Mortal Kombat (1995 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Anderson|
|Produced by||Lawrence Kasanoff|
|Written by||Kevin Droney|
|Based on||Mortal Kombat|
by Midway Games
|Music by||George S. Clinton|
|Cinematography||John R. Leonetti|
|Edited by||Martin Hunter|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$122.1 million|
Mortal Kombat is a 1995 American fantasy martial arts action film written by Kevin Droney, directed by Paul Anderson, produced by Lawrence Kasanoff, and starring Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson and Christopher Lambert. It is a loose adaptation of the early entries in the fighting game series Mortal Kombat and the first installment of the live-action Mortal Kombat film series.
The plot of the film follows the warrior monk Liu Kang, the actor Johnny Cage, and the soldier Sonya Blade, all three guided by the god Raiden (spelled Rayden in the movie), on their journey to combat the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung and his forces in a tournament to save Earth. The film's primary source material was 1992's original game of the same title, but it was also inspired by and incorporates elements of 1993's follow-up game Mortal Kombat II.
Mortal Kombat, a Lawrence Kasanoff/Threshold Entertainment production in association with Midway Games, was filmed primarily in Los Angeles, as well as on location in Thailand, and premiered on August 18, 1995 in the United States. It received mixed reviews from the critics with praise towards its martial art sequences, atmosphere, exotic locations and production values whereas the performances were criticized along with the simple script and the PG-13 rating. It is also includes the animated film, Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins.
Mortal Kombat spent three weeks as the number-one film at the U.S. box office, earning over $122 million worldwide. Threshold Entertainment followed with a 1997 sequel film, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and created two spin-off television series, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm and Mortal Kombat: Conquest.
Mortal Kombat is a fighting tournament between the representatives of the realms of Earth and Outworld conceived by the Elder Gods amid looming invasion of the Earth by Outworld. If the realm of Outworld wins Mortal Kombat ten consecutive times, its Emperor Shao Kahn will be able to invade and conquer the Earthrealm.
Shaolin monk Liu Kang and his comrades, movie star Johnny Cage, and military officer Sonya Blade are chosen by Raiden, the god of thunder and defender of the Earth realm, to overcome their powerful adversaries in order to prevent Outworld from winning their tenth straight Mortal Kombat tournament. Each of the three has his or her own reason for competing: Liu seeks revenge against the tournament host Shang Tsung for killing his brother Chan; Sonya seeks revenge on an Australian crime lord Kano for murdering a fellow officer; and Cage seeks to prove that his martial-arts skills are real.
At Shang Tsung's island, Liu is attracted to Princess Kitana, Shao Kahn's adopted daughter. Aware that Kitana is a dangerous adversary because she is the rightful heir to Outworld and that she will attempt to ally herself with the Earth warriors, Tsung orders the creature Reptile to spy on her. Liu defeats his first opponent and Sonya gets her revenge on Kano by snapping his neck. Cage encounters and barely beats Scorpion. Liu engages in a brief duel with Kitana, who secretly offers him cryptic advice for his next battle. Liu's next opponent is Sub-Zero, whose defense seems untouched because of his freezing abilities until Liu recalls Kitana's advice and uses it to kill Sub-Zero.
Prince Goro enters the tournament and mercilessly crushes every opponent he faces. One of Cage's peers, Art "Kai" Lean, is defeated by Goro as well and has his soul taken by Shang Tsung. Sonya worries that they may not win against Goro, but Raiden disagrees. He reveals their own fears and egos are preventing them from winning the tournament.
Despite Sonya's warning, Cage comes to Tsung to request a fight with Goro. The sorcerer accepts on the condition that he be allowed to challenge any opponent of his choosing, anytime and anywhere he chooses. Raiden tries to intervene, but the conditions are agreed upon before he can do so. After Shang Tsung leaves, Raiden confronts Cage for what he has done in challenging Goro but is impressed when Cage shows his awareness of the gravity of the tournament. Cage faces Goro and uses guile and the element of surprise to defeat the defending champion. Now desperate, Tsung takes Sonya hostage and takes her to Outworld, intending to fight her as his opponent. Knowing that his powers are ineffective there and that Sonya cannot defeat Tsung by herself, Raiden sends Liu and Cage into Outworld in order to rescue Sonya and challenge Tsung. In Outworld, Liu is attacked by Reptile (under orders from Shang Tsung to prevent him and Cage from rescuing Sonya), but eventually gains the upper hand and defeats him. Afterward, Kitana meets up with Cage and Liu. She reveals to the pair the origins of both herself and Outworld. Kitana allies with them and helps them to infiltrate Tsung's castle while advising Liu Kang about three challenges in the castle: To face his enemy, himself and his worst fear.
Inside the castle tower, Shang Tsung challenges Sonya to fight him, claiming that her refusal to accept will result in the Earth realm forfeiting Mortal Kombat (this is, in fact, a lie on Shang's part). All seems lost for Earth realm until Kitana, Liu, and Cage appear. Kitana berates Tsung for his treachery to the Emperor as Sonya is set free, claiming that his arrogance and greed will cost him the tournament if he doesn't honor his deal. Tsung challenges Cage but is counter-challenged by Liu. During the lengthy battle, Liu faces not only Tsung but the souls that Tsung had forcibly taken in past tournaments. In a last-ditch attempt to take advantage, Tsung morphs into Chan. Seeing through the charade, Liu renews his determination and ultimately fires an energy bolt at the sorcerer, knocking him down and impaling him on a bed of spikes. Tsung's death releases all of the captive souls, including Chan's. Before ascending to the afterlife, Chan tells Liu that he will remain with him in spirit until they are once again reunited.
The Warriors return to Earthrealm, where a victory celebration is taking place at the Shaolin temple. The jubilation abruptly stops, however, when Shao Kahn's giant figure suddenly appears in the skies. When the Emperor declares that he has come for everyone's souls, Raiden declares "I don't think so," and the warriors take up their fighting stances.
- Christopher Lambert as Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm who guides the warriors on their journey. He desires to aid the heroes in defending Earthrealm, but as he himself is not mortal, he is not permitted to participate in the tournament and may only advise them and act to prevent cheating.
- Robin Shou as Liu Kang, a former Shaolin monk, who enters the tournament to avenge his brother's death. He is also Kitana's love interest and among the first who notice her sympathy towards Earthrealm. As in most of the games in the Mortal Kombat series, Liu Kang is the main protagonist. This was Shou's second American film, as his first American role was in 1990, the made-for-television film Forbidden Nights.
- Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, a Hollywood superstar who enters the tournament to prove to the world that his martial arts skills are legitimate. Ashby trained in karate, tae kwon do, and kung fu especially for this film. Despite the intensity of the fight scenes coupled with the actors performing most of their own stunts, on-set injuries were minimal; the only notable occurrence was a bruised kidney Ashby suffered while shooting Cage's fight scene with Scorpion.
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, a powerful, sadistic and treacherous demon sorcerer, he is the film's main antagonist who kills Liu Kang's brother Chan. Tagawa was the filmmakers' first and only choice for the role; he was instantly selected after he came to his audition in costume, and read his lines while standing on a chair. Tagawa was allowed to play a "relatively young" version of Shang Tsung in order to avoid the excessive makeup that would have been required to duplicate the character's aged appearance in the first game.
- Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, an American Special Forces officer pursuing Kano after he kills her partner. Wilson, who was jokingly nicknamed "RoboBabe" during production by director Paul W. S. Anderson, performed all her own stunts, including fight scenes.
- Talisa Soto as Princess Kitana, the Outworld emperor's adopted daughter who decides to help the Earth warriors. She is attracted to Liu Kang, who reciprocates and takes her advice to go further. Soto had previously appeared alongside Tagawa in Licence to Kill.
- Trevor Goddard as Kano, an Australian underworld crime boss who joins forces with Shang Tsung.
- Chris Casamassa as Scorpion, an undead warrior under Shang Tsung's control. Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon voiced the character.
- François Petit as Sub-Zero, a cryomancer warrior under Shang Tsung's control. The rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero is briefly mentioned by Shang Tsung at the beginning of the movie.
- Keith Cooke as Reptile, a creature who serves Shang Tsung. Cooke portrayed the character's human form, while his lizard form was computer generated. Reptile's vocal effects were provided by Frank Welker.
- Tom Woodruff, Jr. as Goro, prince of the subterranean realm of Shokan and general of the armies of Outworld. Goro is the reigning champion of Mortal Kombat.
- Kenneth Edwards as Art Lean, a martial artist and friend of Johnny Cage who competes in the tournament. Lean is loosely based on Kung Lao.
- Steven Ho as Chan Kang, Liu Kang's younger brother.
- Gregory McKinney as Jax, Sonya's Special Forces partner. Steve James was originally cast, but died from pancreatic cancer on December 18, 1993, at the age of 41.
- Peter Jason as Master Boyd, Johnny Cage's sensei.
- Frank Welker provides the voice of the Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn.
- Sandy Helberg as the director of Cage's latest film. This part was originally intended as a cameo by Steven Spielberg, but scheduling conflicts forced him to back out.
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Though the film is based on the original Mortal Kombat game, characters and gameplay elements from its sequel, Mortal Kombat II, were incorporated. The otherworldly dimension of Outworld was not formally mentioned until the second game, in which Jax, Kitana, and Shao Kahn, the game's final boss, also make their official debuts; Kahn briefly appears in the film's closing scene and is identified only as "the Emperor" throughout. Shang Tsung's soul-stealing power was first visualized in MKII as one of his Fatality finishing moves, while Liu Kang uses his "Bicycle Kick" special move from the game. After he kills Scorpion in his fight, Cage then drops an autographed picture of himself near his remains, in a reference to his Friendship finishing move. Shang Tsung's robed Shadow Priests, seen before the final battle, were first seen in the second game as background characters.
Cameron Diaz was originally cast as Sonya Blade, but dropped out due to a wrist injury and was replaced by Bridgette Wilson. Steve James was originally cast to play Jax, but he died from pancreatic cancer a year before production on the film began. Brandon Lee was the filmmakers' first choice to play Johnny Cage, but his death at the set of The Crow forced them to re-cast the role. Jean-Claude Van Damme was offered the role but turned it down in order to do Street Fighter and the role eventually went to Linden Ashby. Gary Daniels, Tom Cruise, and Johnny Depp were also considered for the role of Johnny Cage. Russell Wong, Dustin Nguyen, Keith Cooke and Phillip Rhee all auditioned for the role of Liu Kang.
Filming began in August 1994 and ended in December 1994. The Outworld exterior scenes were filmed at the abandoned Kaiser steel mill (now the Auto Club Speedway) in Fontana, California, while all of Goro's scenes were filmed in Los Angeles. Shooting locations in Thailand were accessible only by boat, so cast, crew and equipment had to be transported on long canoe-style vessels. Location manager Gerrit Folsom constructed an outhouse in a secluded area near the set in order to alleviate the problem of repeated trips to and from the mainland. Filming locations in Thailand include the Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Ratchaburana temples. The arrival of Earth's contestants via boats, Liu Kang's meditation scene and the fight between Liu Kang and Kitana were filmed at the Railay Beach and the Phra Nang Beach, respectively. The bows of the boats were fitted with ornamental dragon-head carvings and used in the movie as the fighters' secondary transport to Shang Tsung's island from his personal junk.
Robin Shou said that in the original script he "was supposed to fall in love with Talisa Soto [Kitana]. I was looking forward to it, but they thought we have so much action, we don't want to add romance to it. They cut it out." Also scripted but not filmed were a short battle between Sonya and Jade, another of Shang Tsung's servants, and a scene where Shang Tsung allowed the heroes a night to mourn the loss of Art Lean and bury him in the Garden of Statues, underneath the statue of Kung Lao. The character of Reptile was originally omitted from the script but later added in response to focus groups being unimpressed with the film's early fight sequences. Robin Shou and Paul W. S. Anderson noted that neither knew what Reptile's lizard form would look like until after filming, making the pre-fight sequence difficult to shoot.
The film was originally scheduled for a May 1995 U.S. release, but was pushed back to August. According to co-producer Larry Kasanoff, this was because New Line Cinema's executives felt the film had the potential to be a summer hit. It was released on October 20 in the United Kingdom, and on December 26 in Australia.
The film's score album was composed by George S. Clinton, released by Rykodisc on October 11, 1995. The film's soundtrack album was released by TVT Records on August 15, 1995. The soundtrack album went platinum in less than a year reaching No. 10 on the Billboard 200.
Mortal Kombat opened on August 18, 1995, and was #1 at the box office for the weekend, with $23.2 million, nearly eight times the opening amount of the only other new release that weekend, The Baby-Sitters Club. At the time, it was the second-highest August opening after 1993's The Fugitive. The film enjoyed a three-week stint at number one, grossed $70 million domestically, and earned an estimated $122 million worldwide. The film so far sits as the seventh highest-grossing video game adaptation ever released in the US, behind Sonic the Hedgehog, Detective Pikachu, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Angry Birds Movie, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Pokémon: The First Movie.
Mortal Kombat received a score of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes sampled from 40 reviews, with an average score of 4.79/10. The site's consensus reads: "Despite an effective otherworldly atmosphere and appropriately cheesy visuals, Mortal Kombat suffers from its poorly constructed plot, laughable dialogue, and subpar acting." Metacritic gave the film a rating of 58/100, based on reviews from 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called Mortal Kombat "a contentedly empty-headed extended advertisement for the joy of joypads (filmed in cheesily ornate cinema de Hong Kong style)" and too noted how it "is notably free of blood and gore." According to Stephen Holden of The New York Times, "Mortal Kombat might be described as mythological junk food. Although there is talk of the three kombatants' having to face their deepest fears to prevail, the action is so frenetic and the dialogue so minimal that the allegory is weightless." Roger Ebert said he was "right in the middle" and noted that the fans might be disappointed by the film's killings being much less brutal than the notoriously violent Mortal Kombat video games. Similar to Ebert, Marc Savlov from The Austin Chronicle mentioned that " It's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, but you may recall, you loved that stuff as a kid. I know I did" giving it a 2.5/5 star rating. Laura Evenson from San Francisco Chronicle mentioned "Mortal Kombat the movie has everything a teenage boy could want: snakes that jut out of a villain's palms, acrobatic kung- fu fighting and a couple of battling babes. Everything, that is, but an interesting plot, decent dialogue and compelling acting" commenting however that it will likely become a cult classic.
Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times gave the film a much more positive review, writing that "as impressive as the special effects are at every turn, even more crucial is Jonathan Carlson's superb, imaginative production design, which combines Thailand exteriors with vast sets that recall the barbaric grandeur of exotic old movie palaces and campy Maria Montez epics. John R. Leonetti's glorious, shadowy camera work and George S. Clinton's driving, hard-edged score complete the task of bringing alive the perilous Outworld". Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it a "thumbs up" rating on Siskel & Ebert, calling it "the only half-way decent video game movie [he] has ever seen" and "a lot of fun," saying he was positively surprised by its various high quality production values, including the "often sensational" special effects, exotic locations and the cast of characters being "clearly drawn out of appealing types". Leonard Klady from Variety awarded the film a 3.5/5 stars stating that "But where others have sunk in the mire of imitation, director Paul Anderson and writer Kevin Droney effect a viable balance between exquisitely choreographed action and ironic visual and verbal counterpoint". Kim Newman from Empire magazine said "By the time the big, world-saving bout comes around, it's hard not to wish that Shung Tsu [sic] would settle the fate of mankind by asking Liu Kang what the capital of Venezuela is... rather than engaging him in yet another round of supernaturally assisted dirty fighting" with a final rating of 3 stars out of 5.
The sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was released in 1997, directed by John R. Leonetti (cinematographer of the first Mortal Kombat). Only Robin Shou and Talisa Soto reprised their roles, with the others being recast. The film also stars Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn "Red" Williams, Irina Pantaeva, Marjean Holden and James Remar. Its storyline is largely an adaptation of Mortal Kombat 3, following a band of warriors as they attempt to save Earth from Shao Kahn himself. Although the story picks up where the last film left off, most of the lead roles were recast.
In contrast to its predecessor, which was a box office success and marginally well-received, Annihilation was critically panned and failed at the box office. As a result, development of the planned third installment halted and never progressed beyond pre-production. In July 2009, actors Chris Casamassa (Scorpion) and Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage) separately announced that they would be reprising their respective roles from the original film, with Casamassa additionally claiming that filming would begin in September of that year, but the project did not commence production.
On April 11, 1995, New Line Home Video, Turner Home Entertainment and Threshold Entertainment released a tie-in animated film on VHS and Laserdisc, titled Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins. Serving as a prequel to the feature film, it follows the protagonists Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade as they travel on a mysterious boat to the Mortal Kombat tournament. On the way they meet Rayden, who provides them with some hints about how to survive the tournament and defeat Shang Tsung and his army of Tarkatan minions. Upon arriving at the island where the battles takes place, Rayden retells the origins of Shang Tsung, Goro, Scorpion, Sub-Zero and the Great Kung Lao in between fight scenes.
The film featured a combination of traditional animation, motion capture, and CGI to explain the origins behind some of the movie's main characters, as well as a fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the theatrical release. Trailers of the film were seen on the promotional screener VHS copy, and on other VHS releases from Turner Home Entertainment and New Line Home Video. The film was included on the Mortal Kombat Blu-ray released in April 2011.
A novelization of the movie by "Martin Delrio" (James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle) was released through Tor Books. It is based on an early version of the film's script, and as such it includes several deleted or unfilmed scenes, such as a fight between Sonya Blade and Jade.
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