Fight: Great Kung Lao vs. Goro – Ancient Wu Shi Courtyard
The battle ends with a scene of Goro catching GKL in some helpless position with his bottom arms and beating him with his top arms until he slumps to his knees. Shang exclaims "Finish him!" and as Goro reaches in, grabs him by the headband, and goes for the final blow, the camera cuts to a closeup on Great Kung Lao's face and zooms in on one of his eyes as it goes wide and the screen suddenly flashes red like a blood splatter.
A slow zoom back out reveals that the eye we are looking at no longer belongs to the face of GKL, it's one of Liu Kang's eyes and the previous scene was a dream he was having, the end of which startled him awake.
Liu is sitting in meditation position on the floor of a small dojo, well-furnished and warmly decorated (and stocked with a liquor cabinet because it's also Bo' Rai Cho's home.) Across from him on the floor sits Master Cho, sipping sake. He notices Liu's sudden snap out of his trance and Liu, sensing that the tournament is near and his training is complete, simply responds "It's time."
An establishing shot reveals that we are now at the hidden compound of the Lin Kuei clan: the ruins of an ancient Mongolian castle in Northern China.
Inside, Sub-Zero discusses being invited to the tournament with his brother Kuai Liang, a.k.a. Tundra. Bi-Han tells his bro he's not certain if he should accept, as he's tired of sorcerers and fighting for other people's "causes" and whatnot, but Kuai protests. Outworld will conquer Earth if they don't win, yada yada, how can he not care? Their conversation is casually interrupted by the approach of (human-)Sektor, who says (with a hint of jealousy in his tone) that his father, the Grandmaster, wishes to see Sub-Zero. Before leaving, Subby casually points out that there's probably lots of work for an assassin in a place like Outworld, so if they get taken over, the emperor is just another potential client. Kuai can't believe his brother's attitude and storms off.
Bi-Han prepares to enter the Grandmaster's chamber but stops at the door for a moment, recalling the last words Raiden spoke to him at the end of MK Mythologies, about the evil in his soul and how it's not too late to change.
Inside the chamber, the Grandmaster informs Sub-Zero of a client who wants Shang Tsung assassinated, offering a hefty sum. Bi-Han muses to himself that with that much money, he could retire from the clan and live the rest of his days in peace. Sub-Zero decides he'll accept the invitation to Mortal Kombat after all, as it's the only chance he'll have to get close to Shang.
Hanzo Hasashi sits in a prison cell on what a subtitle informs us is the First Plane of the Netherealm. It's a dank, bare metallic room with a giant wall fan spinning in the background, producing a monotonous whirring noise. Behind it, Mordor-esque spiked towers can be seen stabbing upward into a sulfuric yellow sky and the wails of the tortured occasionally cry out.
Scorpion is wearing the Shirai Ryu robes he died in, but his appearance is cracked, wounded, bloody, the colors of his body desaturated (sorta like the zombies in MK9). He's just a dead soul awaiting judgment in this lonely purgatory.
His cell door opens and the backlit silhouette of a bald man in baggy clothes with giant spikes on his shoulders (Quan Chi obviously, but intended to be mysterious and not fully revealed) dismisses the two generic Brothers of the Shadow guarding the cell.
Scorpion recognizes him, but doesn't seem to think much of him and refers to him only as "Necromancer", and the way he says it sounds like an insult. The necromancer starts reminding Hanzo why he's there, just to get him riled up. "Sub-Zero killed you while you begged for mercy, you died without honor", etc…but then he tells Scorpion something he doesn't know yet: that his life is not all the Lin Kuei took from him.
He tosses a flower at Scorpion's feet, a red rose, burnt and ashen. Scorpion immediately recognizes what it represents: his wife always wears one in her hair. The necromancer explains that after Hanzo's death, they attacked the village of the Shirai Ryu and left none alive, Sub-Zero personally killing Hanzo's wife and son. Scorpion is all distraught and enraged, and in his vulnerable emotional state, The necromancer offers him a deal. Quan wants Sub-Zero dead too (for betraying him in MK Mythologies), so he offers Scorpion the chance to live again, to be reborn as a "spectre" and wield a power that can defeat Sub-Zero's, in order to kill this mutual enemy.
Scorpion makes a vow that his soul will not rest in peace until he has avenged the deaths of his family and clan. (the wording is specific, this vow is a verbal contract and his motivation, to be explored in the sequels.)
A second silhouette walks up behind the necromancer, a robed man with a devil horns-shaped crown and two glowing green eyes (Shinnok, but once again, kept hidden and mysterious). The two of them raise their hands in unison and chant some shit and a big magic circle with intricate patterns and symbols appears beneath Scorpion's feet. A giant column of flame shoots up out of it, burning Scorpion's body down to just a skeleton, then replacing his clothes and skin with a more Hell-themed version of his ninja outfit. The last thing to grow back is the mask and face over his skull, and his famous blank white eyes snap open for the first time.
The last thing the necromancer tells Scorpion is that he's made arrangements: Sub-Zero will be attending the MK tournament. (Implying that Quan is secretly the one who put the hit out on Shang, just to get Sub to attend.) When he does, Scorpion will be there to kill him.
Next we see the inside of an abandoned factory. Prototype Cyberninja parts sit on the assembly lines (stuff that could double both as a crude Cyrax helmet and Kabal's future mask, like in MK Legacy). In a back room, Kano and his top lieutenants are sitting around a table playing poker. Around the table are a guy with a ponytail in a sleeveless duster (Kabal), a guy in a brown leather vest and cowboy hat (Jarek), and a dark-skinned girl in a pink tracksuit (Tasia - for the purposes of my universe, the events of MK: Special Forces didn't happen but the characters do exist). At the door, standing guard and looking all "strong, silent type" is a tall, bulky man dressed in black and brown with his face wrapped like a ninja. (Tremor).
As they play, they discuss business. Kano's men complain about how the gang is falling apart because the SF keeps raiding their hideouts and capturing their best men. The feds always seem to know exactly where they're hiding and what they're up to, and Jarek suspects a mole and a fight almost breaks out between him and Kabal, as neither trusts the other.
Kano calms them down with news that he's working on a huge arms deal with a very rich old man named Shang Tsung. The old man owns his own private island off the coast of China, and Kano's due to meet up with him there in a few days to close the deal. And when it's done, not only will the Black Dragon have more money than they know what to do with, but Tsung has even offered to rid them of the Special Forces.
Slowly sneaking through the factory, we see soldiers get into position for a raid. Sonya, Jax, and their informant, Chinese Military-Policeman Hsu Hao are each at different entrances and radio some strategy back and forth, but Sonya's attitude is basically "fuck it, I'm tired of waiting" and she barges in alone, starting a firefight and forcing Jax to scramble his men in after her.
Tasia is the first to try to escape out the back, but the second she opens the door, a giant laser beam flash-fries her gruesomely, revealing Hsu Hao standing there emotionless like the "perfect soldier" that he is, the light of his cybernetic chestpiece dying down. Surprised by the sudden death, Jax yells that they're supposed to be taking them alive, but Sonya bitterly disagrees.
At Kano's order, Tremor lays down a big quake that allows the remaining BDs to escape, but Sonya refuses to let them get away and charges through the chaos to tackle the nearest one she can reach - Kabal - to the ground.
When the rubble dies down, Jax radios their status back to his contact at base, a woman named Gemini. He and Hsu Hao examine the parts in the factory and Jax notes these are the stolen bionics they were looking for, complimenting Hsu Hao on locating the place. But there's not enough here, it looks like a shipment already went through - probably, Hsu Hao notes, to the same black market doctor who did his artificial heart and Kano's eye.
Jax is about to interrogate Kabal and find out where Kano's headed, but it looks like Sonya already has, and she's taken off ahead of them.
Cut to a Johnny Cage biography TV show. A video package quickly summarizes his career, from being serious martial artist "John Carlton" in his youth, winning tournaments and making a name for himself, to becoming "Johnny Cage" and getting into Hong Kong films with cheesy names like "Gist of My Fist", to becoming famous in America and adopting his goofy, egocentric personality (hinting that in the early days, he was much more serious about his talents and maybe even that he was more spiritual about chi and stuff, but it could've been bad for his image the way Scientology damaged Tom Cruise's, so he deliberately puts on the shallow jokester persona we know him for), to finally winning serious awards with the blockbuster "Sudden Violence".
Johnny's big claim to fame was apparently that his films were always "realistic", doing his own stunts and practical effects and such. The package ends, cutting to an interview scene, as the reporter starts to ask about how his newer pics are bombing and critics and audiences have started attacking him for "overusing slow-motion and CGI", and it's revealed that the interview is actually being filmed right now, as Cage gets pissed and ends it, getting out of his chair and storming off the set.
His agent or publicist or whatever follows him out of the studio trying to cool him down, but he protests, all mad that "I AM the special effects!" but he can't show people that because the general public wouldn't be able to handle a guy shooting fireworks out of his hands in the real world, or he promised some old master in Tibet that he'd never reveal the ancient secrets of kung fu that were passed down to him, or some excuse like that. Whichever works best.
Johnny decides he needs something new to revitalize his image and restore his legitimacy. Conveniently, Shang or a messenger character walks up right about then to invite him to the tournament, which after some back and forth, he accepts, thinking "that's it, if I go back on the competitive circuit, that'll show people I'm still for real!"
Liu Kang returns to the Shaolin Temple and asks for permission to represent the Order of Light in the tournament. Kung Lao is also petitioning, and head monk Master Wu informs them that Shang Tsung's invitation will only allow one Shaolin representative to enter, so a difficult choice must be made.
Kung Lao and an entourage of White Lotus members supporting him argue that he has been more devoted to his training, they think that Liu left them to go off and become a hermit because he doesn't have the heart for it. Liu explains that he left to seek out and train with the legendary master who taught GKL. Some of the monks are awed, others actually think Bo' Rai Cho is just a myth or couldn't possibly still be alive after 500 years...but then the Drunken Master comes forward in person to confirm Liu's claim and vouch for him, silencing all doubters but one. Bo's entrance should somewhat resemble/homage Chris Lambert-Raiden's first appearance in the movie...though less bowing and worship since he's not a god, more like just respect and awe at a living legend. In this instance, Kung Lao would be in Robin Shou-Liu's shoes as the young unbeliever who needs to be put in his place.
Wu explains that there is only one way to determine who stands a better chance of victory: a Qualifying Round. Liu and Kung must fight one another to prove who the better fighter is and decide who will go.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Kung Lao – Wu Shi Academy
Liu Kang wins. As the finish, he reveals the most powerful technique that Bo' Rai Cho taught him: the Dragon Kick.
Kung Lao angsts a bit that he will not be able to honor his ancestor, but Wu reminds him that the life of the Champion is one of eternal battle and sacrifice: you never age and can never stop defending the title until you die. Kung always treated their training like a competition but Liu never coveted being the best, he saw it as a burden. He's best suited to carry that burden because he feels its true weight.
Cut to a pier in the middle of the night, where many dangerous looking men stand around with luggage, awaiting their ride to Shang Tsung's island. Subtitle: Chai Wan Bay, Hong Kong.
Johnny's limo pulls up and he says goodbye to his agent and secretary, both of whom are suspicious about this mystery tourney nobody's ever heard of and don't think he should go but he assures them it's on the level and he'll be back in a week, safe and sound. To prove it, he points out a pro fighter he recognizes, a famous kickboxing champion named Nimbus Terrafaux. He leaves his little entourage behind to chat with the champ, who teases Johnny about how long it's been since he was actively competing.
The Nethership emerges from the mist all spooky-like and docks at the pier. A few Masked Guards march down the ramp to make sure no uninvited passengers board. Cage and Nimbus watch this whole spectacle, a bit awed.
A group from the Order of Light accompanies Liu to the dock. The Shaolin NPCs board the Nethership to witness the tournament (they'll be the audience in the Courtyard arena), but Liu and Kung say their goodbyes here, Kung teasingly promising to return to the White Lotus Society and train even harder, so that one day he'll be able to beat Liu. As Liu walks up the ramp, he replies back something like "Maybe you'll get your chance at the next one," and cracks a joke about imagining a 70-year-old Kung Lao swatting at Goro with a cane or something like that.
In private, Cage and Nimbus agree about how weird the gig is, what with no pro associations sponsoring or even having heard of it and the secluded island and the spooky boat ride at midnight. They figure the host is just an eccentric old man with an enthusiasm for the martial arts, and at least there'll be prize money. Then they trade friendly jabs back and forth about which of them is going to win as they board the boat.
In a quiet corner of the dock, a Masked Guard suddenly gets pulled behind some crates and there are sounds of a brief struggle. A moment later, what looks like the same guard, except with Kung Lao's hat on his back, walks back out and boards the boat. (The guard with the hat should be visible, but not obvious, in several scenes throughout from this point on - like an easter egg hunt.)
As the Nethership starts to pull out of the dock and set sail, there's suddenly an explosion on the pier. Kano runs out of the flames and leaps onto the ship to escape a hail of gunfire. Sonya chases after him but stops at the water and radios Gemini for a ride to tail it. When the speedboat pulls up, Jax is aboard, looking all disapproving. He climbs up to the dock and says he won't let her have it unless she agrees to take some men with her for backup.
Aboard the boat, Kano seems to have already made friends with some of the more thuggish competitors and they are trying to bully Johnny Cage, assuming that he's just a celebrity and not much of a fighter. Nimbus comes to his defense, suggesting the others back off and allow them to brawl it out one-on-one, allowing Cage to surprise Kano with a sucker-Shadow Kick. The crowd "oohs" and circles around to watch them duke it out. Liu Kang looks over at the Masked Guards to see if they're going to stop the brawl, but they seem completely uninterested.
Fight: Johnny Cage vs. Kano – Nethership Deck
With Kano knocked on his ass, Liu gets between them and breaks it up before things get any more heated, warning Johnny it would be wise to watch both his back and his mouth, as little men out to make a name for themselves like Kano will be common at Shang Tsung's tournament.
Sub-Zero sits perched atop the roof of the ship's cabin, watching the others below in privacy – or so he thinks. Scorpion suddenly appears behind him and grabs him up. Sub's all like "it can't be, you're dead!" and Scorpion explains he's come back for revenge. He's all "I could kill you now…but unlike you, I fight with honor. We'll settle this in the tournament" before vanishing in a puff of flame, leaving Sub-Zero to brood over his warning.
Raiden is also on the boat. He's dressed MK movie-esque, like a dirty hobo. His white robe and shawl are raggedy, his long, silver hair is loose, and he wears the coolie hat tipped low so people can't see his glowing eyes. He's pulling the Yoda-in-Empire-Strikes-Back act, pretending to be a nobody as he and Cage strike up a seemingly idle conversation wherein he's secretly trying to judge Johnny's personality.
Observing from a distance, Liu Kang can sense something about this beggar that makes him suspicious or seems somehow familiar, but he's not sure what. (Liu's never actually met his Thunder God before. Gods aren't supposed to interact much with mortals or control their destinies, after all.)
At the end, we briefly see the Nethership from the perspective of Sonya's motorboat as she and her team follow along quietly. It's far enough behind that they can see it, but the Nethership can't spot them in its spooky trail of fog.
The next day, the Nethership arrives at the island. There's a brief scene of the warriors disembarking the boat and being led to the palace area by Shang's Masked Guards.
Johnny looks around the island and is extremely displeased to find there's no camera crew or press, wondering how a secret competition on a secret island is supposed to help his reputation. Tsung creeps up on him in his sorcerous way and assures him something ominous sounding like "don't worry, Mister Cage. This tournament marks a great moment in history. What you're about to be a part of will be remembered for all time..." or something like that, and then floats on by.
Not sure what that's supposed to mean, Cage walks on, commenting to himself that at least the other fighters will be able to vouch for him when he beats them, to which Liu Kang bitterly responds "if they make it out alive". Cage rolls his eyes at how Liu's always so serious/such a downer. "I mean come on, it's just another karate tournament, right? …Right?!"
That night, Shang holds a mighty banquet in his Throne Room. Around the room, some of the more rowdy and competitive entrants are enjoying themselves by challenging each other to arm wrestling or board/brick breaking contests (just like the "Test Your Might" minigame). A few of our heroes participate as well (Liu is unimpressed, "Boards don't hit back"), but everyone is hushed when Shang Tsung steps up to the throne and speechifies about the great honor of the tournament and whatnot.
Liu, Johnny, and Nimbus make friendly conversation while they eat and look over their competition. Offended by Shang's speech, Kang tells the others of how his temple used to host the tournament, but a long time ago, Tsung took control of it by assassinating and outliving the other judges, and has corrupted the rules of the once-sacred competition. Liu then tells them the legend of Tsung's own hand-picked fighter, the reigning champ Prince Goro. "They say his people are half-man, half-dragon", etc. Cage laughs the whole thing off, disbelieving the idea of a monster with four arms.
Raiden tries to talk to Kano to pull his "judging the worth of each Earthling" bit, but the gangster rudely brushes off what he thinks is a creepy homeless guy trying to chat him up.
Next, Raiden approaches Sub-Zero who is off standing in a corner with his arms crossed, keeping to himself rather than sitting at a table enjoying the feast. Bi-Han gives him a "what are YOU doing here?"-type response, relating back to their last meeting in Mythologies, but they are interrupted by Shang, who tells Subby that he personally invited Raiden and that the thunder god's no danger because he had to become mortal to enter, so not to be worried. Shang also casually reveals just before hovering away that he's known all along that Sub-Zero came to kill him and he's not concerned at all. Raiden's goodbye to Subby includes a passing warning about Scorpion and how he may pay for his past mistakes.
Cut to a short scene on the beach. Sonya's crew park their little boat on a secluded shore, only to be caught by the Masked Guards, led by Shang himself. Caught by surprise, they are stripped of their guns and taken prisoner at spear-point. Tsung makes the claim that on his island, nothing escapes his notice, and says something mysterious sounding directly to Sonya like "So glad you finally made it. We've been expecting you."
The next morning, the fighters assemble in The Courtyard. First, Shang tells them about how the tournament is private and intruders will not be tolerated. The guards drag Sonya in and Shang explains her capture and how she must win the tournament or her band of trespassers will be executed, before they release her to join the crowd of fighters. Our heroes are not pleased with their host's ruthlessness (though Johnny's mostly just distracted by her looks) but Kano outright applauds, clapping and chuckling.
Next he gives his "let the tournament begin" speech, introducing and hyping up the reigning champion: "honored Prince of Kuatan, General of Outworld's Armies, undefeated for 500 years", etc. Insert appropriate awe from the regular humanfolk at Goro's 4-armed monster-ness here as he enters the Courtyard to stand beside Shang. Cage in particular has a WTF moment, while Liu gives him an "I told you so" before being called to the center of the arena, as Shang allows the Shaolin representative the honor of kicking off the tournament with the first fight.
As Liu leaves, Raiden walks up and gives Johnny the "Yup, the supernatural is real" speech, mentioning Cage's own chi powers with something witty and insulting in the Lambert style like "Oh what, you didn't think you were special, did you?" Then he explains the war between Earth and Outworld. Mystical realms in other dimensions, the Elder Gods created the tournament so we'd have a fair chance to defend ourselves, they have to win ten in a row to invade and they've won nine, etc. (Note: I rather like the idea from the movie that no one ever speaks Shao Kahn's name until he's introduced in MK2, everyone just refers to him as "The Emperor". I like how ominous and mysterious it makes him seem.)
Cut back to the fight, which is about to begin.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Generic Human NPC – The Courtyard
Liu wins and at the end of the match, Shang of course calls for the "Finish Him!" but Liu explains how he is Shaolin and will never give in to the corruption Shang has brought to the tournament and how when he beats him, he'll return it to his temple's hands. Shang is all like "That's very noble of you. Unfortunately…" and gives some excuse for one of the guards to stab the other guy dead so Shang can steal his soul, showing his power in front of the murmuring crowd of fighters.
Back in the audience, Johnny asks Raiden why, if the tournament is Earth vs. Outworld, the bracket has humans fighting other humans. Raiden first flippantly comments that with a 500 year undefeated streak, Goro is the only fighter their side even needs, the Emperor is shrewd and sending any more would be a waste of good soldiers. Then he explains that the purpose of the bracket is to determine who Earth's best fighter is so the realms can go champion vs. champion in the finals. Johnny complains "So that means Mongo up there only has to fight once, but whoever goes up against him has to go through like ten matches first? Seems a little unfair." Raiden makes a sarcastic remark about how of course it's unfair, it's Shang Tsung's tournament.
(The purpose of this conversation is to give a logical explanation why Outworld characters like Baraka, Kitana, etc. absolutely do not and will not show up during MK1, keeping the roster the same as in the old canon.)
Finally, Cage is called to be in the next match and walks up to the platform.
What follows next is a montage of the characters fighting several generic martial artist NPCs, showing off all their various special moves, and in the cases of the more ruthless characters like Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kano, and even Sonya, some Fatalities as well. Also, several opponents who're spared when they lose are again shown killed by Shang or his guards so their souls can be stolen. And not always immediately after the fight. A few of the warriors are just limping down a hall of Shang's palace after their match when they are jumped by something invisible or shadows on the wall show them being bitten to death by a bald figure with claws and a huge, toothy mouth. (The first hints of Reptile's presence and his habit of snacking on the losers.)
(The main purpose of the montage is so we can skip through the early rounds of the tournament and get down to the final 7, where the main characters meet each other in the bracket.)
After he wins and steps down, Liu walks up, finally aware/astonished that his people's thunder god is real, and attending the tournament in disguise, and asks him what he's doing there. "Tsung invited me, I took a mortal form," etc. leads first to a brief argument about whether or not Raiden has faith in the humans to win the tournament, and felt the need to fight for them. Raiden assures Liu that he's mainly just testing the other fighters, judging their worth, and that he does have faith in…some of them. (He is vague, as though Liu might not be the only potential winner.)
Then Liu mentions his teacher, who trains others because he can't enter the tournament himself, Bo' Rai Cho - because he was born in Outworld, his wins would count for Outworld. Here, we get Shang's backstory explained out loud as Liu says the temple elders always told him Shang was human and betrayed Earthrealm, so how come he can fight for Outworld? Raiden explains that Shang indeed once did fight for Earth a thousand years ago, but he only did so to gain the prize of eternal youth, and at first, he lost - disqualified for cheating. He's so afraid of aging and dying that he sold his own soul to The Emperor in order to learn the dark arts, steal souls, and prolong his life. Then he returned to the tournament and with his new powers nearly won 10 in a row of his own until Great Kung Lao stopped him. In summary, he can fight for Outworld because his soul is Outworld property.
Cut to Sonya trying to find some privacy outside the Palace Gates to radio for help when Johnny casually strolls up and attempts to flirt. She tells him to get lost (to which he's like "Fine, I've got a match coming up anyway! Just thought you might like to watch the show" before walking off) as she's busy trying to call her superior officer for backup, She manages to cut through the terrible reception on the island and contact Jax, but he says he can't find the island on the charts OR by satellite, it doesn't seem to exist. She tells him she's standing on it, just home in on her signal. There's a lot of electromagnetic interference making it difficult to do so, but it looks like he's a few days out and will get there as soon as he can. She decides she can't wait that long for reinforcements, she'll try and break her team free herself.
The usual suspects except for Sonya are gathered back at the courtyard for the next battle. Johnny steps up to face his friend Nimbus and there's some playful banter between them as both are treating this as a friendly spar and looking forward to seeing who the better fighter is.
Fight: Johnny Cage vs. Nimbus Terrafaux – The Courtyard
When Cage wins, the guards move in to kill Nimbus like they have all the other losers so far. Cage protests and tries to stop them, but he is held off at spear-point and forced to watch his friend murdered so Tsung can consume his soul. He tries to say something to Tsung, but he's so mad that for once, Johnny Cage of all people is at a loss for words, all he can do is turn around and storm off in a rage. Liu wants to stop and comfort him, but Raiden insists that they let him go and work out his feelings on his own.
Come nightfall, Sonya sneaks into the dungeon but Shang is waiting when she arrives and forces an impromptu tournament match on her…
Fight: Kano vs. Sonya – Goro's Lair
Stronger and more ruthless, Kano comes out on top. (If he lost now, then the next time he and Sonya fight, where's the drama? You gotta give her something to shoot for come their rematch in MK3, make the hero the underdog going in.)
With her eliminated from the tournament and pretty battered, Kano holds Sonya back and forces her to watch as her team is executed by the Masked Guards and Shang steals their souls. Before Kano can then finish her himself, however, Johnny Cage arrives to her aid. Shang allows Cage and Kano to fight since they were next up in the bracket anyway. Kano says he's gonna finish what he started on the boat, to which Cage just rubs the fact that he won on the boat in Kano's face.
Fight: Johnny Cage vs. Kano – Goro's Lair
Cage ends the fight with some brutal Red Shadow moves, taking out all his anger and frustration on Kano and really laying him out. He considers finishing it too, pulling back a glowing green fist like he's gonna knock his head clean off with it, but then he looks over at Sonya, decides it's not worth it, and leaves him lying to instead help her get somewhere safe to rest.
Shang just kind of sneers in disappointment at Kano's unconscious body and leaves rather than having him killed like everyone else who's lost so far, as if to suggest he doesn't even want Kano's soul, it's not good enough for him. Instead, he has Kano thrown in the dungeon.
The next day, Sonya, Liu, Cage, and Raiden have gathered as a group for the first time in the most peaceful and private area of the island, the Warrior Shrine. Liu looks over the statues, admiring one of Great Kung Lao, and comments that they have a shrine just like this back at the Order of Light, but Shang's is considerably creepier as it already contains statues of every one of them. Cage stares at his and Sonya sarcastically remarks about him admiring his own likeness, but he doesn't seem to be in the mood. Sonya seems to be starting to warm up to Cage, though still angry/depressed at losing her team. For his part, Johnny is much more serious about the tournament now after how his match with Nimbus ended. That both feel vulnerable and share the pain of loss right now helps form a bond between them.
Raiden lifts Sonya's spirits by explaining that even though she lost, she wouldn't have ended up at this tournament if she wasn't destined to be there and she's just as much one of Earthrealm's greatest fighters as the rest of them, with a hidden power of her own, she just needs to find it.
Liu and Raiden start training Sonya how to harness her chi. In particular, Liu showing her how to make fire like he does. After some false starts and difficulty concentrating, she calms down and with enough encouragement, manages to form a small flame in her palm and make it float around and explode, giving origin to the Kiss of Death. (The point here being to finally explain where the fuck Sonya got special moves. Though, at least for my purposes, her Pink Rings come from a USSF sonic weapon worn on her wrist.)
Their training is interrupted when the fighters are called to assemble for the next round of the tournament. On their way out, Sonya asks Liu to show her how to do his Bike Kick later.
Everyone who's left gathers to witness the next fight at the Pit arena. They stand on either side of the bridge as Tsung orders the next two competitors to step out into the middle - Raiden and Sub-Zero. Cage complains about how unfair and dangerous it is to have people fight on such a narrow space. Raiden points out before walking off to fight that he and Subby are both dangerous to Shang and he placed the fight here on purpose, hoping the pit will claim them both and kill two birds with one stone.
Raiden pesters Bi-Han about how he hasn't changed a bit and he saw such potential in him but he hasn't lived up to it, etc. while Sub-Zero retorts with stuff like he's loyal to the clan and loyalty is a virtue. He's tired of his soul being judged by others who think they're so high and mighty. He wouldn't take it from Quan Chi and he won't take it from Raiden, he's beaten gods before and he'll beat him too.
Fight: Raiden vs. Sub-Zero – The Pit
In the end, Raiden's more passive/evasive fighting style, dodging and teleporting out of danger, trips a frustrated Sub-Zero up and he finds himself hanging off the bridge, holding on for his life. Shang calls for the finish.
Raiden instead grabs Bi-Han's hand, who tells Raiden that he did what Raiden asked before and stopped a great evil, and he came here to kill Shang Tsung, which would rid the realms of another evil, and if that's not enough to redeem him, then he should just let him fall. Raiden refuses at first but Sub covers his hand in ice so he'll slip out of Raiden's grasp. The thunder god closes his eyes, nods, and lets it happen (but without seeming sad, as there was a hidden meaning he gleaned from Sub's words).
As Sub-Zero falls into the Pit, he freezes over completely and what hits the bottom is just a statue that shatters to bits. Tsung is skeptical but declares Fatality and everyone starts filing out of the arena. Everyone except Scorpion, who walks to the middle of the bridge and looks down, narrowing his eyes. He can sense Sub-Zero is still alive…and the camera pans down to reveal that indeed, the blue ninja is hiding out of sight, perched on a support pillar or clinging to the underside the bridge.
Raiden, who of course wishes to make an ally/hero/potential winner out of every Earth warrior, tries to explain to Scorpion that there's more ways to find peace than just revenge. His family is waiting for him up in the Heavens, perhaps he could redeem his soul and earn a place there one day if he tried. Scorpion is skeptical, but seems to be considering it. He wonders aloud - Isn't it too late for him? Can a soul that's already been judged indeed repent and earn its way out of the Netherealm after death? Has reincarnation perhaps provided him a second chance?
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Scorpion – Warrior Shrine
Liu wins and after the fight, Scorpion climbs back to his feet and enraged by defeat, basically shoves it all back in the Thunder God's face by claiming that he's seen through Raiden's words, he knows who the Thunder God truly favors, always giving advice to Liu Kang...and to Sub-Zero! He's clearly on the Lin Kuei's side, but Sub-Zero deserves no favor, he has no honor, he's a cold-blooded murderer, his death would be justice, and "you can't protect him anymore."
Scorpion then casually pushes aside some Masked Guards (who're acting like they might attack him with their spears so Shang can have his soul) as if they're of absolutely no threat to him, and walks away rather than teleporting. For him, the tournament is over, but he won't yet leave – he has unfinished business.
Afterward, Shang announces that next, Liu Kang faces Raiden, which surprises him a bit as he wonders how he can defeat his own deity.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Raiden – Warrior Shrine.
After testing him with various attacks both physical and verbal, Raiden ultimately concedes at the end of the fight to Kang, as though giving him his personal endorsement to win the tournament, perhaps even throwing in the line "You are the Chosen One" since he has literally chosen him. Tsung is displeased to see a forfeit instead of a true finish, but grants it nonetheless, amused that the powerful thunder god no longer wishes to provide a challenge, teasing that perhaps he's ready to just give in and let Outworld have Earth.
After being eliminated from the tournament and with most thinking him dead, Sub-Zero is free to try to carry out his assassination mission on Shang another way – by sneaking thru an entrance to Goro's Lair at the bottom of the Pit. However, as he sneaks from pillar to pillar, he spots movement – something is down there in the dark with him. We the audience briefly see the creature clearly – Reptile, in his true, green-skinned form with his mask off, feasting on a corpse among the spikes, but the moment he notices Sub-Zero, the green ninja turns invisible.
Not sure if what he glanced was even real or just his imagination, Sub-Zero puts his guard up and decides to press on, but when he gets to the gate to Goro's Lair, he's struck by a surprise attack. Even when Reptile finally reveals himself, his "human" camouflage is now active.
Fight: Reptile vs. Sub-Zero - Pit Bottom
Reptile wins. Note the opportunity for a cute reference or two to the old MK1 "Find Me" hints, perhaps he hisses out a "blocking will get you nowhere" as he spits acid that eats through Sub's armguards.
With his life in danger, Sub-Zero makes some sort of distraction (perhaps frightening Reptile away with an exploding ice clone) to cover his escape. Limping along, he runs into Raiden again, who sarcastically compliments him on his talent for cheating death. Sub's all "What the hell was that thing?", to which Raiden summarizes the origin story of Shang's secret bodyguard, commenting on the tragedy that Reptile doesn't even realize Shang and the Emperor are the ones driving what little is left of his race extinct through harsh slavery.
Raiden then points out that killing Shang won't redeem Bi-Han's soul because he's doing it for selfish reasons. Sick of holier-than-thou judgments, Bi-Han throws back in his face that Raiden thinks it's so easy but it's not, no one leaves the Lin Kuei alive. He NEEDS the money from this job to make himself disappear, admitting that Raiden's words at the end of MKMSZ got to him after all and he does intend to retire and live out the rest of his life somewhere quiet and peaceful. Raiden suggests that if he knows the wrong he's done is because of the clan, why not be the one to right them? He is respected and powerful in the Lin Kuei, others could be swayed to his cause if he took a stand. Sub bitterly insists that he's no leader, he never bothered to make friends, no one would follow him. Raiden interjects "not even your brother?" but Bi-Han stubbornly looks away and doesn't respond.
As they part again, Raiden speaks with hope for Bi-Han's future (which will seem darkly ironic to anyone who knows what's coming).
Cut to Goro's Lair, where Shang, Goro, and Kano who's still sitting in one of the cells, are having some sort of conversation until Reptile arrives and informs Shang that the Lin Kuei yet lives but he fought him off. Reptile is basically looking for some sort of approval from his "master", but Shang doesn't seem to care at all, while Goro points out that Reptile has actually failed because he let him escape and that if he were Shokan, he'd throw himself upon a sword to restore his honor or something like that.
The main purpose of the scene is to give more screentime and character development to the villains and show their personalities at this point: Kano is belligerent and respects none of them despite their power and especially hates being jailed. Goro is all about his warrior culture and personal pride, but as a prince, also acts a bit spoiled and entitled. He especially resents Kano constantly disrespecting him. Reptile is meek and submissive but with a bitter and resentful edge, and Shang is getting angry and desperate out of fear of Liu Kang but trying to hide it and appear aloof and aristocratic.
Similarities to the Goro/Kano dinner scene from the movie are obvious, as the discussion becomes about how the heroes are too close to victory and Goro doesn't fear Liu Kang. He could even point out the red headband in his possession, his trophy from killing the Great Kung Lao. Shang would then berate him for overconfidence.
Goro and Kano need to not get along – even more than they did in the film, based on the fact that Kano has become a prisoner and Goro is essentially his guard. Perhaps this could be called back on way down the road in MK3 or DA when Kano has become Kahn's general, a position that currently belongs to Goro.
The end result of the scene is Shang deciding that Kang must be eliminated before he can make it to the final round. Reptile begs to be the one to kill him, but Shang says no, he needs someone who will not fail and instead introduces the Emperor's most trusted and most powerful assassin. Out from the shadows steps Ermac.
Back in the Warrior Shrine, Liu is peacefully meditating beneath the Great Kung Lao statue, seeing flashes of his vision of GKL vs. Goro again.
Ermac sneaks up and tries to smash Liu with a giant pillar, demonstrating his incredible telekinesis, but Liu senses it, his eyes snap open and he dodges in time. As they square off, Liu's all like "who…what are you?"
"We were like you once. We were the Emperor's greatest enemies. Now our souls are one. Now we serve him. Now we...are Ermac."
As they fight, Liu gets some good hits in but Ermac's psychic powers are too strong. As the ninja moves in for the kill, a Masked Guard suddenly jumps him and ditches his robes, revealing himself to be Kung Lao. Unfazed, Ermac takes them both on, making one of his "we are many"-type comments about how he's not the one who's outnumbered.
Fight: Liu Kang and Kung Lao vs. Ermac – Warrior Shrine
After a hard-fought battle, they chase the ninja off. Liu is all "What are you doing here?" Kung doesn't have faith in Liu, doesn't think he can do it on his own, needs someone to watch his back. As far as he's concerned, this attack proves he's right, that assassin would've won if he wasn't there. They argue. In an attempt to explain why it's he that gets to fight in the tournament, robbing Kung Lao of the chance to avenge his ancestor, Liu tells Kung about his visions, which shocks him.
Raiden walks up and says that's curious, if he's seeing the past through GKL's eyes, he must be communing with GKL's spirit. Kung Lao's all like "but that's impossible, my ancestor's spirit is gone, it never passed on to the afterlife, Shang Tsung stole it after Goro killed him." Raiden explains that the souls Tsung consumes are not lost forever, they are still inside him, and when he dies, they will all be released. Kung Lao thinks it's a cry for help then, that GKL wants Liu to free him, to kill Shang. Liu's not so sure. He says it feels more like a warning.
We're back in the Courtyard early the next morning for the final round of the tournament. Raiden gives both men some words of encouragement as they prepare to face each other, but Johnny thinks it's pretty obvious Raiden expects Liu to win and jokingly insists "I'm the star of this picture…but don't worry, Liu. You've been a good sidekick. I'll make your last scene look good."
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Johnny Cage – The Courtyard
Liu wins, though the fight is not an easy one. It's important to show that Johnny earned making it this far. Shang doesn't even bother calling for the finish, knowing Liu won't take it. He instead subtly gestures to his guards and they sidle towards Cage as if moving in for an attack, but Raiden and Sonya step in to protect him and Shang calls them off, looking disappointed and somewhat bored about it.
Shang stands up and gives some grand declaration about how Liu Kang has proven himself Earthrealm's strongest warrior…but the tournament is not yet over. One final challenge remains. Now he must face the true champion of Mortal Kombat: Goro!
Then a trap door in the center of the Courtyard snaps open and Kang falls unceremoniously into Goro's Lair.
Goro's Lair is depicted like a labyrinth Kang must find his way through to reach Goro himself. Small blue Oni occasionally skitter around in the background, their yellow eyes glowing in the darkness, but while their sounds and movements catch Liu's attention and keep him on his toes, none dare approach for a fight.
The disembodied sound of Shang's voice will inform Liu that before he can face the Champion of Mortal Kombat, he must pass a series of tests to prove he is truly worthy. Kang complains about this being against the rules, but Shang reminds him that he makes the rules.
(Note: The purpose of this scene is to work the Endurance and "Mirror Match" rounds of the original game into the plot. It also makes for a good chance though to show Shang using his position to cheat and make winning hard for the hero, and to explore Liu Kang as a character and prove he's not boring and one-dimensional like people think.)
In each dungeon chamber he wanders into, Liu is confronted by a pair of apparitions. They appear solid when first encountered, looking like people he is close to and trying to demoralize him and make him doubt himself or even physically attack him...but he overcomes each pair by realizing that this is just Shang Tsung casting illusions and everything they say are lies and tricks. They evaporate into howling green mist after each test is passed.
In the first room, they're his parents and tell him they abandoned him, gave him away to the monks on purpose because they didn't want him. For a moment, Liu's face wears an expression of sadness and pain, emotionally torn as he remembers the truth of his adoption, an origin story we quickly flashback through in brief: We see the Shaolin took him in when he was little because his parents died. He had a younger brother he was separated from and hasn't seen since, adopted by another family. The life of a martial arts prodigy spent in constant training is a sheltered and lonely one. But then these downer memories are countered by flashes of positive scenes - he came to see the monks as his new family, Bo' Rai Cho like a father-figure, Kung Lao as close as a brother.
Verbally reaffirming the truth, Liu banishes the old wounds from his mind, his resolve turning to steel once more as he dismisses Tsung's ruse and walks right through the fake ghosts as he exits, making them blow away like smoke.
In the next room, Great Kung Lao and Bo' Rai Cho appear and tell him his training is worthless, Master Cho is a failure as a teacher, his lessons weren't good enough to beat Goro before, haven't been good enough for nine generations straight, and won't be good enough now either. Kang proposes a demonstration of his training, vowing to show them otherwise.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. GKL and Bo' Rai Cho – Goro's Lair
After he defeats them and enters another room, he sees Raiden and Kung Lao. They tell him he was the wrong choice, Lao should be in the tournament, not him. He doesn't even want it, how could he deny his best friend his lifelong dream? This one almost fools Liu for a moment because he knows these two are actually present on the island, they could in fact be in the room...but he quickly realizes they're not really there, just more of Shang's illusions, and fights to prove that he deserves to be there.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Raiden and Kung Lao – Goro's Lair
In the next room, he is met by Johnny and Sonya, who tell him he's going to fail, to let them down. They're his friends, they trusted him, he's their only hope, and they're going to die on this island and he won't be able to save them. They angrilly attack.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Johnny Cage and Sonya – Goro's Lair
Looking down at the defeated fakes and filled with renewed confidence by his victories, Liu sarcastically comments that Shang must be running out of ideas, because that last attempt wasn't even convincing. He walks into the next room and, ironically, finds a copy of himself (albeit all dark-skinned and evil looking.) Mirror Liu's taunts cut the deepest, as they come from his own head, his true fears.
We learn that Liu hates fighting, always has. He's a pacifist at heart, and he's afraid that makes him weak. He's afraid of Goro because if GKL couldn't beat the giant, how can he? As much as he fears losing, he's just as afraid of what will happen if he wins because it'll mean he'll never be allowed to stop fighting, having to defend the title again and again until eventually someone kills him. He's afraid he'll outlive all his friends and be alone forever. (The last one is important because it'll help justify his romantic interest in Kitana in the sequel.)
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Mirror Liu – Goro's Lair
As the wounded copy stumbles back, nearly finished, he says that most of all, Liu is afraid to take a life, because even if he's ridding the realms of a great evil like Shang Tsung…if he can justify doing it once, he can justify it again. And again. And what if it comes too easily, feels too good to stop holding back? What if he can't stop himself? Liu peacefully holds out an open palm as if offering Mirror Liu his hand in friendship…and decides to find out, suddenly setting it alight with his chi and surprising the clone with a flaming "One Inch Punch" straight through its chest.
Shang's disembodied voice laughs in the background and proudly declares the Fatality, his approval causing Liu to frown in shame. He holds his dark self close as it sinks to the ground, asking how could he? Liu quietly replies something to the effect of "You are just an illusion…my reflection, through a broken mirror. My fear, my hatred, my self-doubt...a man's greatest enemies always lie within. And now...that weight is lifted. I don't think I'll be doing that again, but thank you. To know what it would feel like...it was a most generous gift." Then he lets the dead body go and walks with determination into the next room as it magically fades away.
Finally, Liu finds the room which bears Goro's throne, but Goro is not sitting in it. Before Goro steps into frame, it should be clear that Liu is nervous here. He genuinely fears facing the Shokan. Regardless, when the monster slowly walks up behind him, so tall Liu's head is only level with his chest, and Liu hears the breathing, feels it down the back of his neck, realizing he's there, Liu takes a moment to calm himself and puffs up a bit, sticking out his jaw and acting brave before turning around.
He and Goro exchange some words about Liu's "when you killed the Great Kung Lao, you corrupted everything the tournament stands for" Shaolin sense of justice vs. Goro's "he died a glorious death in battle…and so will you" Shokan sense of honor before they have at it.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Goro – Goro's Lair
Liu wins, of course. The key to HOW he wins, however, is when he realizes the meaning of his GKL visions: by witnessing the dream over and over, Liu has been able to study the way Goro fights. He's been prepared for days, the shock and awe that typically strikes the hearts of Goro's victims is lost, allowing Liu to nimbly dodge blows and slip out of grapples. Even so, the fight is grueling and comes close, but at the end, tired and beaten, Goro drops panting to one knee and asks to be killed as that is the Shokan way. But Liu basically says "no, that would be the easy way out. You will live with the shame of this defeat" instead and knocks him out.
Since there was no audience, Liu takes proof of his victory by taking GKL's red headband from Goro's unconscious body.
In the Throne Room, all eyes are on the doorway to the dungeon, tension mounting over who will emerge the winner. Shang sits in his throne with the champion's belt (the one Liu wears in MKvsDCU) across his lap. Finally, Liu walks up the steps and emerges from the darkness, wearing the famous headband on his own head for the first time, and the heroes all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Shang is enraged, tosses the belt aside instead of giving it to Liu, and declares to Raiden that Earthrealm may have won the tournament, but there's no rule that says he must let them leave the island alive. He commands the Masked Guards to attack.
Liu Kang, however, is determined to face Shang himself and take back control of the tournament for the Shaolin. Liu chases after Shang while the others hold off their attackers. As Reptile attempts to stop Liu, Kung Lao gets in his way, cheering Liu on to go after Shang and finish it, showing that he's no longer bitter about who gets to be champ and has full support for his friend.
A dazed Goro stumbles in during the chaos and Sonya and Johnny become targets of his fury. Kano walks out as well, however, free from his cell, and targets Goro for revenge at having kept him locked up.
Sub-Zero reappears and attempts to fight his way through the guards to reach Shang and finish his mission, but Scorpion stops him outside the palace, saying the only reason he stuck around this long was he knew Subby was still alive and was just waiting for him to show his face again. Enraged that they never got the chance to face each other in the tournament, Scorpion refuses to leave before he's had his revenge.
Raiden protests, pleading with Scorpion to remember his honor and that more killing won't bring his family back. Scorpion yells at the thunder god to stay out of this, Subby can't hide behind him this time. Raiden can't physically intervene as he's now fighting the Masked Guards all by himself - and he wouldn't anyway. He sadly agrees that men, not gods, must decide their own destinies.
Fight: Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero - Palace Gates
The last of the Masked Guards falls defeated at Raiden's feet, just in time for him to watch helplessly as Sub-Zero is reduced to a blackened corpse by Scorpion's Toasty Fatality.
Scorpion looks down at his own peeled-off face in his hand and says he's finally avenged his family and clan, but somehow the victory still feels hollow, before engulfing himself in flames and slowly burning away as well, leaving nothing behind but floating embers. Raiden regretfully eulogizes that Subby died before he could atone for his sins, then he teleports away.
Shang has made it to the Warrior Shrine where Ermac is speaking to him. Ermac senses Liu coming and tells Shang it's no use attacking, the tournament is already over and they have failed the Emperor. The eyes of the Elder Gods are upon the champion now, "we" can no longer fight Shang's battles for him. He stands aside for Kang.
Shang responds that the tournament is not over just yet. If Liu Kang wishes to face the Grandmaster, then he must be willing to put the championship on the line. Liu Kang agrees and challenges Shang Tsung to Final Kombat.
Fight: Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung - Warrior Shrine
At the end, Liu's attacks hit so hard that after each one, Shang reflexively morphs into a different character (like when you beat him in MK1 or during the opening cinema of MKSM) until finally Liu sends Shang skidding across the ground and unable to stand back up with the flying Dragon Kick, the move Bo' Rai Cho taught him.
Shang, defiant to the last, gasps out a final call to "go ahead…finish me." Liu looks like he's genuinely considering doing so…but at the last minute lowers his shaking fist and quietly declares "I grant Mercy." He declares Shang's hold on the tournament over and demands he leave this realm and never return. A golden light shines down from the heavens, representing the Elder Gods acknowleding Liu as MK champion (and granting him the prize of not aging).
In desperation and spite, Shang casts a spell that causes an earthquake and disappears into the wreckage. Ermac and Kang share a glance at each other, a sort of mutual respect/kindred spirits nod in passing (hinting to the fact they'll be allies one day in Deception). Then Ermac turns and leaves as well, returning to Outworld.
Raiden and Kung Lao both run up to Kang. Raiden reports that Scorpion and Sub-Zero are dead, and Shang is commanding his island to collapse into Outworld. Liu and Kung must quickly return to the Nethership and help their fellow monks get aboard safely, while he goes back to save the other survivors.
As they part ways, Liu hangs back for just a moment, his attention drawn to the Warrior Shrine statue of the Great Kung Lao...as the earthquake shakes it to pieces. We can perhaps see Liu's regret at not killing Shang and freeing the souls he stole, until Kung Lao comes back into frame to put a hand on his arm and get his attention and they finally take off.
Cage, Kano, and Sonya are still fighting Goro, having somehow brawled all the way from the Palace to The Pit when the earthquake starts and the bridge starts crumbling apart. Kano and Goro fall in, seeming to disappear down a bottomless, smoke-obscured chasm, leaving it only implied whether or not they hit the spikes at the bottom. Cage grabs the edge of the bridge with one hand and Sonya with the other. He tries desperately to pull her up and they share some touching words, but she slips out of his grip and falls in. The stone breaks under Cage's hand and he starts falling in too, when suddenly a flying Raiden catches his hand.
As Raiden and Johnny fly toward the dock, an explosion erupts behind them and the fire moves too fast, it's going to swallow them up. Raiden tells Cage to brace himself as they disappear in the plume of flame. As the fire rushes at the screen, the audience's POV snaps to black.
For a long moment, the screen holds on solid black. In the darkness, we hear the peaceful sound of waves and seagulls.
Johnny Cage’s eyes flutter open and he finds himself floating on a piece of driftwood in the ocean. He groans and struggles to move, feeling sore, sunbaked, and groggy as he looks around a bit, noticing that he's all alone. Through blurry vision, he can make out Tsung's still-crumbling island far on the horizon…until it disappears right before his very eyes as if it was a mirage.
Suddenly, a loud horn grabs his attention and he snaps his head around to see a warship bearing United States markings approaching from the other direction. As it sails up beside Johnny, he cranes his head up to look at the deck and sees armed soldiers staring back down at him over the railing…including Major Jackson Briggs, his arms crossed and a frown on his face.
Still squinting from the harsh light of the sun, Johnny grins nervously and gives a friendly, almost apologetic wave hello.
TO BE CONTINUED
P.S. Here's a look at the actual tournament bracket, to show that it does indeed make sense: