When the characters of Mortal Kombat take over the big screen in early 2021, they will look exactly how they should. On social media, the producer of Mortal Kombat confirmed the live-action reboot film will have an appropriately diverse cast that adheres to the established canon of the video game franchise, but he also raised a big new question about the 2021 Mortal Kombat movie.
What happened? — On Thursday, film producer Todd Garner tweeted at a fan praising the 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot for its casting. The fan, @KeelahMonster, noted that the movie "will have actual Asian actors as the Asian characters" and that they're "really impressed that they seem to have actually bothered to care about nationality too, at least for Scorpion."
This prompted Garner to reply, "We made sure every nationality was correct."
Another tweet from a fan asking about when the trailer for the movie will premiere, to which Garner teased an autumn release. "Probably Fall," said Garner.
Why This Matters — The Mortal Kombat series has visibly been one of the most ethnically diverse video games. Like other fighting franchises Street Fighter, Tekken, and Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat has heavily featured Asian characters alongside black, white, brown, and yes, non-human characters. In its return to the big screen, it's important the movie adheres to the diversity seen in the games, simply because anyone who isn't Japanese playing Scorpion doesn't sit right.
For the 2021 movie, Japanese film icon Hiroyuki Sanada will play Scorpion, with Joe Taslim (The Raid: Redemption) playing his ice-cold rival, Sub-Zero.
This matters because the cult classic 1995 movie Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, had some difficulties putting Asian and minority characters at the center of the movie. In a 2015 oral history by The Hollywood Reporter, actor Robin Shou revealed he had an unusual seven reads for producers because the investors were uncomfortable with an Asian actor leading an expensive Hollywood movie.
"I read seven times. My agent friend had never heard of anyone who had to read seven times. I had to read for the producers, the director, the casting director, the line producer and then my final reading was with New Line. They were really hands-on as far as picking this Asian Liu Kang, because he's an Asian lead and they're investing millions. It was grueling."
French-American actor Christopher Lambert, who starred in the 1986 film Highlander, played Raiden, an elder thunder god who in the games wears a conical hat. Game co-creator Ed Boon said his team imagined Raiden originating from "Asian mythology" but accepted Lambert's casting:
"We never showed his face that clearly in the game, so we never really defined a race," Boon said, "but we didn't think 'the Highlander guy.' That wasn't in our heads."
For the 2021 reboot, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano (Thor) will play Raiden.
The Inverse Analysis — Even if it's just to please fans who know and love the characters of Mortal Kombat, it's a big deal that the 2021 reboot will feature an appropriately diverse cast who closely resembles these familiar fighters.
The only mystery thus far has been Johnny Cage, a character whose actor hasn't been announced. The movie star turned Earthrealm freedom fighter will appear in the movie, confirmed by writer Greg Russo on Twitter who said in a November 2019 tweet: "Big plans for J.C. Can't say much more than that."
At the same time, British-Singaporean actor Lewis Tan (Into the Badlands) has a role in Mortal Kombat, and his character hasn't been revealed. Is Lewis Tan playing Johnny Cage? Tan has the look and charisma for a hotshot like Johnny Cage, but Tan's British background is just a little at odds with Johnny Cage's very American origins.
That said, it is Hollywood. In a movie about elder gods and mystical ninjas ripping out spines, there's no reason there can't be a little make-believe.
Mortal Kombat will be released in theaters on January 15, 2021.