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Joe Taslim, Jessica McNamee: 'Mortal Kombat' fights show character growth

Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) turns ice into a deadly weapon. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) turns ice into a deadly weapon. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

LOS ANGELES, April 21 (UPI) -- The latest Mortal Kombat movie promises all the blood and gore of the groundbreaking video game. Stars Joe Taslim and Jessica McNamee said their fight scenes will tell a sophisticated story.

"It's beautiful in a fight scene when you have that story to tell, not just badass stunts," Taslim told UPI in a Zoom interview.

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The 39-year-old Indonesian martial artist plays Sub-Zero, a fighter with the power to manipulate ice. Mortal Kombat introduces Sub-Zero as the Chinese warrior, Bi-Han, 500 years earlier.

Taslim said his first fight scene against Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), which opens the film, pays off in their rematch. Taslim said the audience can see that Bi-Han and Hanzo studied each other to improve their respective techniques.

"When they meet again in the final fight in the present time, they didn't want to make the same mistake," Taslim said of the fighters anticipating each other's moves.

In the present, special forces officer Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) is recruiting Earth's greatest warriors to defend the planet in an inter-dimensional tournament. The 34-year-old Australian actor trained in martial arts for six weeks before filming began.

After learning the choreography for her fights, McNamee said, director Simon McQuoid and the fight coordinators continued to adapt the choreography to tell the best story.

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"They get amended as we went along for what looks better on camera," McNamee told UPI in a separate Zoom. "They'd add a couple more moves. They'd make it a bit more gory."

One of McNamee's fights was added to the film. Sonya's rival is Kano (Josh Lawson), a crime lord she's been chasing. The filmmakers agreed Mortal Kombat needed one more Sonya versus Kano match.

"As we were filming it, they realized that they needed to have this big rivalry end in some kind of climactic fight," McNamee said. "It's very satisfying for the audience to see them finally come to a head because they're at each other's throats the whole movie."

Mortal Kombat debuted in arcades in 1992. Its use of digitized actors and realistic blood made the game popular with players and controversial among their parents.

Taslim previously starred in brutal martial arts movies such as The Raid and The Night Comes For Us. Compared with Mortal Kombat, Taslim said, a film like The Night Comes For Us seems more violent because it takes place in the real world.

"It's not a fantasy with super powers," Taslim said. "That's why it feels real when everything happens in the movie."

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The first Mortal Kombat movie adaptation in 1995 was rated PG-13, and eliminated the blood and dismemberment from the game to achieve that rating. The new movie is rated R and recreates the game's mayhem more graphically, and updates the characters' iconic costumes.

Taslim had to learn to move his body from within Sub-Zero's mask and armor. He said the costume was heavy, but also allowed him to wear more padding for protection.

"I cannot really spread my legs," Taslim said. "I cannot really stretch that far with my body movement."

Taslim said that costume designer Cappi Ireland modified Sub-Zero's pants so that he could kick higher.

"Everybody's just thinking about, not just the look, but the purpose of the costume," Taslim said.

Sonya's costume does not allow for much padding. It is a simple tank top with pants and boots. McNamee said the advantage of her costume was that it was low-maintenance.

"All the guys had so much to prepare, like hair and makeup and tattoos and prosthetics," McNamee said. "I was often the last one to arrive in the morning."

To help pump one another up at those early morning calls, Taslim said, cast members played the Mortal Kombat theme song, which The Immortals recorded in 1993. It was used in television ads for the video game before its inclusion in the 1995 movie. Taslim said each day, the song would be pumped out of a different actor's trailer.

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"It just changed every day so we had our anthem every morning to boost our energy to fight," Taslim said.

McNamee said she still got to hear the theme song when she arrived on set.

"There were a couple of times when people would put the Mortal Kombat theme song just on their phones between takes," McNamee said. "We'd all get fired up."

Mortal Kombat opens in theaters and premieres on HBO Max Friday.

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