The new Mortal Kombat film, the first theatrical release based on the fighting games since 1997's Mortal Kombat Annihilation, opens with a scene that should be quite familiar to fans. Hanzo Hasashi, the man fated to become the vengeful Scorpion, enjoys a quiet moment with his family in their ancestral home. It’s a quiet moment that does not last.
As Hanzo’s wife works the garden and his young son attends the family’s most recent addition, an infant child, Hanzo heads down to the well to fetch some water. Everyone is too focused on their individual tasks to notice the encroaching Lin-Kuei assassins until it’s too late.
These events, the slaughter on Hanzo’s family by Sub-Zero’s Lin-Kuei clan, have played out many times over the years. In video game cutscenes. In short films. Last year’s animated film Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge did a particularly bloody and brutal version of the event. The new live-action Mortal Kombat movie, directed by Simon McQuoid with plans to release in theaters and on HBO Max on April 16, opens with what I feel is the best rendition of the iconic scene yet.
I got a chance to watch the scene play out at a press preview of the film’s first 13 minutes. In a follow-up roundtable interview, producer Todd Garner spoke of the importance of the film having an R-rating in order to properly portray the violence the game is known for. There is blood. There is gore. When Hanzo Hasashi unleashes his rage on the Lin-Kuei following the slaughter of his family he becomes a primal force, channeling his pain and rage into a stunning display of deadly martial arts. He even affixes a rope to one of his wife’s discarded gardening implements, creating a makeshift version of Scorpion’s harpoon. It’s almost kind of cute.
But violence is easy. Between the trailer, with its dismemberment and its knives fashioned from frozen blood, and this epic showdown between Hanzo and the Lin-Quei, it’s clear director Simon McQuoid has a handle on the fighting and the killing. What I found so much more impressive was the artistic cinematography I witnessed in those first 13 minutes. Little things like the water running down the stone steps after Hanzo drops his buckets and runs off to the aid of his clan. Or a quick shot of a frosted leaf speckled with blood in the wake of the Lin-Quei’s attack. Little touches like those indicate to me that this is something more than a schlocky video game action movie. There’s artistry here.
The performances are wonderful as well. Without much dialogue and in a very small amount of time, Hanzo actor Hiroyuki Sanada and the actors portraying his wife and son do an outstanding job of making me believe they are a loving family, a fact that’s pivotal in making sure the ensuing slaughter invokes anger in the audience. Joe Taslim portrays Bi-Han, aka Sub-Zero, with a sinister, friendly sort of menace. He’s your friend, but really he’s about to murder you and your child by running you both through with an ice spike. Those particular deaths occur off-screen. When Hanzo discovers his wife and son they are completely encased in ice, crystal blue tinged with red. It’s beautiful, in a way. Also, horrible.
The opening ends with the inevitable battle between Hanzo and Bi-Han. The fighting is gorgeous. One wonderful little detail I enjoyed was that Hanzo, speaking Japanese, takes a moment to tell Bi-Han, speaking Chinese, that he has no idea what he is saying. It would have been so much easier to have them trading barbs, but nope, the language barrier is real.
I don’t know much about the rest of the new Mortal Kombat movie. I know it jumps forward in time to the present-day and focuses on new character Cole Young, portrayed by Lewis Tan. He may or may not be a descendent of the infant who Raiden spirits away after the battle between Hanzo and Bi-Han ends with the death of the father. I know Cole is in the movie because the producers and director wanted a character they can have control over, something hard to do with existing video game heroes and villains with so much established history. I know the movie will be violent as hell, but I hope some of the more nuanced cinematography I witnessed in these opening moments will carry over past this wonderful prologue.
It’s a good start. We’ll see how it finishes when Mortal Kombat hits theaters, HBO Max, and torrent sites on April 16.