‘Mortal Kombat’ Interview: Simon McQuoid On Filming Fight Scenes & Making The Movie For Everyone

Mortal Kombat was the champion at the box office this past weekend. The film brought in $22.5 million, which all things considered seems like another major win for Warner Brothers. As someone who grew up playing Mortal Kombat in arcades all around New Jersey, I was curious to see how this modern film adaptation of the beloved video game franchise would play out. To my surprise, Mortal Kombat delivers exactly what it promises.

The film works as a campy over-the-top video game flick. The actors ham it up and look as though they are having a blast. Sure, a few key characters are missing from the film, but with this already being set up as a multiple film series, I wasn’t too bothered by that. The plot serves its purpose in setting up the world, and while the story isn’t anything too special, it works well enough to set up the future of the franchise. However, the main reason to watch Mortal Kombat is for only one thing: the fight scenes. The video game Mortal Kombat is centered around people fighting to the death in a tournament. While there is no tournament in this film, there is exposition to the tournament and plenty of bad-ass fight scenes to go around. Each fight scene is expertly choreographed, so much so that everyone looks and feels different from the one before it. The fight scenes are incredibly bloody and violent, which is exactly what one hopes for from a Mortal Kombat movie.

In my eyes, Mortal Kombat is very much like Godzilla vs. Kong where it delivers on what the trailers promise. However, instead of watching two monsters duking it out, you get a bunch of cool characters kicking ass and killing their opponent in the most outrageous way possible. The film totally works for what it is, and that is mindless violent fun. You can’t really expect a deep and complex story here, so if you are looking for that, you are surely going to be disappointed. Mortal Kombat is one of those films that you need to know what to expect from it. While it doesn’t reinvent the Mortal Kombat wheel, it does a good enough job in its world-building that will hopefully get fans one step closer to a sequel that will deliver even more on what they have been anxiously waiting for.

Mortal Kombat is a bloody and violent extravaganza that delivers exactly what it promises. Each fight scene is spectacular and uniquely choreographed to stand out from the last. If you are a fan of over-the-top action movies, you are going to have an absolute blast with Mortal Kombat.

Last week, I had the chance to chat with director Simon McQuoid about the film and share my views on the film. We spoke about what it was like to make a video game film while also discussing the importance of the fight scenes standing out from other films. Below is my full interview with Simon, where he goes into great detail about working with the cast and crew.

Scott Menzel: Hi, Simon. How are you?

Simon: I’m very well, very well indeed.

Scott Menzel: Are you exhausted yet from all the interviews that you’ve been doing?

Simon McQuoid: It does catch up a bit on you, but it’s good fun. That’s a good thing to be talking about it. You can also live in them. So, yeah, I’m a bit exhausted, but I’m thrilled to be doing them.

Scott Menzel: Oh, that’s good. I’m glad to hear you’re having a good time, even if it is a little tiring. So I want to be upfront and tell you, I personally had a lot of fun with it. I don’t know how critics will react to this movie, but my wife and I both had a blast with it, and we’re probably going to go back out and see it on IMAX when it opens. 

Simon McQuoid: I’m glad. That’s good. Well, I’m glad you had fun. That was one thing that we really wanted to make sure was a key ingredient in this was for the film to be fun, fast-moving, and an enjoyable ride. So I’m glad to hear that.

Scott Menzel: So I’m curious; I’m someone who grew up playing the games at the arcade and then also at home. And, as I said, I really thought the movie works. It delivers on what it promises. How do you think fans of the video game franchises of this franchise will react to the movie?

Simon: That is an excellent question. I’m not equipped with a crystal ball, so I don’t know. But all I can tell you is that there was a great deal of effort and attention pushed to make that we were considering the fans at every step of the way. There’s really a big cross-section of who the audience of this film is. And we really have to think about all of those who do various oddballs and where they all sat on that huge spectrum of… And it goes from the most fully immersed, passionate well-versed fan. And then, on the other side, it goes to people who’ve never even heard it before, but just as they might not have heard of a film that comes out and a brand new audience. So it was really about balancing those two things to make sure that we weren’t undercutting one or giving too much attention to the other. It’s a franchise with a lot of build-up as it has been around for such a long time. There are a lot of things. There are a lot of people who have been with this game for a long time. So we couldn’t ignore the fans.

Scott Menzel: Absolutely.

Simon McQuoid: We were also committed to considering how someone could come in and say if they had never seen this before so, and in the Australian premiere the other day in Adelaide, I had quite a few people come up to me after and said, “I’d never heard of this. I had no idea, but I had a great time. And it was super fun. I loved the film.” So that was really lovely to hear. That was refreshing to hear. I’m not saying every single person is going to love the film, but it was kind of nice to start to get a little bit of evidence that a new audience was enjoying it. I don’t know how all fans are going to react to it. I mean, the reactions started from the fans in Russia and Mexico and Thailand and so forth. The market sort of got it to come out, and they seem pretty happy… Not all of them, but the majority, I think. So that’s great.

Scott Menzel: Good. Another question in that same vein, since you mentioned this, is that Mortal Kombat is so ingrained in popular culture. Did you have any reservations when signing on to direct the film, knowing how beloved the property is?

Simon: Well, I wouldn’t call it a reservation. I would call it something to be acutely aware of. And I think there are two sides to that. That ingredient and or that to consider. And that is, it’s exciting and fun to be working on something that is such a cultural phenomenon in the world, rather than something that no one cares about. It’s exciting to work on something that people really love and care about. But on the other side of that, it does come with its own set of anxieties so that you want to get it right.

So, that’s why it was always balancing and always considering that because we only have hope and how exciting and powerful this title is already. And always just trying to continue that and elevate a version of this into a cinematic spectacle. That was what I was trying to do. It wasn’t changed. It wasn’t to have my interpretation get into the way of the execution, and the rhythm and the tone of quality of it move it into a bigger scale, a scale I believed, and an experience you really believe being believable. We knew we couldn’t mess with the story at all, the lore and what mattered to advance into the material. In short, yes, but it also had some exciting aspects too.

Scott Menzel: Cool. So, I’m sure you answered this question in other interviews, but I haven’t really read many of them yet, but I’m curious. Before this film, you mainly directed commercials and things of that nature. Correct?

Simon: Yes, that’s right.

Scott Menzel: How did you get involved in a project like this?

Simon: It was in a fairly traditional way in that I’ve done a lot of commercials, and I’ve done quite a few video game commercials that one of them for PlayStation got a lot of attention, and several actors reached out to me. And once that happened, then I just started getting that process steps. And it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to direct features. It was a goal and a passion, and I was driving towards that all the time. And just, I said to Ben early on, I said, “I just don’t want to video adaptation to be the first film I do.” I knew that. But then, when you think about it, it makes sense that that would be.

Anyway, so New Line sent the script over to my agent. He sent it to me. And really, it happened that way. And he said to me, “Look, I know I’m sending you a video game adaptation.” They did development on a few video game films, and we talked about a bunch of them that didn’t get made, and it was kind of long, and there was something fascinating about it. We did something in the script that I felt could elevate this material and turn it into… There were enough ingredients to manifest these characters compellingly. And to bring this world into a version that feels very believable, very elemental, and very authentic. And I just said, “The guys at New Line are great. You should meet them.” As you are very aware, the thing about making films is that it’s a team sport. Yeah, I’m the director. And I have to have a vision on the point of view that leads everyone to a certain place, but none of us can do it independently.

So while you can, it might be a different style of the film. So this type of filmmaking is a team sport. So once I met the guys at New Line, and we were all… It felt effortless and really bright. And so, as much as anything, it was about the script, but it was also about the people I was about to work with. So knowing in commercials, you collaborate with everyone all the time. It’s just kind of the way my brain works anyway. So that was another exciting element of it that the team around it would be a good team to work with. So, and then it just happened through that process. I guess they liked my point of view, and here we are.

Scott Menzel: Yeah. I mean, it’s awesome you’re talking about teamwork and things of that nature because you had a fantastic team to work with. I always look at this stuff going from the casting director to the stunt coordinator to even Benjamin with the score. I want to talk a little bit about the stunts because we’ve seen so many movies where people are fighting. Let’s be real. Action movies, we see so many of them. But you had to do something that makes this really stand out and be different. What was it like working with the stunt team and the stunt coordinator for this movie?

Simon McQuoid: Well, it was an absolute joy and, in fact, the entire crew. You know what, I will often say that jokingly but kind of now seriously as a director, what we do for a living is we employ people. So Kyle Gardiner’s the stunt coordinator, and Chan Griffin’s the fight choreographer. And they have a team of 20 plus, probably more, people that were all just extraordinary. Just amazingly gifted people. And that was actually such a joyous experience because I said to Kyle in the first conversations we had, I said that obviously, we’ve got to get the fights on this one. So what I don’t want to do is I don’t want to do just what everyone else does. I don’t want the camera work or the visual effects fairy dust to be the thing we lean on in the fight.

What I want which was almost the hardest bit, but it’s the thing that I really loved, was I want you guys to design and develop flights that the camera’s just going to shoot. I don’t want to get too foxy at any point and let the display of the talent be about the fighters and be it out the actual choreography itself, and that becomes the engine to being each part. So, they were delighted to hear that because so often, the fights get quite generic. As you say, many big action movies all have fights in them, but they don’t really have anything distinct about them. So it was just pushing against this non-generic approach all the time. I was saying to those guys that we have to build a story, and we have to build character all the way through these fights all the time.

Plus, I’ve always felt that audiences love ideas when they’re presented to them. And the best example of that is the bloodlines when Sub-Zero stabs Scorpion, and the blood freezes, and he stabs him back with his blood. Now that’s in the game, but those are the sorts of ideas that make a fight more memorable, most satisfying. And you applaud it in your mind as an audience member because there’s an element of fun and innovation with stuff like that. And we just tried to put as much as that sort of stuff in there as possible. It was really looking back on and seeing that. And that’s why I cast up Joe Taslim because Joe is the guy that does it. Joe and Hiroyuki, they’re doing it. You don’t have to shy away. You didn’t have to fake it. You don’t have to cut around stuff. I didn’t want to cut around anything. I said to them, “I want to see it.” So I just let those extraordinary athletes do their thing. So yeah, the whole process was just a joy with those guys, though; they’re amazingly talented people who need all the credit they deserve.

Scott Menzel:  And I think that stuff all shines through in the film. I mean, to me, you really hone in on those scenes when they’re fighting, and you see it’s well-choreographed. And they stand out. I’m not saying, “Oh, this looks like a John Wick-type fighting scene.” I’m literally saying, “Wow, this kind of looks unique to this movie.” And I think that’s really what’s important. I think you nailed it.

Simon McQuoid: Yeah. Well, thanks. I’m glad you felt that. Because that was a big part of what we were trying to do. And really, just in all aspects of the film, trying to push against anything non-generic, so it actually becomes its own scene, and it has its own tone and flavor. In each fight, we had a fight graph that we built early on. Bennett Walsh, the producer, was a very, very smart and brilliant guy. And he said very early on in the very early discussions, and he said, “There’s a lot of fighting in this film. We should plot this out and see how we feel.” So as we were storyboarding the film, we made a fight graph and made sure that we didn’t want any of the fights to be the same. We didn’t want just to be doing the same thing each time. Each one needed its own ideas and its own visual flavor, and its own tonal flavor.

So when you go back and watch it in IMAX, sort maybe pop that in the back of your brain and consider that each one of those fights has its own set of characteristics that we’re trying to do. Like the Sonya and Kano fight at the end is a very dirty mongrel role on purpose because of the fight and the opening, it purposely has a traditional, I guess, elegant, still brutal, but it has a very hand-to-hand quality. The Reptile fight has this sort of visual quality where the flair comes into it, and that’s how they track it. And so all of them were purpose-built to not be like each other. There wasn’t a sort of fight tonnage boredom that you’re like, “Yeah, okay, we’ve seen this.”

Scott Menzel: No, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that when I see it again. It’ll be interesting now. After talking to you, I can go back and look through all those scenes now and be like, “Oh yeah, I totally see what he’s talking about there.”

Simon McQuoid: I hope you enjoy it the second time.

Scott Menzel: Well, I know you have to run soon. If this does well and greenlights the sequel, will you come back to direct the sequel?

Simon McQuoid: If they want me to come back, and then I’d be more than happy to do it. But we’re not there yet, so.

Scott Menzel: Okay. Well, fingers crossed. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to do that. And thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Simon McQuoid: Lovely chatting.

Mortal Kombat is now playing and is available to stream exclusively on HBO Max.

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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