There are few Mortal Kombat characters as iconic as Shang Tsung.
The main villain in the very first Mortal Kombat game, the soul-stealing powerhouse was famously brought to life by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the 1995 movie adaptation, arguably still one of the best video game movies ever created. Tagawa's performance was so great that, in Mortal Kombat 11, the developers used the actor's likeness for their updated version of Shang Tsung.
Now, over 25 years on from that movie, Shang Tsung is coming back to the big screen in director Simon McQuoid's new adaptation of Mortal Kombat. Chin Han (Ghost in the Shell, Marco Polo, The Dark Knight) plays the character, and GamesRadar+ has an exclusive first look – plus an interview with Han – below.
This version of the character certainly looks menacing – he's slightly older than the first movie's Shang Tsung and has some incredible armor. Then there's the matter of that green spell being cast... We expected nothing less from the age-defying master.
GamesRadar+ caught up with Han to talk about the character and what to expect in Mortal Kombat. Q&A edited for length and clarity.
GamesRadar+: So let's start with the basics, what’s your history with the Mortal Kombat games?
Chin Han: I was a fan of the movie, first and foremost. That was just something everyone saw. Even growing up in Singapore, it was a big hit here. I played the games, but the arcade versions of the game, which was in some ways even more hardcore than it is these days because you would be playing against an opponent and they would be standing a foot from you. That was very intimidating but a lot of fun.
Speaking of the first movie, Shang Tsung was played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who famously auditioned for the role in costume. Did you do anything similar?
That’s an incredibly colorful story, and I love Cary’s performance in it. I mean, the entire cast of the first movie, we’re standing on their shoulders really. But no, I don’t have anything that colorful. By the time we arrived at this version of Mortal Kombat, many years have passed and we're many games of Mortal Kombat later, where these characters have evolved and changed, they're more complex and more violent. I didn’t audition in costume, but I had a very interesting conversation with [director] Simon McQuoid. He sold me on a vision of Mortal Kombat that was of this time and for these fans right now. He came with artwork that was stunning, in terms of costumes and locations where we would be shooting. He was very smart, luring me into the concept of being in Mortal Kombat.
We have a first look at the costume. What was it like stepping into Shang Tsung’s shoes?
I felt powerful in that costume. It’s very flexible for fighting but, at the same time, it’s like wearing armor. It was a very dark, sinister, fun costume befitting of the character. To say much more would give things away.
Just to backtrack quickly, you said this is multiple Mortal Kombats later, is this a sequel in any way to the original movie then?
No, it’s not.
Ok, thanks for clarifying! Your character is the villain of the piece and sends Sub Zero to kill this new character, Cole Young, who is unaware of his history. How did you portray Shang Tsung? Purely menacing? Or wise-cracker?
He is this sorcerer, to be faithful to the source material. He consumes souls and is a shape-shifter, but he also has this appetite that makes him a force of nature. There is a very dark humor to him. But, befitting the times, there is a degree of authenticity to the role. You will find that with all the characters – their motivations are believable. There are real stakes here.
Shang Tsung has a very complicated history through the games, which themselves happen on multiple timelines. How do you borrow from the games but also make the character your own?
It’s such an expansive universe. The lore is so sprawling and it’s so easy to get in over your head as timelines merge, and so that stuff is canon. You have to respect that material, but you also have to respect what [screenplay co-writer] Greg Russo constructed together with Simon McQuoid. We would like to honor the fans first and foremost, but also be able to give them something a little extra – an aspect of the world of Mortal Kombat that they hadn’t necessarily imagined yet. That’s how we have sought to create this world. It’s always with an eye to what the fans will love. Obviously, fatalities and all the intrigue between the characters and the exoticism of the various realms, which is Earth Realm and Edenia and Netherrealm and Outworld.
In the games, your character goes through many transformations, from young to old, through the decades. Can we expect to see similar in this movie or is that giving away too much?
That’s giving too much away, but I have to say… he’s a very tricky one. He shows up in places you might not expect. That’s all I’m going to say about him.
Fair enough! Something you can talk about: what was your training like for Mortal Kombat? You’re fighting but also have these fatality moves that are a bit different.
I’ve had training on other movies like Marco Polo with martial arts. More military operative training for Ghost in the Shell. But this is nothing like I’ve done before because the moves are really so iconic. You have to incorporate the iconic moves into actual fighting styles. That’s where it’s interesting. All the various forms of fighting merge in this film, which makes it so interesting. Joe Taslim [Sub-Zero] with his judo training, Lewis Tan [Cole Young] with his muay thai, and Max Huang [Kung Lao] with his wushu. For myself, I had to bring that all to bear, and obviously, my main source of inspiration is magician David Copperfield with all his magic tricks and sorcery. That’s me being facetious. But [Shang Tsung] is a master of the arts, so there’s that to focus on. There are spells and sorcery in different languages for me to remember. It’s almost like learning a different language, these spells.
Mortal Kombat is coming to theaters and HBO Max in the US on April 16. The movie will be available in UK cinemas later in 2021. Check out the best HBO Max prices through that link.