Mortal Kombat review: A gory masterpiece, but only for fans of the franchise

Ludi Lin is fireball-throwing Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat. (Still: Warner Bros.)
Ludi Lin is fireball-throwing Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat. (Still: Warner Bros.)

Rating: M18
Length: 110 minutes
Director: Simon McQuoid
Cast: Lewis Tan, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Huang, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Jessica McNamee, Mehcad Brooks
Release: In theatres 8 April (Singapore)

2 out of 5 stars

There are few successful video game adaptations which have translated well onto the silver screen, and I can count them on the fingers of my hands.

Most have failed miserably, like the poor animators who frantically spent four futile months re-doing Sonic the Hedgehog's face for the movie that still flopped, or the lacklustre Warcraft movie based on the once incredibly popular Warcraft RPG and MMORPG series.

As an avid video game player, it's hard not to go into a movie adapted from a video game without any expectations or biases. There, I said it. Even though I've never really played Mortal Kombat or watched the 1997 Mortal Kombat Annihilation movie, I brought along a friend who did, just to even the scales.

I sidled into the theatre methodically trying to shed the layers of my writer's jadedness, fully aware and respectful of the fact that fans of the Mortal Kombat series were highly emotional when the trailer dropped.

Suffice to say, I was very pleased with the representation of an Asian-majority cast, despite the film being helmed by a decidedly white team consisting of director Simon McQuoid and writers Greg Russo and Dave Callaham.

Half-Chinese, half-English Lewis Tan (Iron Fist, Deadpool 2) is Cole Young, a young MMA fighter who is unfortunately not very good at fighting, but is somehow chosen as a vaunted guardian to defend Earth; one of many who are chosen by sporting a very badly drawn dragon scar which looks like a worm.

Unbeknownst to him, Cole is descended from the austere warrior bloodline of Hasashi Hanzo, played by Japanese stud Hiroyuki Sanada, one of Japan's greatest warriors, but killed by the foreboding and impressively trilingual assassin Bi Han, better known by his handle Sub-zero, played by Indonesian-Chinese Joe Taslim.

Lewis Tan is Cole Young in Mortal Kombat, an MMA fighter charged as guardian of Earth. (Still: Warner Bros.)
Lewis Tan is Cole Young, an MMA fighter charged as one of the guardians of Earthrealm. (Still: Warner Bros.)

As expected, there is no plot to speak of when it comes to the film's gory, no-holds-barred fighting; the movie absolutely revels in it. Which is fair, because that is what the video game franchise is all about. Be prepared to be treated to people being torn in half, spines being pulled out, ribcages being crushed and skulls being split.

The only wispy straw of a plot you get is that Earthrealm is on its last chance to survive, having lost nine out of ten fighting tournaments against the Outworld (how the heck?), led by our villainous Singaporean Chin Han (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Dark Knight) as Shang Tsung, a sorceror who speaks in fluent cabinet minister-ish, and gathers invisible serpent men and squawking harpy chicks to smack the sh*t out of the Earthrealm guardian team.

Needless to say, the fighting and graphics are hair raising compared to the absolutely tasteless characters, who spend their time spewing cliches and non-sequiturs in between beating each other up and shooting fire balls; no offense to the deliciously ripped Chinese-Canadian Ludi Lin (Power Rangers, Aquaman) as Liu Kang, the super hot fireball thrower.

Chin Han is the sorcerer villain Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. (Still: Warner Bros.)
Chin Han is the sorcerer villain Shang Tsung. (Still: Warner Bros.)

Fans will be pleased to know that the movie is a very significant upgrade from the 1997 Mortal Kombat Annihilation movie, which supposedly employed Word Art from Microsoft Word in its graphics, said my astute and learned movie companion. Fans can also expect trademark catch-phrases and signature moves from the characters in the movie which are true to the video game franchise.

Stealing the spotlight and drawing laughter throughout is token white guy Josh Lawson as Kano, the sweary and irreverent mercenary who labels Liu Kang 'MC Hammer' (??), mocks his Buddhist prayer bracelet as 'twirling anal beads' and even has the gall to call Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) 'Gandalf' (RUDE, he's a GOD).

And there's also a guy with a spinning hat. Chinese-German (there's an awful lot of mixed Chinese actors innit?) Max Huang plays Kung Lao, who has the most iconic scene in the film — riding on one of those flying harpy chicks I was talking about right into his spinning hat and cleaving her in half from head to groin. Cool, and ew.

As always, the writer in me couldn't help popping up and yelling for more intellectual stimulation, but Mortal Kombat had none to give. It spake only of death, blood and fruitless gore, and my spectral expectations eventually gave up the ghost, floating away with a hollow sigh.

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