11.29.2010

Taking a Closer Look at Mortal Kombat (1995)

Yes, it had it's flaws, but that's not what this is about.

Summer of my 13th year (ish), Hollywood unleashed this film to very favorable reviews.  One critic even applauded its having an Asian protagonist (who gets the hottest woman in the film, by the way).  And that's what this post is about.  Giving thanks and praises to full-blooded Asian actors who - fifteen whole years before Ninja Assassin - represented their brothers with abs, pecs, bad-assery and accents (even though Tagawa-sama has an American accent in real life), and looked damned sexy doing it.

If you think about it, had Kitana been black or Shang Tsung had had a black female love interest, Mortal Kombat would've been the Ninja Assassin of my youth...but with a kiss.

Robin Shou

Let's start with Robin Lawd-hammercy-on-Moi Shou, shall we?  Robin was seriously sexy in this film.  Like fiercely.  My favorite part is at the end, when he challenges Shang Tsung and slips out of his robe, baring those gorgeous shoulders.  Lawd.  Fifteen years later and I still drool every time.

Three things really got to me about Robin's performance.  One: he looked the part.  When I realized this was who'd be playing Liu Kang, I had no argument.  He is fine.  That rich, sun-darkened skin, the long, wild, midnight-colored hair, the pensive, unflinching gaze...heaven help Moi.

And don't get me started on the muscles!

Two: Robin Shou acted the part, and I don't just mean the ass-kicking.  Liu Kang's character is interesting in that while he knows more than Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, there's a lot he doesn't understand.  It gives him a touch of youthful innocence and vulnerability, but only a touch (it doesn't make him "pure" or anything like that).  The fact that he's grieving for his baby brother makes him all the more vulnerable, and Robin conveys all of this very well.

Three: His accent rocks my socks.  I pointed about before the hypocritical attitude towards Asian accents.  Long story short, in Ninja Assassin, Rain caught a bit of flack for his English, even though his grammar was good and his sentences were complete.  Meanwhile, no one complained about all the British, German, Polish, or Russian accents we heard - just the Asian guy's.

Robin Shou's accent is sexy.  He is who he is, and no, English is not his first language.  So the fuck what?  I grew up in an African household.  My earliest years were in Texas and the Cameroons.  I grew up listening to English in a multitude of non-American accents, and each one was utterly beautiful.  So to me Robin Shou's accent was a lot like his martial skill or his muscles; it was just another "edge" he had over other American actors.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

If you ask me, there's something about the name "Hiroyuki."  I have a little superstition that it's only given to by parents who know their sons are going to grow up good-looking.  Tagawa-sama, whom I unabashedly adore, and whom I'll watch literally anything for, started acting when he was thirty-six - thirty-six...and he's done damn well for someone who started that late.  A veteran villain-player, Tagawa-sama has stated he'd rather play a bad-ass villain than a wimpy, asexual loser.  Considering the choices Asian actors get stuck with in Hollywood, we at the Narrative both understand his reasoning, and applaud his resolve.

He really caught my attention as Shang Tsung.  I maintain it's one of his best roles ever.  His portrayal was charismatic, darkly dangerous, and even though Tagawa-sama has an American accent in real life, the accent he used in Mortal Kombat was sexy.  It added a forbidden sensuality to his character, thus fleshing out his personality a bit.  I liked that he was a sorcerer and warrior, but he's shown wearing a long, black leather jacket with rockstar hair and a rebel 'tude - I loved that!  Considering that in the original game he was a wizened-looking fellow, I wonder who came up with his new look for the movie.

I also liked his mocking deference towards Raiden (Chris Lambert...enough said) and how he could straighten people out and put them back in their place with just a few, softly-uttered words.  And whenever he talked smack about humans and "impudent" mortals, it gave me delightful shivers and made my heart pound.

Steven Ho

I don't think Steven Ho ever got his due for playing Liu Kang's younger brother Chan.  We should have seen his career skyrocket.  My favorite part with him was when Shang Tsung was defeated and Chan's freed soul appeared to Liu Kang.

Steven was so eloquent, so graceful, and polished it made me melt every single time.  He didn't speak with a full-on accent so much as an inflection, and once again, it was a strength.  In fact, his inflection, coupled with his fluid, cultured, articulate manner of speech, conveyed power - real power - through just a few simple words.  I doubt it was the intentions of the white writer and white director for his character to a have moment so subtly poignant, and that's what made it all the better.  There was no hype, no forced dialogue, no overcompensation of any kind.  Steven's radiance shone through magnificently for a few moments, and it all came from him.

If you've never seen this movie, I strongly recommend you watch it, and if you already have, I recommend you watch it again and pay closer attention to these performances.  These gentlemen represented for their brethren in this film in ways I don't think people notice or appreciate, and I think this film is a little more important than people realize.  No, it didn't win an Oscar.  Yes, it was based off a video game.  No...none of that matters.  Because with a very basic plot, inchoate CGI, and almost stifling characterization, these three men were outstanding.

11 comments:

  1. Ah snap, no you didn't break out Mortal Kombat. I remember me and my older brother going to see this at the theater. This is his fave video game so I am very knowledgeable about these characters and the world.

    This is by far the only video game movie that didn't sucked. considering it was directed by the same guy who butchered the Resident Evil movies.

    I loved Robin as Liu Kang. I couldn't picture anybody else in that role. Ankh, I totally get what your saying. He did bring a certain vulnerability to that character as well as sex appeal. Yeah, he was fine.

    Tagawa is da man. One of the best villain actors ever. I always found him creepy so I nevered looked at him sexually but after reading your post, I see what you're saying. Actually Shang Tsung becomes young in MK 2. I think they decided to use that storyline.

    I haven't watched this in a while, I might have to dust off the VHS. LOL!!!

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  2. This is by far the only video game movie that didn't sucked

    Amen!!!

    I always found him creepy so I nevered looked at him sexually but after reading your post, I see what you're saying.

    Oh, God yes...I encourage everybody to go back and re-watch his performance through "woman eyes".

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  3. Ooh where have I been? I need to watch this!! Thanks for the reminder haha.

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  4. I get through netflix today. I'm going to sit down with a bowl of ice cream and enjoy.

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  5. FASCINATING trivia about the casting from Wikipedia:

    * Robin Shou as "Liu Kang", a former Xiaolin/Shaolin monk that enters the tournament to avenge his brother's death. Among those who auditioned for the role of Liu Kang were Jason Scott Lee, Russell Wong, Dustin Nguyen and Phillip Rhee.

    * Linden Ashby as "Johnny Cage" (doubled by Brad Martin and J.J. Perry), a Hollywood superstar that enters the tournament to prove to the world that his skills are for real. Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role (THANK GOD) of Johnny Cage to star on Street Fighter. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Gary Daniels were also considered for the role. Brandon Lee was originally cast (*teardrop*), but died before production began.

    *Bridgette Wilson as "Sonya Blade", an agent of the law in hot pursuit of the criminal that killed her partner. Cameron Diaz was originally set to play Sonya, but she broke her wrist during a martial arts training prior to shooting and was replaced by Wilson (Diaz would have ruined it...do NOT like her).

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  6. Among those who auditioned for the role of Liu Kang were Jason Scott Lee, Russell Wong, Dustin Nguyen and Phillip Rhee.
    AHHH LOVE Jason Scott Lee!! I wish he would've been more active in his career beyond The Jungle Book.

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  7. Love, love, LOVE Jason Scott Lee!!!

    But I really think Robin Shou was meant for this role.

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  8. See, I had been introduced to Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in other movies before Mortal Kombat, and in the first movie I ever saw of him, it was the most dramatic, heartbreaking OMG-I-FRICKIN-LOVE-HIM-FOREVER role. I have to find the title, but it was amazing!!!

    *goes off to search*

    It was called Natural Causes. This from Yahoo!Movies:
    In a Bankok setting, a young American woman finds herself in the midst of a plot to assassinate former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

    I could take or leave the lead female that played along side him because she was useless to me in that movie (if you ever watch it, and see the ending, my GAWD!!!! You'll see exactly HOW useless she was...ARGH!!), but his acting in that film was superb. Ack! I have to go find it and watch it again.

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  9. * Linden Ashby as "Johnny Cage" (doubled by Brad Martin and J.J. Perry), a Hollywood superstar that enters the tournament to prove to the world that his skills are for real. Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role (THANK GOD) of Johnny Cage to star on Street Fighter. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Gary Daniels were also considered for the role. Brandon Lee was originally cast (*teardrop*), but died before production began.

    LOLOLOLOL!

    I don't think Street Fighter did him any favors.

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  10. LMAO - Let's just be glad Van Damme wasn't anywhere near this film. "Street Fighter" was abysmal. I saw it once, and that's all it ever took.

    "Natural Causes", you say? Thank you, thank you!

    Btw - accept my invite to write for this blog already! You obviously have the insight!

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