As of right now, we are only a day away from the first reveal of actual gameplay of Mortal Kombat 11. NetherRealm Studios will give us our first look at the upcoming fighting game via a live stream that can be seen on various online platforms like youtube and IGN. Not only is there a brand new entry in the long running fighting franchise coming our way, rumor has it that Ronda Rousey will portray Sonya Blade and there are also rumblings of an animated feature film just starting production now. With all this news coming at us in such a quick succession, it seems there is no better time to be a Mortal Kombat fan.
But, it wasn’t always like this.
Back in October of 1998, thanks to the huge success of the Mortal Kombat video games, along with the success of the two feature films, MK saw its vague backstory adapted to a live action television series called Mortal Kombat Conquest. The series followed Kung Lao (Paolo Montalban,) after his victory in the Mortal Kombat tournament, as he enlists the next generation of fighters to aid him in the next tournament. This series was often maligned for its acting, off-looking sets and heavy use of body doubles and wire work for the fight scenes. Sadly, the show only lasted one season due to an escalating budget that eventually became too costly.
While most would understandably consider a television show only having one season a failure, this actually worked to the shows advantage in hindsight.
The show itself focused on three leads, Mortal Kombat champion Kung Lao, former soldier and bodyguard Ciro (Daniel Bernhardt), and an ex-thief named Taja (Kristanna Loken). The overall story line was the adventures of the three warriors in the city of Zhu Zin as they sought out the next generation of fighters to aid them in keeping the Earth safe from the inevitable invasion of the dark realm of Outworld and its emperor, Shao Khan. The show, while focusing on the three leads, was also something of a who’s who of fan-favorite Mortal Kombat characters. While series mainstays like Scorpion and Sub-Zero were repeated guest stars, the show would also feature series newcomers like Quan Chi and Reiko, two characters from Mortal Kombat 4, a game that was released in arcades the year before.
While the show banked heavily on the appearances of many of fans favorite Kombatants, the series wasn’t afraid of creating original characters that have only appeared In this show. Characters like Jola, a member of the Black Dragon crime syndicate, helped flesh out the series backstories in ways that the video game series has yet to do. While Shao Khans realm of Outworld largely remained a bit of a mystery, that realm was also expanded somewhat by giving viewers a glimpse into the Cobalt Mines, a prison that Shao Khan sends the more powerful and seemingly unkillable beings that fail him. Cobalt, for whatever unknown reasons, depowers these immortal beings, rendering their powers useless while keeping them alive for an eternity of hard labor.
While the show was definitely campy and it faced very obvious limitations I special effects, the inclusion of many fan favorite characters, a killer soundtrack and a more than likeable cast made this show incredibly enjoyable and more than just a guilty pleasure for some Mortal Kombat fans. While some would like to forget this show had ever happened, I really it and I find myself wanting to revisit it every year or so. And I think this admiration I have for it has everything to do with how the show’s first and only season ended.
The final episode in the series is titled “Vengeance” and it shows series villain Shao Khan finally having enough with the rules of the Mortal Kombat tournament and decides to take matters, and victory, into his own hands. Khan conjures up the Shadow Priests, invulnerable warriors that are unyielding in their service to him, and sends them after the many enemies and obstacles in his path, all while luring the god of thunder, Raiden (Jeffery Meek), away from Earth, leaving it vulnerable to attack.
One by one, Shao Khan’s many enemies fall and die at the hands of his Shadow Priests, until eventually; Kung Lao and his friends are forced to fight them. Realizing too late what is happening, Raiden challenges Shao Khan to Mortal Kombat. What follows is a great fight between two titans that could probably break a world in half if they wanted to. Everything about this scene works. The music is riveting, the atmosphere is unsettling as it takes place in the temporal space in-between realms, the abyss that connects everything. But possibly the greatest aspect of this final fight is the fact that both Raiden and Shao Khan are portrayed by the same actor, Jeffery Meek. Meek is arguably the best actor in the entire series and playes Raiden with an almost lazy sarcasm to him that shows that he has been around for a long, long time and seen everything that Earth has to offer. By contrast, Meek plays Shao Khan as a ruthless warmonger that enjoys inflicting pain and punishment upon any who oppose him. Although this fight is brief, it surely is a fun and impactful fight, the likes of which we wouldn’t see again until the 2009 reboot of the video game series.
But then, the fight ends with Raiden victorious and about to deliver the killing blow to Shao Khan, only he can’t as he realizes too late that he has been lured into Outworld, where he has no power or authority. Shao Khan easily beats a powerless Raiden and takes him prisoner. And it only gets worse from there. As Raiden is beaten and imprisoned, Shao Khan boasts that all of his friends, including the three main heroes of the show, are now dead thanks to the Shadow Priests and Khan has begun his invasion of Earth. The final shot of the series was a glimpse at the trading post that Kung Lao and his friends called home, now torn down to the foundations after the Outworld invasion. The camera linger on the medal that Kung Lao was awarded for winning the Mortal Kombat tournament as screams of Earth’s citizens are mercilessly slaughtered by Shao Khans forces. And that is the end of Mortal Kombat Conquest.
While this was intended to be a cliffhanger that was going to be resolved in season two of the show, we never got that second season. For the last twenty years the fans never got to see how Raiden and his friends would ever get out of this seemingly unwinnable scenario. Even though they never openly expressed it, Mortal Kombat Conquest was intended to be the official backstory to the Mortal Kombat film franchise; telling the tale of Kung Lao’s rise and eventual fall within the Mortal Kombat tournament. What’s hilarious is the fact that this series would’ve had a horrendously dour ending, even if they had made a second season of this show. Looking up what was supposed to happen in future episodes will tell you that the Elder Gods within the Mortal Kombat universe would reverse what Shao Khan had done, destroying his Shadow Priests and resetting the timeline, bring everyone back to life, while also banishing Shao Khan back to Outworld, keeping him from invading Earth before the next Mortal Kombat tournament. Further investigating into the second season would tell you that eventually, Kung Lao’s friends die before the next tournament and Kung Lao also meets his end when he faces Goro.
So…yeah, this show was always going to be a total Debbie Downer about everything.
Mortal Kombat Conquest was truly a show of its time; the type of show that didn’t care if it was considered campy and despite its tongue in cheek humor, it took its story and characters seriously. But seriously, ninety nine percent of the women on this show walked around looking like this…
Yeah, this would never get made nowadays purely for how hard this show targeted an audience of primarily teenaged boys. While it can be a bit distracting that this show relied heavily on stuntmen and women and body doubles for its main cast of characters, the fact that the show cast actors (for the most part) showed that the story was paramount to the filmmakers. I would imagine it’s harder to find martial artist that can act than it is to train actors in martial arts. While this show didn’t always fire on all cylinders, there were more hits than misses, and it expanded upon the Mortal Kombat world in ways that haven’t been replicated in the years since. The main cast has all gone on to further their careers to various degrees of success. While Paolo Montalban and Kristanna Loken have found success in television, Daniel Bernhardt has found massive success in films like Logan and John Wick. This series was also finally released on DVD back in March of 2015 and is readily available digitally on platforms such as youtube and iTunes.
Mortal Kombat Conquest may be seen as a blemish to the MK franchise much like games like Special Forces or the amazing Mortal Kombat Live show, but if you’re willing to give this show a shot, you’ll find a fun adventure series that takes itself seriously, fun fights, enjoyable characters that you care about and a jaw-dropping conclusion that rivals films like The Mist in it gut-punching power.