Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Review: First "MORTAL KOMBAT" Film Has Not Lost its Immortal Charm

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 50 of 2023 (No. 1939) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mortal Kombat (1995)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for non-stop martial arts action and some violence
DIRECTOR:  Paul Anderson
WRITER:  Kevin Droney (based on the video game created by Ed Boon and John Tobias)
PRODUCER:  Lawrence Kasanoff
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John R. Leonetti (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Martin Hunter
COMPOSER:  George S. Clinton


Starring:  Robin Shou, Christopher Lambert, Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard, Chris Casamassa, Francois Petit, Keith H. Cooke, Steven Ho, Gregory McKinney, and the voices of Frank Welker, Ed Boon, and Kevin Michael Richardson

Mortal Kombat is a 1995 martial arts and action fantasy film directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.  It is the first film in the Mortal Kombat film franchise, and is based on the video game series, Mortal Kombat, which began in 1992.  Mortal Kombat the movie focuses on three martial artists who find themselves entered into a martial arts tournament that will decide the fate of Earth.

Mortal Kombat opens in the dreams of Liu Kang (Robin Shou), a former Shaolin monk.  Kang dreams of the death of his brother, Chan (Steven Ho), at the hands of Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a powerful sorcerer.  Now, Kang is determined to avenge his brother's death, and to do this, his most enter the tournament, Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat is a martial arts tournament that is held once every generation between the representatives of the realms of Earth and Outworld .  There have been nine previous editions of the tournament, and the realm of Earth has lost all of them.  If the warriors of Earth lose this tenth tournament, the realm of Outworld and its Emperor will invade the realm of Earth.

Although Kang's former comrades in “the Order of Light” are reluctant to have him represent them in the tournament, Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert), the god of thunder and defender of the realm of Earth, believes Kang is the right choice.  In addition to Kang, Rayden has chosen two other entrants, Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), a movie star who wants to prove that his martial arts skills are legitimate, and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), an American special forces operative, who is hunting another entrant in Mortal Kombat.  That would be Kano (Trevor Goddard), a criminal allied with Shang Tsung.

Kang, Cage, and Blade travel to Shang Tsung's island where they meet Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), the Emperor's adopted daughter, who wants to ally with the Earth warriors.  With its strange rules, Tsung's weird warriors, and lurking danger, Mortal Kombat will test the warriors from the realm of Earth to their limits.

I first saw Mortal Kombat when it was initially released to theaters in August 1995.  I liked the movie, but at the time, I was not overwhelmed by it.  I do remember it fondly because I saw it with coworker who was a fellow college student and also a dear friend for many years.  Since then, I have grown fond of Mortal Kombat, and I have wondered why over the years.

The Mortal Kombat video game and subsequent film adaptation are hugely influenced by the legendary Bruce Lee's classic 1973 martial arts film, Enter the Dragon.  There seems to be some kind of mental and dream time connection in my mind and imagination between this first Mortal Kombat film and Enter the Dragon, which is one of my all-time favorite films.  [However, I have only watched the 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, in its entirety once, and I have not seen the 2021 franchise reboot, Mortal Kombat.]

Mortal Kombat is by no means perfect.  Some of the dialogue is stiff, and is made stiffer by the actors' deliveries, especially in the case of Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade and Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage.  However, the two aren't always bad, and I find them rather likable.  Christopher Lambert is unfortunate as Lord Rayden, I'm sad to say; everything about his character is forced and contrived.  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is over the top and melodramatic as Shang Tsung, but I really dig his performance and his character.  I think there isn't enough of Tagawa's Shang Tsung.

The two best things about Mortal Kombat 1995 are Robin Shou as Liu Kang and the film's soundtrack.  Shou, an underutilized Hong Kong-born actor, is magnetic as Kang, and Shou is the one that makes the film more than just a standard martial arts/action-fantasy film.  Mortal Kombat also features The Immortals' single, “Techno-Syndrome,” with its signature yell of “Mortal Kombat!”  It lifts this movie any time a few strains of it are played, and the music certainly creates a sense of anticipation for me.

So Mortal Kombat is by no means a great film; it may even be a mediocre film.  For me, however, it seems to get better each time I watch it.  I think I hear the opening notes of “Techno-Sydrome” now.  “MORTAL KOMBAT!”

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Monday, December 4, 2023

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