While I personally liked this aspect of Mortal Kombat as a young boy, what really got me hooked into the franchise was the first movie, released in 1995. A cheesy chop socky flick for sure, it nonetheless includes several martial arts fight scenes that I personally, to this day, deem to be classics.
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE IS THE REPTILE FIGHT SCENE:
The bicycle kick and spinning off that stone whatever to kick the ninja aside, I feel that it’s an excellent fight scene. Both actors moved very quickly and fluidly, exchanging punches and kicks cut such that they seem to be thrown at intense speeds. I also really like how throws are used very freely throughout the fights. Too often have I seen movie fight scenes that focus only on punching and kicking, and never on the possible grappling aspects that could be added. My favorite throw is actually Liu kang’s scissor throw, which is, yes, extremely unrealistic, I suppose, but I personally find it very creative (what’s up with Liu Kang catching Reptile in mid air, though? I never liked that part as well). The movie is based on fantasy characters of sorts, after all, so these sorts of things are expected. Besides, historically, more fantastic fight scenes sell much better than standard, very realistic, UFC-style combat on the big screen. Just ask Jackie Chan. I just wish that all of these sorts of moves were performed as well (eg: that bicycle kick again).
I also like that, when the camera gets tight onto the characters, the moves that you see them execute are largely very realistic combos. Hook kicks, roundhouse, kicks, knees, elbows, classic 1-2-3 combos, and the like.
Of course, tons of credit should go to the sound department as well, for mixing in those wildly explosive sound effects to make each technique seem mightier than they really are. Add to that a very catchy techno tune, and you’ve got a classic martial arts sequence right there.
Okay, let’s break the scene down a bit more specifically. After Liu Kang gets knocked through that stone wall (remember, fantasy characters and whatnot) Reptile goes in for a double flying kick. The fight becomes very realistic after the initial, wild, largely fantastical opening. Okay, so Reptile still zones in with a flying front kick, and Liu Kang counters with a spin kick for some reason, but notice that Reptile has a very logical, aggressive plan worked out. After gauging Liu Kang’s distance with the jumping front kick, he moves in slowly with a hook kick to the body, which Liu counters with his own, move in some more with a distance – gauging 1 – 2 combo, and grabs Liu Kang’s head.
This is an interesting key to what makes a great fight scene. Reptile is the more aggressive one in the beginning of the fight and Liu Kang is defending, primarily because he’s, y’know, shocked from being blasted through a stone wall and all. Reptile’s very aggressive and his still is to clinch and grapple. He gauges your distance and grabs hold of you. This is even more pronounced when, after Reptile first throws Liu Kang into the stone pillar, he kicks Liu and zones in with punches to clinch.
Liu Kang, on the other hand, likes to keep his distance and throw more kicks to knock out his opponent. Pretty much every chance he is given, he’ll throw a kick and, well, follow up with some more kicks. Simple as that. Hell, even his first attempted throw is leg-based.
What I meant when I wrote “this is an interesting key to what makes a great fight scene” is a sort of logic and consistency when it comes to choreographing them. The actors and stuntmen may be incredibly talented and athletic, but it’s all for naught if their choreography’s no good. The logic is in finding out what the character’s personality is and what makes him fight a certain way. I’ll admit that I have no idea why the choreographers chose to make Liu Kang a more long distance – oriented character, but I suppose it has to do with the actor’s strengths. Robin Shou kicks really well, and looks extremely good in front of the camera while doing them. Shou was supposedly the choreographer as well for this particular fight scene, and I think it’s brilliant that he established that Reptile’s fight plan is almost the exact opposite of Liu Kang’s: clinch and grapple. This makes for an excellent variety of moves within a single scene, as well as seeing two almost completely different styles play against each other.
Consistency is also important because you have to show that it’s the same character throughout the fight, despite the fact that it may take months on end to successfully shoot a full action sequence like this. Even near the end of the fight, Reptile still grabs hold of Liu’s arm locks his head, and throws him to the ground. Meanwhile, Liu Kang still likes to retaliate with kicks.
If a fighter’s style changes in the middle of a sequence, it should be for a good reason. It could be that he was injured and he lost the use of his right arm, thus necessitating a complete change in stance, or it could be because of fear. He becomes overwhelmed by his opponent and changes from an aggressive to a defensive tactic. It shouldn’t change randomly during the fight for no reason unless it’s part of the character’s shtick.
MY SECOND FAVORITE FIGHT SCENE IN THE MOVIE IS THE JOHNNY CAGE VS. SCORPION ONE:
This fight is largely more fantastical than the Liu Kang vs. Reptile one, especially in the beginning, but it’s also longer. Once we get to the elevated bone yard, though, things start turning into a full fledged martial arts sequence.
Johnny Cage is shown to have a pretty standard chop socky martial arts style. Lots of kicks and punches strung together, but nothing really creative and different coming from him. Scorpion, on the other hand, is the much more interesting subject. While the contrast in the Liu Kang vs. Reptile fight seemed to concentrate more on distance preference, here it’s more of a creative choice. Johnny Cage’s standard, clean cut, by-the-book martial arts style is contrasted by Scorpion’s wilder, more creative choices for combat. This is highlighted by stunts such as blindsiding cage with a punch once they first enter the bone yard, trapping of Cage’s arm, then kicking him over and over (in real life, though, if you do manage to trap your opponents arm, it would be better to a) go to a clinch and knee his head over and over, b) continue the arm lock and break his elbow joint, or c) smash his head into the environment. Kicking him over and over wouldn’t do much good since your blows would lack power because of the stance you’d be in. Still much flashy to look at, though, which is the single reason why they chose to do it), kicking Cage over and over while he’s downed, reversing Cage’s throw and so on.
Whenever Johnny Cage does something creative, it just winds up looking weird and funny, like when he picks up Scorpion while attempting to get up from the ground, or doing that gymnastics kick thing. I have no idea what they were going for with those. What I do like about Cage’s throw was how Scorpion’s legs hit a barrier of sorts on landing, which is an excellent use of the environment (as opposed to, say, Liu Kang spinning on a stone thingamajig). If the environment is extremely messy, like this one, then the fighters should constantly interact with it and not pretend like it doesn’t exist. Even the 1991 Street Fighter 2 game had destructible barrels and statues in some of the stages.
Mortal Kombat also had a very short lived TV series called Mortal Kombat Conquest, which was relatively low budget and poorly written at times, but always had excellently entertaining fight sequences, such as this one:
If you've never seen this series before, I seriously recommend you check it out if you're a Mortal Kombat fan or a fan of martial arts movies and TV shows in general. It's a load of fun.
So, why have I suddenly become hung up on Mortal Kombat? I admit that my interest franchise greatly waned during the late 90’s and has never quite recovered ever since, until this new test footage for something called “Mortal Kombat Rebirth” came along:
Let’s take a look at it a bit shall we? The fight scene between Johnny Cage and Baraka, I personally think, is excellent. I personally wish it was shot better though, since several of the movements are blurred and obscured by some of the wild camera changes and movements. Granted, only a small portion of the sequence is like this, but as a martial arts enthusiast, I’d like to see literally all the stuntmen’s movements clear as day, like the Liu Kang vs, Reptile one.
Johnny Cage once again exhibits a more classic, by-the-book fighting style, but is not as boring as he once was. Figuring a bit like Reptile, Cage opts to zone in and close the distance, eventually locking in some sort of BJJ technique like that armbar we see him attempt at one point. Whenever he tries something nonclassical and flashy, he also looks much better, as when he hits Baraka with that spinning kick near the end, or when he grabs that bo staff earlier on.
His opponent, Baraka, characteristically has the wilder, more fictional martial arts style, reminiscent of many classic Hong Kong action villains, utilizing many spinning kicks and looping punches strung together.
There is also very, very good use of the environment here, starting with the opening of the sequence, as Johnny Cage is flung into a wall. Bottles are used to smash people in the face, and people get thrown into tables. Very creative fight scene overall, and I hope this movie gets picked up and funded well, because I’d honestly like to see more of it. I also very much appreciate that they’re embracing the more brutal aspect of the game, which is very key to its differentiation in the video game market back in the day, and is something the first movie sidestepped in order to appeal to a wider crowd.
THERE'S ALSO THE MATTER OF A NEW MORTAL KOMBAT GAME BEING OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED:
Really fun looking stuff, and I’m sure it’ll be a blast to play.
Mortal Kombat was a huge part of my childhood at one point, and is definitely one of the major reasons why I got into martial arts and fitness in general. I’ve also always wanted to dissect two of my favorite fight scenes of all time, both coming from the first Mortal Kombat movie, and I’m glad I found a good enough excuse to finally do so.