HEAT VISION

'Mortal Kombat' Stars Reunite to Play the Game 24 Years Later

Decades after Robin Shou (Liu Kang) and Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage) briefly made video game movies cool, the pair are battling (and hugging) it out.

Linden Ashby was coming down with a little cold when he arrived at The Hollywood Reporter's office on Monday, so he politely warned those around him not to shake his hand. But when his Mortal Kombat co-star Robin Shou arrived, Shou waved off the warning about potentially catching a cold and gripped Ashby in a bear hug — the first of many embraces the men shared during that morning's reunion.

In the 24 years since the actors starred in Mortal Kombat, the two have remained close, as was apparent as they chatted about each other's children and reminisced over a party they attended two months earlier. Then came the main event: Two of the guys who once made it seem like video game movies could actually be good played each other in the game that'd started it all, 1992's Mortal Kombat.

Using gaming company Arcade1Up's cabinet, the duo went through three fights, first re-creating the Liu Kang vs. Sub Zero and Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion matches from the film — and revealing the painful details of shooting those scenes along the way. Then was the title fight, Liu Kang vs. Johnny Cage, to see once and for all who is the most powerful Kombantant. You can check out the action in this week's episode of Heat Vision Breakdown, a genre video series from THR hosted by Patrick Shanley.

Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and also led by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Sonya Blade, surprised Hollywood by reigning as No. 1 for three weekends in a row in 1995 on its way to $122.1 million at the box office. In 2015, THR published an oral history detailing many of the secrets from the movie, but Shou and Ashby had more revelations to share.

Shou admits he had a lackluster reaction when he first heard about the game. He was working in Hong Kong when he ran into martial artist Ho-Sung Pak, who was about to go off to work as Liu Kang on the first Mortal Kombat video game. Shou's reaction? "I said, 'That's kind of dumb.'" But a few years later, Shou would be playing the role in live-action after a grueling audition process that required him to read for the part an astounding seven times — that's how nervous execs were about casting an Asian lead.

Ashby, who starred as Johnny Cage, reworked some of the dialogue on the fly. He famously added the line, "Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole," but Shou revealed another line the actor ad-libbed. In the scene in which the Kombatants are getting on a boat to travel to the tournament, Johnny Cage rudely orders Liu Kang to carry his bags. Liu Kang responds by dropping the bags in the water. Shou revealed that Ashby pitched the line after that to director Anderson. The moment where Cage remarks to himself, "Thank God I didn't ask him to park the car," was pure Ashby.

After Mortal Kombat, the franchise faltered on the big screen, with a lackluster sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, that saw much of the main cast depart (Shou and Kitana actor Talisa Soto returned). Now, a new film is in the works from producer James Wan and with Ludi Lin set to star as Liu Kang. Ashby and Shou are excited to see the new iteration.

"There was so much that could have been done with this franchise that wasn't done," says Ashby.

Notes Shou of the original: "It wasn't really about the action and the martial arts and the fighting. It was the dynamic of each character. You could tell we really cared for one another."

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