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Welcome back to my blog! It’s been a while since I posted a new content here, but no worries, I am here to make up for lost time. So right now, let’s take a look back at one of the most iconic fighting video games of all time:
MORTALKOMBAT! Being a kid back in the 90’s, I remember vividly how this game absolutely changed the way fighting video games were made and how it attracted a ton of fans until now. Mortal Kombat became a hit because of its digitization technology: actual actors/figures were to perform certain movements where those movements are recorded into images, fleshed out, edited and are eventually superimposed into the actual game. The characters were inspired by Martial Arts films and flicks that are key elements in making a game memorable and relatable to fans. And to top it all off, the introduction of explicit finishers called FATALITY made the game stood out from its rival video games. It was thanks to these guys for making my childhood so awesome:
Ed Boon, the lead developer, and John Tobias, the lead artist and designer. They were responsible for the concept and story behind Mortal Kombat. Both worked for Midway during the development and production of the game.
So now, let’s look into the cast members behind the iconic digitization age of Mortal Kombat. To others, there are simply unknown actors, fitness enthusiasts and anonymous martial artists; but for us MK fans, they are superstars, childhood idols and inspirations. Let’s start with the very first Mortal Kombat game that premiered back in 1992:
Daniel Pesina was a friend of John Tobias at the time and was the first actor to perform the required movements on screen. Fondly called “Danny” by the crew, he is a master of Chinese-based martial arts. Danny has also achieved black belt status on several martial arts and is a gold medal winner in American and international tournaments. He has also acted as a foot soldier in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie: The Secret of the Ooze. Being the first actor involved for the game, he was hired to be the action choreographer for the other actors, recruited actors for the game and was present in the recording sessions.
In the game, he plays the character Johnny Cage, a Hollywood actor trained by various masters around the world who joins the Mortal Kombat tournament to gain publicity. The costume for Johnny Cage was inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character in the 1988 film, Bloodsport comprising of tight black shorts, red sash belt, studded forearm guards and Kung Fu shoes while sunglasses were added during his win pose. This look eventually became iconic since he’s one of the first fighting game character to use sunglasses in game.
His iconic status was further enhanced by his special moves: the shadow kick, the green fireball and the infamous split punch where delivers a strong blow to the crotch of male fighters. (ouch!)
Danny was assigned a second costume and this time, it was ninja-inspired: black inner suit and forearm guards, yellow face mask exposing the eyes, leg guards and outer garb. This costume was eventually used for the characters of Scorpion and Sub-Zero: deadly assassins from rival clans. The original yellow color was used for Scorpion while for Sub-Zero, the yellow color was digitally edited to light blue.
As for storyline, Sub-Zero was introduced as a member of the Chinese Lin Kuei Clan and has the ability to control ice; he joined the Mortal Kombat Tournament to assassinate its organizer. As for Scorpion, it was revealed that he was actually an undead warrior who was murdered by Sub-Zero in the past and returns in order to exact his revenge.
Both characters eventually became top favorites among the MK gaming community due to their iconic signature moves: Scorpion’s “Get Over Here!” spear and Sub-Zero’s Deep Freeze – both moves when successfully executed on an opponent, gives a free hit for the player. Their fatalities also solidified their status as fan favorites: Scorpion reveals that he is actually wearing a mask and his real face is that of a skull and breaths out fire towards the opponent, burning them alive. For Sub-Zero, he brutally rips the opponent’s head off together with the spine.
Another thing Mortal Kombat is known for is introducing a secret/hidden character in the game: Reptile, who shares the same sprite images and special moves of Scorpion and Sub-Zero but his costume was edited to green. He randomly appears before a match starts providing clues about his presence and how to fight him. As expected, Reptile’s random appearances and intriguing background made the game even popular.
The younger brother of Daniel Pesina, Carlos Pesina was assigned the character of Rayden. Like his older brother, Carlos is also a martial artist specializing in Chinese-style martial arts since childhood and is also friends with John Tobias. His character, Rayden, was presented as the god of thunder and was inspired from the lightning warriors in the 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China. The costume for Rayden is composed of a white, modified Shaolin uniform, a black sash belt, a tight hood shirt exposing the face and the most iconic item – the conical straw hat. Additionally, his eyes were digitally altered to glow bluish white.
For his story, Rayden was presented as earth’s mystical god of thunder. His name is probably derived from “Raijin” the Japanese god of thunder and lightning. He was invited to the Mortal Kombat tournament and thus, had to take on a human form to participate; a body that seems to flow with visible electric current.
Rayden became popular with the fans because of his epic moves: the lightning bolt projectile, his teleport move where he quickly disintegrates into electric current only to reappear in another location and his most memorable electric fly attack where with lightning speed, launches himself towards the opponent pushing them at the edge of the screen while screaming various gibberish battle cries.
The next MK actor on our list is Richard “Rich” DiVizio and was assigned the character of Kano. Rich is a friend of the Pesina brothers since childhood and like them, is also a martial arts enthusiast. He is a Wushu expert, a gym trainer and has also acted as a foot soldier together with Danny in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze movie. His looks were also a plus since the concept design for Kano was originally a balding man in his late 20’s to 30’s. Kano was designed as a mercenary/thug/criminal with a cybernetic right eye – this was achieved by using a phantom mask to cover the upper right side of Rich’s face and his right eye was digitally altered to glow red. For his costume, he wore a white modified Shaolin monk uniform with sleeves removed, leg bands to hold his knives, black forearm guards and a brown utility belt bag worn across his chest (the utility belt bag was eventually updated in succeeding live appearances).
For Kano’s story, he is introduced a member of an organized crime organization – the Black Dragon. He was a child of an American woman living in Japan and was orphaned at an early age, eventually turning to a life of crime. His infamy and reputation as an organized crime member made him wanted in various countries and was soon deported from Japan. Kano soon heard of rumors that the organizer of the Mortal Kombat tournament was very wealthy and entered it to gain access and loot the place.
His attacks consisted of a cannonball roll and knife throw projectile but it is his heart rip fatality that made him memorable among MK fans.
The first roster of Mortal Kombat characters was supposed to be all-male but at the last minute, the producers decided to include an attractive female character as a tradition in fighting video games in the early 90’s. This is where Elizabeth “Liz” Malecki came in to the scene as Lt. Sonya Blade. At that time, Liz was working as a fitness/aerobics instructor and was recruited by Daniel Pesina for the role of Sonya. Unlike the rest of the cast members who were martial arts experts, Liz had no formal martial arts training. However, she had background in ballet and modern dance and thus, was able to pick up and execute the fighting elements effectively. For Sonya’s costume, Liz wore an aerobics outfit consisting of green sports bra and tights, a black aerobics thong, headband, belt and forearm guards (it was digitally altered to look studded) and for her footwear, white socks and shoes – a popular theme back in the mid 80’s up to early 90’s.
For her in-game story, Texas-born Sonya Blade is a US Army Lieutenant and member of the Special Forces unit. She is in hot pursuit of the Black Dragon member Kano for his criminal activities and for murdering her former partner. Sonya and her team tracked Kano into an uncharted island unaware that it is where the Mortal Kombat tournament was taking place. They were soon captured by the tournament organizer’s army and Sonya was forced to participate in the tournament in order to save her comrades who were held hostage.
Her signature moves are composed of pink sonic ring projectiles, the iconic hand-stand leg grab and her fatality where she blows a flying kiss that burns her opponent alive.
The last actor on our list is Ho Sung Pak, who became friends with the Pesina brothers and Richard DiVizio during martial arts school. Ho Sung is a Wushu champion and because of his martial arts expertise, he was discovered and landed work as an actor and stunt coordinator for films. He became the stunt double for Raphael in the first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action films was soon inducted in the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1991. He reconnected with Daniel Pesina and was soon roped in for the protagonist role of Liu Kang. The original concept for Liu Kang was supposed to be a bald, traditional Shaolin monk wearing flowing robes. Ho Sung however, probably due to his acting job, politely disagreed with the original concept and it was finalized that he’ll keep his hair for filming and the concept was changed with Liu Kang becoming a retired Shaolin monk. His final costume consisted of black Kung Fu pants and white shoes – a nod to the iconic martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee, as it was almost imperative to have a Bruce Lee clone in fighting video games back in the 90’s.
For Liu Kang’s story, it was revealed that he is a Chinese fisherman and Shaolin monk from Henan province. He was a member the secret organization, the White Lotus Society, but soon left in order to represent the Shaolin Temples in the Mortal Kombat tournament. Having heard rumors of the evil behind the tournament, Liu Kang enters the tournament and vows to return it to its noble origins.
Just like Bruce Lee, Liu Kang executes his attacks accompanied by notable Kung Fu yells and screams. His signature moves include launching a fireball with his foot lifted up and his famous Jeet Kune Do-inspired flying kick. Of all the playable characters, only Liu Kang didn’t have a gruesome fatality finisher as a reference to his peaceful Shaolin background.
Ho Sung was assigned a second character, Shang Tsung – the organizer of the Mortal Kombat tournament. This time, Ho Sung’s costume is inspired by the character of David Lo Pan, the villain of the 1986 film, Big Trouble in Little China. His costume is composed of blue and beige, Chinese-style silk robes and wears a mask depicting an elderly man with a receding hairline, gray hair and a Mandarin-style mustache.
In the story, Shang Tsung is a powerful sorcerer who has taken control of the Mortal Kombat tournament which originally belonged to the Shaolin Temples. During his hold of the tournament, its noble reputation became corrupted as Shang Tsung used it as way to further his dark sorcery: he absorbs the souls of the vanquished warriors giving him the ability to change his appearance and fighting style at will.
In game, Shang Tsung is unplayable, serving as the final boss and can morph into other characters, fully utilizing their moves set. However, he does have his own signature move – the flaming skulls projectile – these skulls are probably from the countless fighters defeated in previous tournaments, whom he has absorbed.
Ed Boon and John Tobias wanted to have a big brooding character added to the game and this led to the creation of Goro. The design concept for Goro was inspired from the stop motion figures used in classic films such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981). While the inspiration for him to have multiple arms was inspired the by the Kali, the six-armed idol in the 1973 film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, although ultimately, Kali was inspired from the Hindu deity of the same name. To achieve the stop-motion figure for Goro, John Tobias enlisted the expertise of Curt Chiarelli, a sculptor/artist who is a friend of Richard DiVizio. Goro was sculpted with a very muscular physique, 4 arms each with 3 huge fingers, his hair pulled back and wears white leg wraps, a black loincloth, with a red sash belt with a Yin and Yang symbol.
In the story, Goro was the current Mortal Kombat champion and serves as the penultimate boss before Shang Tsung. He has been reigning for nine generations in the 500 years after defeating the Great Kung Lao, a Shaolin monk and ancestor of Liu Kang. He is the 2,000-year-old prince of the Shokan species of half human, half dragon beings with four arms. Thanks to his brute force, the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung maintained his grip on the tournament.
Being the first multi-limbed character to appear in fighting video games, Goro instantly became an icon among video game fans and has become one of the most instantly recognizable MK characters. Despite being unplayable, his popularity was further enhanced by his brutal moves: the spinning hand fists, stomp attack and his infamous grab and pound. Additionally, he performs taunts during every successful throw move.
So there, the first batch of actors/characters in the MK games. Here are some additional behind the scenes/live action shots: