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Lewis Tan (right) and Ian Streetz in a still from Mortal Kombat (category III), directed by Simon McQuoid. Hiroyuki Sanada co-stars.

Review | Mortal Kombat movie review: gleefully violent video game adaptation a treat for fans of game franchise

  • Director Simon McQuoid understands and honours the film’s video game origins, including memorable lines of dialogue and signature fight moves throughout
  • Don’t expect a nuanced character drama – when they’re not fighting, characters bicker and spout pseudo-spiritual idioms until it’s time to square off again

3.5/5 stars

Fans of the long-running Mortal Kombat video game franchise finally have cause for celebration. After enduring numerous film adaptations that neutered the notoriously graphic violence of the games, first-time director Simon McQuoid delivers the series’ trademark “fatalities” in all their gory glory.

Thanks in large part to the participation of producer James Wan ( The Conjuring, Aquaman), Warner Brothers’ big screen reboot of Mortal Kombat is not only bloodier and swearier than previous iterations of the supernatural tournament showcase, it also positions its Asian protagonists and antagonists front and centre for the first time.

The film’s international cast boasts a number of established Asian performers, including Tadanobu Asano as Thunder god Raiden, who is tasked with assembling Earth’s most formidable champions, and Hiroyuki Sanada as seventeenth century ninja Hanzo Hasashi, later reincarnated as the all-powerful Scorpion.

Singaporean actor Chin Han ( The Dark Knight) plays villainous Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung, out to eliminate Raiden’s heroes and seize control of Earthrealm. Doing his bidding is the deadly assassin Sub-Zero, brilliantly realised by Indonesian martial arts star Joe Taslim ( The Raid, Fast & Furious 6).

The film’s breakout star is British-Chinese actor Lewis Tan, previously seen in action shows Wu Assassins and Into the Badlands, who lands the lead role of washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young.

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After learning that his dragon-shaped birthmark singles him out to compete in the legendary Mortal Kombat tournament against Shang Tsung’s evil horde, Cole is whisked away by fellow competitors Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), and Kano (Josh Lawson) to meet Raiden and Shaolin monk Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), from whom he will learn about his true lineage and supposedly unlock his secret “Arkana” superpower.

If that reads like little more than a laundry list of quirky character names, one must acknowledge the film’s source material: the Mortal Kombat games require little more than selecting a player to compete in bout after bout of deadly one-on-one combat.

To his credit, McQuoid understands and honours these video game origins, and includes memorable lines of dialogue and signature fight moves throughout. The fight choreography achieves an impressive synergy between elaborate martial arts and super-powered effects work, which is aided significantly by the natural abilities of the film’s adept and athletic cast.

Joe Taslim (left) and Hiroyuki Sanada in a still from Mortal Kombat.

Nuanced character drama this most certainly isn’t; instead, this is boxers with ninja blood and green berets with robot arms pummelling invisible lizards and bat-winged demon babes to a bloody pulp. When they’re not fighting, characters bicker and spout pseudo-spiritual idioms until it’s time to square off again. Mortal Kombat is not for the discerning palate, but for those in the know – get over here!

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