The preview of 2021’s big releases starts with Mortal Kombat and the reboot’s director Simon McQuoid promises his movie will please fans of the video games who want to see violence.
McQuoid tells Entertainment Weekly there will be blood, and with it, gore, dismemberment, and fatalities the games are known for but the first film and live-action adaptations skimped on.
Blood, however, will mean more thematically. “Blood represents family,” said McQuoid. “Blood represents a connection. Blood represents who we are. Without getting too overcomplicated, what we did is use blood executionally.”
McQuoid calls Mortal Kombats’ world a “blood universe” and at the center of it is a kunai blade carried by one of the game’s most recognizable characters, Scorpion. Named Hanzo Hasashi when he lived in Osaka on the Earthrealm, he became a vengeful specter seeking retribution for the murder of himself and his family.
Thus, we will see a kunai early in the story. “We did a bit of research and the kunai is actually an ancient Japanese gardening tool,” McQuoid explains. “So, one of the earliest shots in the movie is the kunai blade being used as a gardening tool by Hanzo’s wife.”
The film’s first ten minutes will cover the origin of Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his clan’s blood feud with that of Bi-Han, better known as Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). McQuoid says “a pretty nasty hand-to-hand combat” sans their supernatural powers breaks out between the two rivals.
“[Hanzo’s] the leader of a ninja clan and he’s strong, but also… at the beginning, he’s a peaceful family man,” Hiroyuki Sanada explains about his iconic role. “It is like a family drama with excitingly brutal fighting. That’s the image of this movie for me.”
Needing to tell the story of Bi-Han and Hanzo in their fight, McQuoid says it’ll be brutal, like the rest of the film. “There are some great camera moves to give it a bit of dynamism, that make it really enjoyable. We needed it to be really elemental and really brutal,” he said. “It’s not a shiny film… I wanted the dirt and the grime to come through.”
Along the way, we are introduced to a new character created for the movie, Cole Young, played by Into the Badlands actor and martial artist Lewis Tan. “When we first meet Cole, he’s in a really bad spot,” Tan said.
“He’s down on his luck. He’s kind of a washed-up MMA fighter who used to be a champion, who used to believe in himself, who used to have a lot of hope in his career. And it’s all gone down the drain,” Tan added.
“It’s a very interesting place for a hero to start, and I think that, along the journey of Mortal Kombat and Cole discovering where he comes from, you’re introduced to all these other iconic characters and elements that everybody loves so dearly,” he continued.
EW writes “Cole knows nothing of his heritage aside from the mysterious birthmark on his chest — in the shape of the Mortal Kombat symbol.” Its connection to his roots is a secret Tan didn’t spoil except to say the symbol “will eventually tie into the journey that he’s going on.”
On that journey, he is hunted by Sub-Zero and Shang Tsung (Chin Han) and discovers others with the insignia on their chest, including Major Jackson Briggs or “Jax,” portrayed by Mehcad Brooks in his first significant turn since playing James Olsen on Supergirl.
Jax directs Cole to Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who gets the down-on-his-luck mystery man to the temple of Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Other fighters are taking refuge there and training for the coming tournament against invaders from Shang Tsung’s realm Outworld.
Among the fighters are several notable characters from the games – Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kano (Josh Lawson), and Kung Lao (Max Huang). Cole is new to all this so Tan had to carve out the character’s fighting style from scratch, using influences from MMA, Muay Thai, judo, jujitsu, and UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal.
“I’ve been playing the game since I was a kid,” Tan said. “For lack of a better way to describe it, you don’t want to mess it up because it’s so iconic. You want to bring something new to the table that people haven’t seen before, but at the same time, really respect and pay homage to these legendary worlds that were already created.”
Honoring the lore was one of director McQuoid’s clear objectives when development on the reboot began. “I wanted to make sure that everyone respected the material, the lore of Mortal Kombat, the fans and the love they have for this. Everyone was clear on it,” he said.
His stunt coordinator was tasked with crafting “the best fight sequences ever done in a movie ever.” Coming out of test screenings, the fights were highly rated by audiences and Lewis Tan declared “We need to be smart about how we go about [the fights].”
That includes having a little fun and giving fans what they came for. McQuoid noted “and there are times, you’ll see when you see the movie, when it’s just, ‘F— it! Let’s have some fun.'”
He added, in the editing, he can tell “it’s definitely not gonna get a PG-13 rating.” Diehard gamers waiting years on this movie as it is will be happy to hear that as it means all the blood and gore hoped for – but especially those fatalities.
“And there is gore, blood, and fatalities,” McQuoid made clear. Getting the desired rating is all in how a filmmaker goes about it. “The rules around ratings aren’t what a lot of people think they are,” he explained. “It’s amount of blood, it’s amount of red, it’s interpretation of how you go about it.”
“We had a lot of discussions about getting the balance right so there was gore and there was blood and there were fatalities,” McQuoid continued, noting also he “didn’t want to get into NC-17 territory… It’s amazing how quickly you can get there. It doesn’t take much.”
Tan touted the “crazy” and “badass” fatalities in the movie. “We’ve picked a couple of iconic ones,” he said. “There’s a lot of really cool signature moves that you’ll see, a lot of Easter eggs that we snuck into the film, but there are some really badass fatalities that I can’t wait to see on the big screen. They’re brutal, man. They don’t hold back.”
That’s more than can be said for the original Mortal Kombat film directed by Paul WS Anderson – geared as it was to a teen audience – though that did have its share of memorable fatalities. There was the guy frozen in mid-air by Sub-Zero who shattered into a million pieces, for instance, and Scorpion blowing up after Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) sliced him repeatedly with a shield.
Mortal Kombat was first made into a movie in 1995. Doing fairly well at the box office, earning $122.1 million, it broke a streak of poorly received video game-based films perpetuated by Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and Street Fighter.
Its sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), wasn’t so successful and is often lambasted as one of the worst movies ever made. A syndicated TV series, Mortal Kombat: Conquest, followed and is all but forgotten today for good reason.
MK is unquestionably more earth-shaking in other forms – with nothing surpassing its run as one of the most popular video game series of all time.
Produced by James Wan, the Mortal Kombat reboot hits theaters and HBO Max on April 16th.