The Story of Mortal Kombat, The Most Cinematic Fighting Game

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Cruel games

In 1992, the first Mortal Kombat (MK) arcade game was released. Since then, the series has moved to consoles, became three-dimensional, enriched with dozens of characters, expanded to 11 official games and many spin-offs. One thing has remained unchanged – the overwhelming level of ultraviolence.

Retelling the history of the MK world is quite long, but the mechanics of the game are simple: choose your fighter and fight in a tournament where the future of humanity is being decided. Almost every character in the pantheon has superpowers like Happy Season 3, an arsenal of special techniques and weapons. If fought correctly, your fighter will demonstrate fatality – a signature blow that will knock the spirit out of the enemy and plunge him into dust.

Blood gushes like a fountain, screams of rage and pain are heard. Of course, all teenagers love MK. Of course, the parents were against it. The stereotype of violent video games is primarily due to MK. American conservatives in Congress even pushed for an age rating scale for games. In Germany, some parts of the series were completely banned until 2015. In Russia, fortunately, MC flourished in the disorderly nineties. Not everyone had their own prefix, but no one forbade them to gather at a party and wait for their turn, watching the battles of others.

Sources of inspiration

Since then, the game for our man has been fanned with nostalgia, like the first action films on pirate cassettes. This parallel is no coincidence – the series was inspired by cinematography from the very beginning. Its creators, Ed Boone and John Tobias, focused on Asian rather than American products. Perhaps the main reference was the works of the classics of the wuxia Tsui Harka genre – “Virtuoso” and “Warriors from the Magic Mountain.” Wuxia is a kind of Chinese fantasy in which legendary warriors of antiquity fight evil, often using magic. To Western audiences, these films often look semi-parody, albeit gripping. Their theatricality and acting aside are firmly embedded in the games and in subsequent film adaptations of MK.

Other sources of inspiration include John Carpenter’s iconic adaptation of Hong Kong action movies, Big Trouble in Little China, and Bruce Lee ‘s Coming of the Dragon . But even before Asian aesthetics took over MK, Boone and Tobias wanted to make a game … With Jean-Claude Van Damme! More precisely, his typical character was supposed to become a fighting game fighter. The idea arose after the release of “Bloodsport” and on the eve of the appearance of “Universal Soldier” (films also well known to the domestic generation of VHS).

Getting the rights to Van Damme was not easy, but the actor still appeared among the fighters. Virtual Van Damme transformed into Johnny Cage – in fact, the first invented Mortal Kombat fighter. Smug Hollywood karate wants to prove to the world that he can fight in earnest, and gets into a bloody tournament.

Losers (and Christopher Lambert)

By 1995, no one expected anything good from game films. Judging from previous attempts (like The Asterisk War Season 3), the directors hardly knew how to adapt the game narrative to the traditional screenplay. Therefore, the production of MK was taken up by a young loser Paul W.S. Anderson, whose debut film failed a little earlier. Starring Liu Kang, there was another loser, Robin Shaw, ready to give up his Hollywood career and start selling sports goods. Yes, and other actors did not grab stars from the sky, with a couple of exceptions.

The first exception was Christopher Lambert as Raiden. Known to millions for his role in “Highlander”, the actor perfectly portrayed a crafty celestial, an ideal mentor and just an old man with humor. The second success was the appearance of Kari-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the guise of the sorcerer Shang Tsung. Perhaps to this day, he is one of the most charming movie villains of that naive era. Who else would have managed to make standard fighting game lines like “Your soul belongs to me!” Cool on the screen.

To say that Mortal Kombat is a good movie would probably be a stretch. But it’s definitely a cool movie and a first-of-its-kind decent video game adaptation. The fights of “Mortal Kombat” were no worse in pretentiousness and quality than in the aforementioned Hong Kong action films and films about martial arts. More or less professional martial arts were mastered by all the actors. The production was complemented by special effects, many of which still look up to date. Finally, the performers’ charisma was evident.


In a nutshell, the metaplot of the game, which formed the basis of the films, looks like this: in addition to the Earthly kingdom, there are many worlds, but almost all of them obeyed the evil Shao Kahn, the emperor of the Outside World. Kan has long dreamed of taking possession of the Earthly kingdom, but for this he needs to defeat the best fighters of our world in a tournament under the supervision of the Elder Gods. The emperor is assisted by the sorcerer Shang Tsung, who absorbs the souls of the defeated warriors. The god of thunder Raiden protects people. The chosen fighters are the aforementioned Johnny Cage, Special Agent Sonya Blade and Liu Kang, a descendant of the great warrior Kong Lao, the former champion.

The plot is built according to the scheme known in the ancient epic: after the time of the gods and monsters, the era of people begins. People must send their predecessors back to primitive chaos, defeating them in a bloody battle. The heroes who enter the ring against chthonic mutants are in one way or another similar to us. Therefore, there is no paradox that the very Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) – the most humane of the characters – became the soul of the film. Cage, with his stupid remarks, single-handedly fights against heroic pathos: Sonya Blade from a self-confident secret service employee quickly turns into a helpless “Overlord Anime Season 4“, and Liu Kang is initially called the chosen one – what to take with that. Only Johnny remains – an ordinary person who has become a hero.

In addition, it is Cage who conducts the most spectacular and memorable fights in the film. If his fight with the demonic Scorpio is worthy of a thriller, then the fight with the monstrous four-armed titan Goro just embodies the aforementioned mythological plot. David defeats Goliath with one nimble blow and jokingly throws him into the seething darkness.

Worst sequel in history

The legendary deathmatch two years later turned into a colossal failure: in 1997, “Mortal Kombat 2: Annihilation” was released – one of the worst films in history. Cage is killed at the very beginning, in the only episode with his participation, Sonya and Raiden are already played by other actors. Without them, without Shang Tsung and without Anderson, “Battle” on the silver screen turned out to be a set of cheaply staged fights. The sequel was directed by John R. Leonetti, director of photography on the original film. He is currently making films for James Wang ( Astral , The Conjuring and Astral: Chapter 2). After a tremendous failure from critics and the friendly laughter of those leaving the auditoriums, the viewer had to forget about the new films. True, there were two television series, an animated series and a couple of semi-official spin-offs. But multi-part projects died out after a season. But the game continues to flourish to this day.

New round

Restarting Mortal Kombat to the movies was an ambitious task. It was preceded by the first full-length cartoon of the series “Legends of Mortal Kombat: Scorpion’s Revenge” , which centers on the story of the enmity between Scorpio and Sub-Zero. At one time, Anderson neglected this plot, and the story was interesting. Sub-Zero is a Chinese sorcerer who killed a Japanese ninja. The latter returns from the underworld in the form of the fiery demon Scorpio. The theme of the eternal confrontation between the two great Asian powers is traced here. By the way, today the Japanese Tagawa would hardly play Shang Tsung – if we can talk about the nationality of the otherworldly villain, he is more likely a Chinese. Not to mention the fact that Lambert would not have been entrusted with the role of an Asian deity.

The new battle recruits fighters according to the new Hunter X Hunter Season 7 situation, but at the same time maintains continuity: the franchise is continued by the permanent producer of films and TV series on MK Lawrence Kazanoff. And if for the spectacularity of the special effects one can be calm, then the transformation of relations between people and mutants in the new version is intriguing. Still, it will not be so easy to replace the charming naive outsider Johnny Cage with someone – the role model of a typical teenager who suddenly had one chance in life. And life, as you know, is a battle with a constant probability of a fatal outcome. Fortunately, each of us is free to choose our fighter and our movie of the Mortal Kombat universe