By Gabbo Esparza (Sanford, North Carolina)
Mortal Kombat was one of the most popular, and controversial video games of the 90s, so naturally, in 1995, New Line Cinema released a live-action film adaptation. When the film was being advertised, several people were either excited for it, or skeptical due to Street Fighter being a total stinker, and since the film was rated PG-13, which meant the violence and gore from the game had to be toned down to appeal to the then-young MK fan base. Thankfully, all expectations were surpassed as Mortal Kombat actually turned out to be, believe it or not, a good video game movie. Upon its release, the film was, surprisingly, a box- office success, making it the first video game adaptation to be successful both financially, and with fans, despite mixed reviews from critics (although Gene Siskel gave the movie a thumbs up). To this day, it is considered one of the better game to film translations. Now, it’s time to find out why that is the case.
The film succeeds by sticking to the plot of the first game while incorporating elements from Mortal Kombat II. The plot itself is very similar to Enter the Dragon (which I consider to be the greatest Martial Arts film ever made), but with a supernatural twist to it, which is rather refreshing, and helps it stand on its own. Unlike Street Fighter where the focus was on Guile instead of Ryu and Ken (the original protagonists of that franchise), this movie centers mostly around the Mortal Kombat game’s original protagonist; Liu Kang.
All of the characters from the first Mortal Kombat game (as well as a few from MKII) are present in the film, and are given appropriate development, and screen time. The casting is also spot-on. This is one of the few adaptations of a video game, comic book, and cartoon show (at least one of the few I could think of) where all of the actors are cast perfectly. Christopher Lambert, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa are especially great as Rayden and Shang Tsung (respectively), they deliver the right amount of charisma without chewing the scenery. Linden Ashby also plays a great Johnny Cage since he brings the character’s cocky personality to life, and delivers some of the best humor in this movie. But my favorite casting choice in the film has to be Robin Shou as Liu Kang. Not only is Liu my favorite character in the games, but Shou looks very much like the character, and makes you feel for him by showing his impulsiveness, and guilt over the death of his brother. It’s a shame he didn’t receive more starring vehicles after this movie, because I feel he is a capable actor, and Martial Artist. He definitely has more of a personality than Steven Seagal.
While the movie is rated PG-13, and doesn’t contain the large amounts of gore from the game, it does make up for this area with the large amounts of Martial Arts action. The fight scenes are very well done, and often emulate more of the Hong Kong style of fight choreography, which was a refreshing change from most American action films prior to this. They also incorporate several of the special moves from the game, such as Liu Kang’s bicycle kick, Scorpion’s spear that comes out of his hand, etc., and they manage to make them look believable, and not embarrassing, unlike Street Fighter.
The person who directed this movie is Paul W.S. Anderson, and if that name sounds familiar, that’s because this is the same man who would later go on to butcher Alien vs. Predator, and the Resident Evil movies. Despite his more recent efforts, he does a solid job directing this film. One of the strong points of his direction (aside from how well he filmed the fight scenes) is how he handled the movie on a technical, and design level.
The cinematography, set designs, and lighting are stylish, and keep in touch with the game’s dark and mystical atmosphere. The special FX in the movie are also pretty cool, granted, they aren’t exactly Terminator 2, or Jurassic Park, but they work fine for a film released in 1995. Though not everything is CGI, the character of Goro is a puppet, which still looks good to this day, and were created by special FX masters Alec Gillis, and Tom Woodruff, Jr.,
Mortal Kombat is still a fun film to watch. It made up greatly for Street Fighter, and in my opinion, it still is one of the best video game movies (right up there with Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist). It may not be Oscar winning material, but it is one of my personal favorite movies, and as a huge fighting game fan, I couldn’t be any more proud of it.