Stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner worked with director Simon McQuoid and fight choreographer Chan Griffin to deliver the extreme fights in the “Mortal Kombat” movie. Combining signature moves with well-structured action, the stunt team had plenty to work with for this action-packed fantasy flick.
Free from the PG-13 boundaries applied to 1995’s enjoyably campy Paul W.S. Anderson-directed adaptation, this R-rated 2021 effort puts much more emphasis on the brutal nature of these bouts, complete with the gory fatalities this gaming franchise is known for.
With over a dozen combatants involved in nearly 20 different individual fights, it was important to add a unique element to every battle to keep from seeing the same thing over and over. As Gardiner explains, “There was a mood board for each fight, and it created a tone and a level of violence Simon was after, keeping the fights from blending into each other.”
It takes research to plan out any stunt, but “Mortal Kombat” had the sort of source material that many were happy to get into. According to Gardiner, “We were playing the game after hours, and I think, for the first time, we were committed to playing during work hours now and again. It was about taking those moves and paying homage to them, but also providing a grounded, organic touch as well, and I think the stunt team did a great job of that.”
To delve further into how much this research paid off, here, Gardiner breaks down the five best fights in “Mortal Kombat.”
5. Sonya Blade vs. Kano
Double-crossed by the loud-mouthed mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) finds herself face to face (or eye to eye) with the cycloptic menace. She uses her Special Forces training to her advantage in a fight reminiscent of the trailer battle in “Kill Bill: Volume 2.”
In terms of how various influences can play a role, Gardiner made it clear that while no specific films are referenced in the stunt coordination, there are plenty of ideas that come out of what they see and have experienced.
Looking at this fight, in particular, Gardiner notes, “It was a late inclusion, as the filmmakers wanted to know what could we come up with in a trailer that needs to be dark, and have this element of disappearing and reappearing.” The solution was to incorporate Sonya’s abilities based on her military training, resulting in the idea of having foxholes hidden throughout the trailer.
Gardiner continues, “It’s a cool little fight in a tight little area. It’s just enough to build that frustration in Kano, and it works to keep it dirty and raw. We wanted to keep that one grounded, almost like a dirty barroom brawl.”
4. Jax Briggs vs. Sub-Zero
Following a car chase to get away from a mysterious ice-powered ninja, Special Forces soldier Jax (Mehcad Brooks) finds himself taking on Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), only to have his arms frozen and broken off, making for one cold fatality (though Jax lives to fight another day).
On finding the location, Gardiner explains, “We located an unused warehouse and got to have a look at it and see if we could put together the sequence. We went in for two or three days and came back with something everyone could agree on. After another two or three days of rehearsals, we were off and running.”
The scene also features Jax taking a big fall after his limbs get ripped off. “I think we went from the third level down to the first,” Gardiner adds. “It was interesting because that was an individual getting thrown off and hitting that platform on the way down. You’re grateful for a good team of guys to keep everyone safe and still get the action you’re trying to achieve.”
3. Cole Young vs. Goro
Surprising Cole Young (Lewis Tan) and his family back at home, the mighty Goro (voiced by Angus Sampson) emerges, ready to put an end to what he believes is just a puny mortal. However, it’s Cole’s tenacity that unlocks his arcana ability, allowing him to repel Goro’s attacks and take down the behemoth.
To film a version of Goro in action, Gardner notes, “A larger stunt man was wearing a green suit and in painters’ stilts. When it was anything where we needed four arms interacting, I’d have another one of my guys standing in front of him. It allowed that interaction with the actors and the stunt double. It’s quite comical to some degree, but I think it gives you the best interactive result.”
Speaking of Tan’s abilities, he ran through the choreography both with a stunt person and doing a shadow pass, where the actor performs against nothing to assist with the visual effects. Gardiner had suitable regard for him. “He’s great, as he has such a background in that, so it becomes a routine for him.
2. Hanzo Hasashi vs. Bi-Han and the Lin Kuei clan
Set in a peaceful village in ancient Japan, before he was the vengeance-filled Scorpion, Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) did his best to protect his family, even if it meant taking on many fighters at once, as well as the deadly Bi-Han (Taslim), equipped with deadly ice powers.
Gardiner noted, “The two actors were just absolute standouts. Hiroyuki Sanada is phenomenal. He came in and learned everything and wanted to do as much as possible. Joe Taslim is so physically capable. Their notes really gave the fight the authenticity we were looking for.”
A key element of the fight is Scorpion’s signature weapon, a kunai attached to a rope, working as a handheld harpoon-like weapon. “It’s done for real,” explains Gardiner. “We had a soft version, and the stunt man is throwing it and whipping it around his body. At one point, he threw it over his shoulder at a guy, and it’s supposed to go through his forehead [in the final take]. Well, he caught it. We asked him, if possible if he could catch it as it came at him, and he did. It came straight at him, and he was able to catch it right in front of the camera. It’s those mind-blowing moments and capabilities that made shooting it so much easier.”
1. Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero
With help from Cole, Hanzo Hasashi is released from the Netherrealm to take on his new persona as Scorpion, ready to fight his nemesis, Sub-Zero. Armed with his kunai and a katana, he faces the man who murdered his family and is still as deadly as his icy blades.
“We knew it’s the finale, and it’s going to be big,” Gardiner explains. “Everything’s building to this moment and people want to see Sub-Zero take on Scorpion. So, it’s about creating that moment where we bring in Scorpion and you just want to get people out of their seats, and I think the [stunt team] did an excellent job with that.”
Regarding the actors, “Hiroyuki wanted to use the katana at some point in that fight. So, we started to build it around that and give it something a little bit more than just a standard sword fight. One of the team members came up with the idea of Sub-Zero freezing the blood and stabbing Scorpion with it. That was a moment that we felt paid homage to the game, but also drove the story along, as well as give options to future games for new moves.”
As far as making it all feel necessary, “We were trying not to do action for the sake of action. It was really about using the action to continue to drive the story. It’s physical dialogue. In that fight, we really tie in the lineage by bringing back Scorpion at that moment and bring in the classic line ‘Get over here!’ and for me, it was just perfect.”