I'm not a huge Mortal Kombat fan, so when I first heard about the new Mortal Kombat movie coming to HBO Max, I shrugged it off as something that would probably be worth a fun laugh. You couldn't really get me excited about it in the abstract — and the lack of big-name actors didn't help, either.
But then, once I sat down to watch the trailer, I realized that the Mortal Kombat movie might actually be one of the best video game adaptations ever. Why? Well, I realized that the Mortal Kombat movie doesn't need to be a star-studded affair — and is probably all the better for it.
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The Mortal Kombat movie doesn't need stars
Christopher Lambert, the Highlander himself, added a tough of star power to the original Mortal Kombat movie, but he's not why that movie worked (in the ways that a movie of this type needs to). Both Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat Annihilation were able to at least have some steady footing from star Robin Shou (Liu Kang), whose background in martial arts made his presence feel well-grounded.
Unfortunately, those movies got lambasted for poor plotting and low-budget special effects. And while the trailers for the Mortal Kombat movie give us a bit of a good sense of their quality effects, the story and the special effects will only be something we learn about later.
For now, we'll have to hope for the best. Those trailers at least give us reason to believe the Mortal Kombat movie will be cool, which is (I believe) what matters most when you're adapting a fighting video game.
Need more convincing? Watch the first seven minutes of Mortal Kombat (opens in new tab), which make the wild world of frozen fighters come to life, and works without any moments where you may recognize actors.
What I look for in a Mortal Kombat movie
A great Mortal Kombat movie, by all accounts, should put its fight scenes above all else. And that's why I was more than happy to not be familiar with its cast — if you brought in a bunch of big names, they'd have to do the standard cinematic tricks to splice footage of stunt doubles with the actual actors playing the roles.
Instead, the Mortal Kombat movie stars Lewis Tan as Cole Young (a character made for the movie), and Tan brings serious credentials for doing his own stunts. Not only does he have fight choreography in his blood (his father did stunt work and fight choreography for films including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Batman), but he did all of his own stunt work in Deadpool 2, Netflix's Wu Assassins and Into the Badlands.
Max Huang, who plays Kung Lao, is another quality casting move for the Mortal Kombat movie. A member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, Huang explains the importance of actors doing their own stunts in this "Meet the Kast" video.
Similarly, I'm especially hyped for Joe Taslim's performance as Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero. While action movie fans may know him from The Raid: Redemption, I anticipate many will likely discover him from this performance, as his martial arts training in Judo, Wushu and Taekwondo give him an excellent background for the film.
And then there's one of Mortal Kombat's most iconic characters, Scorpion. Here, he'll be played by veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada, who you may remember from Westworld or Avengers: Endgame. Sanada's time in the latter was brief, but action-packed, as a crime-boss in Japan that Hawkeye was hunting down. Again, Sanada's got the experience. In an interview with Kung Fu Magazine (opens in new tab), he revealed that he had to do his own stunt-work, having grown up idolizing Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee. Sanada enrolled in the Japan Action Club, the first stunt school in the country.
I want to feel the Mortal Kombat movie
And I bet we'll see the difference. Having recently watched all of the Mission: Impossible movies, I was reminded how insane Tom Cruise is for the majority of his own stunts. But knowing that an actor is doing their own stunts makes you (or at least me) watch the movie differently.
While I know that Mortal Kombat is a fiction — the ice-generating ninja named Sub-Zero and a four-armed monster Goro give it away — the movie will feel more real when you think about how the same actors are taking those hits and bumps. It's akin to watching pro wrestling and knowing that the falls and hits can hurt, even though everyone's doing their best to stay healthy.
But even that can sometimes go wrong. Haslim, speaking about his work in 2020's film The Swordsman, revealed that the fight choreography got too real: "The fight got faster and faster and we got lost inside the characters and I got so into it I accidentally hurt [co-star] Jang Hyuk. But Jang Hyuk said he was ok and straight away came back to fight, unlike what other big stars who will need a lot of time to recover."
Mortal Kombat movie outlook
So, while the Mortal Kombat movie may be a corny adventure (it may even have a plot with more holes than a cheese grater), its cast practically ensures one thing: we will be entertained. Having talked to a few Mortal Kombat fans I know, they re-affirmed that the fights are what matters.
That said, the Mortal Kombat movie has one other way to succeed that is brutally obvious to all: the fatalities need to be awesome. But with the right cast, and the advances made in CGI, I'm already sure I'll be yelling "MORTAL KOMBAT!" along with the movie, as I watch it along with friends on a Discord call.
It's gonna be a crazy toss up between this and.. I can't believe I'm going to say this lol but Sonic for best video game movie.
I can't wait to see this; That part in the trailer where subzero freezes blood and uses it at a knife. Fantastic!