CGI is fan-favorite Goro. Unlike the hilarious puppet used in the first Mortal Kombat movie in 1995, the team wanted to make the four-armed, half-human, half-dragon of the Shokan tribe look as realistic as possible. “Goro is a beloved character. He's obviously somebody that I would love to have in every movie. He's also really expensive,” Garner laments. “Every second he’s onscreen costs as much as my house. So you just got to use him smart."
Goro's presence in the film wasn’t revealed until the most recent trailer, and neither was Kabal. Aside from the recently announced vampire Nitara, the team was tight-lipped about any more character reveals.
“There's a big opportunity with 80-odd characters in the MK franchise,” McQuoid says. “They're bringing new characters in all the time. That's why we felt we could bring in a new character [Cole Young] into this film because there is a precedent.” But McQuoid stopped short of granting us a sequel. “None of us ever talk about sequels,” McQuoid explains. ”We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I figured if we get this right, then [fans] will decide whether there's a sequel.”
“This is not a video game movie to me,” Garner concludes. “This is a martial arts movie with really, really wonderful characters that we care deeply about.”
Mortal Kombat premieres in theaters on April 16 and will be streaming on HBO Max for no additional charge for one month.