The upcoming live-action Mortal Kombat movie looks like its making some big changes to the games’ villains, especially Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung.
The official synopsis for the new Mortal Kombat movie has revealed a major change to the games’ classic villains –namely, Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn. The new film is set to release on April 16, directed by Simon McQuoid, produced by James Wan (Aquaman, The Conjuring), and starring Lewis Tan alongside an ensemble that includes Ludi Lin, Mehcad Brooks, Joe Taslim, and Jessica McNamee. It will be the franchise’s first proper theatrical outing since 1997’s critically panned Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
The Mortal Kombat fighting games have featured a slew of various villainous characters over the course of its eleven core entries. Shifts in the story over the years have seen various sorcerers, ninjas, lizards, demons, red-eyed mercenaries, robots, and gods take the stage as big bads, with many constantly switching sides behind the forces of good and those of evil. Throughout all those different plotlines, Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn have remained the most consistent Mortal Kombat villains. The chief sorcerer and emperor of Outworld, respectively, the two served as the primary antagonists for the first three arcade games and several later entries, usually in some manner of alliance with each other (though occasionally a tenuous one).
It looks like that dynamic is about to be changed in the new film. The official synopsis from Warner Bros. mentions Shang Tsung by name in the following line: “MMA fighter Cole Young, accustomed to taking a beating for money, is unaware of his heritage—or why Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down.” According to this, Shang Tsung will not simply be a sorcerer in service to the emperor (Shao Kahn), but the actual Emperor himself. That’s a major change from the games, as Shao Kahn is one of the franchise’s most important villains.
Does Shang Tsung’s title of emperor mean Shao Kahn won’t be in the movie at all? It’s unclear. One of the promo images for Mortal Kombat released recently shows Jax holding off what looks to be Shao Kahn’s iconic hammer (seen above). The Emperor’s back can even be sort of seen at the edge of the picture – or at least, it certainly looks a lot like him. That leaves a few options on the table.
It’s possible that the characters of Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn have been combined for the sake of the film’s limited run time. That would make some sense, as the sorcerer is the main villain of the first game and Shao Kahn doesn’t appear until Mortal Kombat II. It’s also possible that Shang Tsung is masquerading as the Emperor while Shao Kahn’s real motives stay hidden, or that he has usurped Shao Kahn in a grab for power. Whatever the explanation, making Shang Tsung the Emperor of Outworld is a major change for Mortal Kombat.