The video game Mortal Kombat was famously so violent that it resulted in a 1993 Congressional hearing.
That's unlikely to happen with the new film adaptation, but you can still expect "buckets of blood," according to Lewis Tan, who plays the main character, Cole Young, and who recently spoke to Yahoo Entertainment.
And all that blood? It’s real. Well, real fake blood. But during a time when most action movies lean heavily on CGI, Mortal Kombat’s director Simon McQuoid opted for practical effects whenever possible. "Simon McQuoid doesn't like to do a lot in post [production] … so believe it or not, there's not that much green screen in the film," says Tan, who played Shatterstar in Deadpool 2 and appeared in the martial arts series Into the Badlands. "I think there was a moment in time that I was completely drenched in [blood]."
The video game fighter made a name for itself with its ultra-gory fatality finishing moves and the movie revels in its hard-R rating.
“I was surprised that we didn't get an NC-17 rating,” Tan says, a sentiment echoed by the film's producer and director, adding that the theatrical cut is "right on the line" between ratings.
The head-exploding, limb-severing fatalities might be the main draw for audiences but the dazzling fight sequences are impressive in their own right, thanks in part to the literal strength of the cast, which features talented martial artists like Tan, The Raid veteran Joe Taslim (here playing the villainous Sub-Zero), and Hiroyuki Sanada of Westworld, who stuns in an opening fight scene as Scorpion.
"One hundred percent of the fights has to be me," Tan says of the rigorous and frequently painful choreography. He makes sure to mention that he did have a stunt double on the film though, primarily for shots that could endanger him, like being pulled through a wall.
"We were all banged up by the end of it," Tan says, comparing the shoot to an intense workout class lasting 12 hours a day, every day, for three months.
Fans of Mortal Kombat may remember, or perhaps may try to forget, the franchise’s first leap on to the big screen. The 1995 PG-13 version was widely derided upon release although Tan says that for him, it’s "always going to be a classic."
One of that movie's more puzzling decisions was to cast white actors and martial artists as characters that were depicted as Asian (Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Lord Raiden) in the games. With the new Mortal Kombat, that has been corrected.
“The producers, James Wan [and Todd Garner] and the director really wanted to make the races authentic and be bold with their choices," Tan says before correcting himself. “It’s not really bold … but it's bold for Hollywood because in Hollywood most of the lead characters are always Caucasian and in our movie, it's the opposite."
Mortal Kombat doesn’t delve into any cultural issues — it’s squarely about preventing the end of the world — but onscreen representation even in a relatively straightforward action flick is progress, Tan thinks.
"It does make a difference in regards to the way that you're seen on screen," Tan says. "Because the more that we open up doors and people are familiar with seeing Asian faces in a cool way and in a culturally positive way, I think that it will eventually help."
Mortal Kombat arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23.
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo.
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