Mortal Kombat first started as a violent and gory, beat ‘em up arcade game in 1992. It went onto be released on home consoles and had several sequels and spin-offs. The first time it was brought to the big screen as a film was in 1995, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who later went onto direct Resident Evil). The film itself was a box office hit, was enjoyed and praised by fans of the game as it stayed faithful to the game’s story and tone.
In this reboot, the story is given a new approach. The films opens in 17th century Japan with warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family being attacked at their home by Chinese assassin Bi-Han (Joe Taslim). Hanzo does his best to defend by fighting back and we first see the use of Hanzo’s trademark weapon, the kunai with a rope attached. As Hanzo and his family are defeated by Bi-Han, Hanzo’s dying words to Bi-Han are “Do not forget this face” as he promises vengeance. The god of thunder, Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), appears and and takes Hanzo’s surviving infant to safety.
The film then moves to present day where we see professional MMA fighter, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) about to step into the ring to purposefully lose his next match for money. While out with his family after the match, Cole is hunted down and attacked by Bi-Han, who now goes by the name Sub-Zero. Cole and family are saved by Special Forces Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs, who tells Cole to head to Sonya Blade’s hideout, before taking on Sub-Zero himself and having his arms removed from his body by Sub-Zero’s special freezing ability. Once Cole arrives at the hideout, he meets Kano, a cocky, rouge mercenary who is being held captive to be interrogated by Sonya who is also special forces. After an attack by the deadly reptilian, Syzoth, the three find themselves heading to Earth realm to team up with current Mortal Kombat defenders, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, to help them win the tenth tournament and to stop the evil fighters at Outworld, led by Emperor Shang Tsung, from conquering Earth realm. This is where the real fun begins as the characters learn to develop special powers for the tournament, which will help them fight their opponents, who already have more powerful abilities.
The 1995 version is my favourite film based on a computer game. It featured a terrific cast including Hong Kong martial arts actor Robin Shou as main character Liu Kang, making his first U.S. big screen debut. Christopher Lambert also featured as Raiden. The fight scenes were energetic and had the Hong Kong style-essence together with an accompanying techno/industrial soundtrack.
This version of Mortal Kombat takes a new path. This time the main character is Cole, a new character created especially for this film. As we follow Cole on his journey, we first see him as an underdog, losing in an MMA match. As the young fighter learns of his destiny to save Earth realm, we see him gradually improving, believing in himself and ultimately becoming a warrior. Lewis Tan who plays Cole, gets to stand out showing his acting abilities and martial arts skills. Lewis, is already known for his appearances in TV shows Iron Fist and Wu Assassins and I am looking forward to seeing more of his work as an actor and as a martial artist. The character Kano, has a bigger role this time, played by Josh Lawson. Josh gets to shine by delivering several smug, scene stealing, one-liners. The supporting cast, featuring Ludi Lin as Liu Kang, Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano as Raiden and Max Huang as Kung Lao all contribute very well to bringing their characters to life.
Whereas the first film was less violent this time time we see the characters performing their brutal trademark finishing moves from the game and in full visual gore too. This should come as no surprise as this is produced by James Wan, who first made his name directing Saw. The action and fight scenes, this time, do not only take place in Outworld tournament but also in the city streets as Shang Tsung instructs Sub-Zero to hunt down and kill Cole and others because “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance” and therefore killing the contestants before the tournament means that the”there will be no tournament because there’ll be no opposition left to fight.”
Mortal Kombat is a enjoyable 1 hour and 50 minute martial arts fantasy. The visual effects and set pieces are well constructed. The highlight of the film is the opening scene with screen veteran Hiroyuki Sanada being very captivating as Hanzo. His fight scene with Joe Taslim is exciting and well paced. Taslim’s body language and expressions are perfect for his take on Bi-Han/Sub-Zero. Both share an authentic gracefulness for their roles, which should be of no surprise considering that Taslim first appeared in the Indonesian action, epic The Raid and more recently the acclaimed, The Swordsman. Sanada is a veteran having appeared in classic Hong Kong action films such as Royal Warriors (aka Police Assassins with Michelle Yeoh) to recent U.S. box office hit Rush Hour 3. As expected, there are flaws with the later fight scenes slightly over edited, but these are minimal. However this should entertain and please those who are fans of the game as well as the Martial Arts genre.