Looking Back: Mortal Kombat (1995)

With the upcoming release of MORTAL KOMBAT, I thought I would have a look back at the 1995 film of the same name.  I must admit that I had never seen the original film until now.  I’ve never played the immensely popular video game, nor am I interested in ever doing so.  I am so not in this franchise’s target audience.

MORTAL KOMBAT (1995) is an experience to behold.  With its low rent special effects, lame fight choreography, thumping score, weak plot, wooden acting and cheesy dialogue, it’s not surprising that the film wasn’t very popular with the critics.  (Many of them, however, have had a rethink about the film in the ensuing years and are now calling it one of the best video game adaptations ever. Really?)  Audiences, particularly those who were devotees of the video game, ate it up though, pushing the film to the top of the US box office for three straight weeks.  In the end, the film took in an astounding US$124 million, which is equivalent to about US$215 million today.  While that’s certainly not in the league of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, consider that MORTAL KOMBAT only cost $18 million to make.  The MCU films typically cost over $300 million!

The film was directed by Paul Anderson – no, not the guy who made PHANTOM THREAD, THERE WILL BE BLOOD and BOOGIE NIGHTS.  That’s Paul Thomas Anderson.  This is the Paul Anderson who made all the RESIDENT EVIL films and, most recently, MONSTER HUNTER, all of which star his wife, Milla Jovovich.  In the years since he made MORTAL KOMBAT, Anderson has professionally gone by the name Paul W.S. Anderson, which has only invited confusion with Wes Anderson, the director of ISLE OF DOGS, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, MOONRISE KINGDOM and other great films.

MORTAL KOMBAT features a cast that, for the most part, has remained on Hollywood’s C List over the years, and rightly so.  Perhaps the most well-known name of the bunch is Christopher Lambert (BEL CANTO; HAIL, CAESAR!; HIGHLANDER) who, surprisingly, still has a fairly active movie career.  Here, he plays Lord Raiden, the god of thunder and defender of Earthrealm who guides the warriors on their journey.  With his New York accent coming through loud and clear, his performance is truly head-shakingly awful.  I’m surprised he wasn’t nominated for a Razzie that year but, then again, 1995 had some memorably ghastly performances.  Lambert isn’t the only actor who is completely out of their depth in this film though.  Former Miss Teen USA Bridgette Wilson, who today is Mrs. Pete Sampras, plays US Special Forces officer Sonya Blade; and dime store Tom Cruise, Linden Ashby (TV’s TEEN WOLF), plays Hollywood actor Johnny Cage.  Both are laughingly bad.  Not to be completely down on MORTAL KOMBAT though, Hong Kong-born Robin Shou/仇雲波, who plays the beautifully maned, former Shaolin monk Liu Kang, and Japanese-American Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who plays demon sorcerer Shang Tsung, are the film’s two bright spots.

Part of the story is supposed to take place in Hong Kong but Anderson and his crew were nowhere near here to film.  Instead, they went to Thailand.  The 14th – 18th century capital of Ayutthaya and a beach near the seaside town of Krabi stood in for the Shaolin Monastery and Shang Tsung’s island respectively.

With the success of MORTAL KOMBAT, Threshold Entertainment greenlit a sequel right away.  MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, which featured a new director and a mostly new cast (Shou and Taliso Soto, who played Kitana, stayed on), debuted in 1997.  It bombed at the box office and that was the end of the movie franchise until now.  Warner Bros, which had purchased both film distributor New Line Cinema and game publisher Midway Games, had planned to release a new film as early as 2013 but the project was delayed due to budget constraints.  The new MORTAL KOMBAT is directed by Simon McQuoid, who is making his feature debut.  James Wan (AQUAMAN; FURIOUS 7; THE CONJURING franchise) is one of the film’s producers so fans can expect this version to be big and bold, with plenty of top-notch CGI and good stunt work.  It should also be bloody, something which the original film distinctly lacked.

The MORTAL KOMBAT remake is coming to Hong Kong’s cinemas on April 8th.  In the US and in many other markets, Warner Bros. is delaying its release to the 23rd to give more time for its other big film, GODZILLA VS. KONG, to continue earning money at the box office.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, April 9th, 8:30 am HK time!

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