Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat)
|Mortal Kombat character|
Sub-Zero in 2011's Mortal Kombat
|Created by||John Tobias (with brainstorming input from Ed Boon)|
|Designed by||John Tobias (early games)
Allan Ditzig (Deadly Alliance)
Luis Mangubat (Deception)
|Voiced by||Jim Cummings (MK: TJB)
Luke Perry (MK: DotR)
Tom Taylor (MK:A)
Jim Miller (MKvDCU, MK2011)
Steve Blum (MKX)
|Motion capture||Jordan Brun (MKvDCU)
Lawrence Kern (MK2011)
|Portrayed by||Daniel Pesina (MK, MKII)
John Turk (MK3, UMK3, MKT, MKM:SZ)
François Petit (first film)
Keith Cooke (second film)
Ryan Watson (Live Tour)
J.J. Perry (Konquest)
Kevan Ohtsji (Legacy s.1)
Eric Steinberg (Legacy s.2)
Harry Shum Jr. (Legacy s.2)
|Fighting styles||Shotokan (MK:DA, MK:D, MK:A)
Dragon Kung Fu (MK:DA, MK:D)
|Weapon||Ice Scepter (MK4, MKG)
Kori Blade (MK:DA, MK:D, MK:A)
Sub-Zero is a video game character from the Mortal Kombat series and one of the original characters in the first Mortal Kombat game in 1992. A mainstay of the series, Sub-Zero is the only character who has appeared in every main Mortal Kombat fighting game. The character also appears in many other Mortal Kombat media works such as the Mortal Kombat live action film series and animated series.
The character is a formidable fighter possessing the innate ability to control ice in many forms. In his first return appearance in Mortal Kombat II, it was revealed that the original Sub-Zero had died during the events of the first game and was replaced by his younger brother. In subsequent games, the younger brother remained as Sub-Zero, while the elder brother became Noob Saibot. The most defining trait of the character is his fierce rivalry with his archnemesis Scorpion.
His backstory has been explored in various Mortal Kombat games and other media. Sub-Zero has received positive reception and gained a high popularity, including being featured on multiple lists of the best video game ninja characters.
In video games
The elder of the two brothers who takes the name Sub-Zero, called Bi-Han (Chinese: 避寒; pinyin: Bìhán), was introduced in the first Mortal Kombat game where he participates in the titular tournament as he was ordered by the Lin Kuei to kill the host Shang Tsung and take his treasure. He fails to accomplish his mission, and is killed by the specter Scorpion, who sought to avenge his own death. Bi-Han then becomes the undead Noob Saibot.
In the direct sequel Mortal Kombat II, Bi-Han's place is taken by his brother Kuai Liang (Chinese: 快涼; pinyin: Kuàiliáng), whose codename originally known as Tundra prior assuming his older brother's codename to honor him. Upon his brother's death in the first tournament and the survival of Shang Tsung, Kuai Liang is sent by the Lin Kuei to complete his brother's unfinished task. In Mortal Kombat 3, the younger Sub-Zero escapes from the Lin Kuei who wanted to transform their warriors into cyborgs. They program three cyborg assassins to hunt and terminate Sub-Zero (one of which being his old friend, Smoke, who failed to escape), who by this time had received a vision from Raiden and agreed to join the rebellion against a new threat.
In addition to the current Sub-Zero, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy included a playable character known as "Classic Sub-Zero". His biography states that although he was believed to have died after the first Mortal Kombat, he returned to try again and assassinate Shang Tsung. However, his ending states that he is not Sub-Zero, but an unidentified warrior who was missing from the previous tournament. In Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which serves as a prequel to the first Mortal Kombat, sorcerer Quan Chi hires the Lin Kuei to find an ancient amulet. After the first Sub-Zero delivers the amulet to Quan Chi, he is sent back to the Netherrealm by Raiden upon learning it is the key to releasing the god Shinnok. Sub-Zero regains the amulet while fighting Shinnok and returns it to Raiden.
In Mortal Kombat 4, Raiden once again summons Sub-Zero to assist in the defense of Earthrealm against the former Elder God Shinnok. In the meantime, Sub-Zero fights Scorpion, who was told by Quan Chi that the Lin Kuei killed his family, but he leaves him upon discovering Quan Chi was the actual person responsible.
In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Sub-Zero defeats Sektor in a fight for leadership of the Lin Kuei Clan. He also meets Frost, his apprentice, and takes her to fight alongside Earthrealm's warriors against the alliance of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi.
In Mortal Kombat: Deception, Sub-Zero joins Shujinko's group to defeat the new threat in Onaga. He also confronts his corrupted older brother, now the undead Noob Saibot, across the game. In both Deadly Alliance and Mortal Kombat: Unchained, Sub-Zero comes to encounter Frost for the Lin Kuei's leadership, but he remains victorious. In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon 's Konquest mode, Sub-Zero faces the warrior Taven, who invaded the Lin Kuei Palace. Both eventually decide to ally to stop the invading Noob Saibot and Smoke. After the invaders' defeat, Sub-Zero stays with the unconscious Noob Saibot to find a way to save him.
In Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, which reprises the events from Mortal Kombat II, Sub-Zero first appears as a boss character, but then allies with the protagonists Liu Kang and Kung Lao for a short time during the search of his older brother. He is last seen pursuing Noob Saibot in the Netherrealm. Mortal Kombat: Fire & Ice, which would star Scorpion and Sub-Zero in co-operative gameplay, was cancelled when Paradox Development, creators of Shaolin Monks, "couldn’t do it in time and under budget."
Kuai Liang is also playable in the crossover title Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; in the storyline, Kuai Liang is involved in a war between the titular fictional universes and is the protagonist for one chapter of the story mode. Ed Boon notes that Kuai Liang's counterpart from DC Comics is Batman as both are "dark, mysterious, brooding characters." In Sub-Zero's ending, he realises he is no longer the assassin he once was and leaves the Lin Kuei. Inspired by Batman, he becomes a superhero donning a new costume with a cape; unknown to him, the Lin Kuei are on his trail because they do not tolerate desertion. Sub-Zero is also as a guest character in The Grid.
Both incarnations of Sub-Zero appear in the 2011 Mortal Kombat game. While Bi-Han is still killed by Scorpion and becomes Noob Saibot, Kuai Liang's fate changes in the second tournament due to Raiden's interference; the timeline is altered and, after he has defeated Scorpion, Sub-Zero is captured and turned into a cyborg instead of Smoke, as well as Lin Kuei served Outworld. He is able to regain his mind and joins Raiden's warriors to stop Shao Kahn. However, Kahn's wife, Sindel, overloads his circuits, electrocuting him as a result. He is then resurrected and enslaved by Quan Chi in the Netherrealm. Sub-Zero's background is further clarified during this installment as well, as it is revealed that the two brothers were in fact abducted by the Lin Kuei as infants, after the Lin Kuei murdered their parents.
In Mortal Kombat X, he retains his human appearance while still under Quan Chi's influence during the Netherrealm War. After the war ends, he is revived along with other warriors who was under Quan Chi's control. 25 years later and after the comic book prequel, Kuai Liang becomes the new grandmaster of the Lin Kuei.
According to Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias, Sub-Zero was originally conceived as a character named simply Ninja, a mysterious member of "the Lin Kuei, a legendary clan of Chinese ninja." He wrote that inspiration came from the controversial book The Chinese Ninja Connection by Li Hsing, which "posits historical evidence for the existence of the Lin Kuei and their influence on the Japanese ninja. I was aware of there being some controversy about the author’s claims. So when we split the character in two for palette swaps, I thought it would be fitting that one was of Chinese origin and the other Japanese to kind of embody the argument." Sub-Zero was then named Tundra, but the name was changed after a member of the design team saw the film The Running Man, in which the first assassin fought by Arnold Schwarzenegger's character used the name, albeit not hyphenated.
John Tobias said in 1995 that Sub-Zero was unmasked in Mortal Kombat 3 in order to stir up fan speculation about the character's backstory. An April 1995 article from VideoGames magazine, which was written while the game was still in production, included the first image of actor John Turk in costume, though Turk was purposely photographed from the rear and in shadow in order to conceal the character's identity. The new Sub-Zero made his proper debut on the cover of GamePro that same month with Turk's red outfit tinted blue (as it was for the game), but the photo used was a reversed negative, as his scar was over his left eye. According to Ed Boon, Sub-Zero's Freeze was originally omitted from the game in place of the Ice Shower, but was brought back in the next revision following fan feedback at a local arcade.
Since Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero has had a scar running down from his forehead and across his right eye as a mark of death. The scar was originally red, and later changed to blue in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance as a result of Sub-Zero's enhanced powers. In Mortal Kombat: Deception, his scar has faded to the point where it can no longer be seen. He now wore an armored uniform heavily inspired by Dynastic era Chinese battle armor, though it was often criticized by fans as being too reminiscent of the Shredder. However, Sub-Zero's alternate uniform was very reminiscent of Chinese culture, even featuring Sub-Zero without a cowl and a Qing Dynasty-era hairstyle. In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Sub-Zero retains the scar, which is not part of his alternate costume. Since Deadly Alliance, Sub-Zero is the only character who has shown considerable signs of aging. Concept art from Deadly Alliance depicted him with a graying, receding hairline, and a more pale and gaunt face, while his scar was now blue and his forearms frozen over. Although Sub-Zero originally had blue eyes, they turned white after he obtained the Dragon Medallion in the game. Sub-Zero's appearance in Shaolin Monks was one of the most revised ones from the title. Character lead Mark Lappin did almost ten passes on his design; producer Shaun Himmerick noted that "we went through literally 5-6 heads and styles of head costume on him" and commented that Sub-Zero's design in Mortal Kombat was difficult to make although most people called it "simple". In the end, the staff was satisfied with his final look in the game as it reminisces them to his classic outfit.
Aside from Sub-Zero's unmasked appearance in his Mortal Kombat II ending and his portrayal in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the character has primarily been portrayed or voiced by non-Asian actors. Midway later explained Sub-Zero's rather occidental appearance for a Chinese assassin by giving him a Caucasian mother. According to this new backstory, his father had a wife, two sons, and a daughter while he lived in America to hide his personal role as an assassin for the Lin Kuei.
When he first appeared in the first Mortal Kombat, Sub-Zero featured only two special moves: his ice blast and sliding kick. These moves have become Sub-Zero's trademark since then, being featured in every game that Sub-Zero has appeared in (Mortal Kombat II and subsequent games feature the younger Sub-Zero). Mortal Kombat II added his ground freeze move, and two new Fatalities including the now-famous one where he would freeze and shatter the victim.
Sub-Zero's Predator-inspired Fatality, the "Spine Rip," is considered by Boon to be his favorite Fatality from the first game as well as the most controversial. Some home versions of the first game replaced the "Spine Rip" with another finishing move due to its violent content. Unlike other returning characters whose moves remained intact, this Fatality was not carried over to MKII and MK3, but was brought back in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as one of Classic Sub-Zero's finishers. However, the move was intentionally censored by Midway; right after he grabbed onto his opponent, the screen went black and only the resulting sound effects were heard. The Nintendo 64 port of Mortal Kombat Trilogy gives all of the younger Sub-Zero's special techniques and finishing moves to the classic masked version, due to the fact the N64's cartridge format had memory restrictions that did not allow the use of both masked and unmasked characters. The developers had to remove the "Spine Rip" from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe as that game was aimed at a younger audience. Sub-Zero also gained a teleporting move in the game in which he freezes himself and falls back to the ground, appearing behind the foe.
In other media
In the Blood & Thunder series, the elder Sub-Zero is featured, seeking Shang Tsung's death faithful to his game's profile. Accompanied by fellow Lin Kuei member Hydro (an original character created for the comics), he confronted Scorpion and surpassed his fears for him when he realizes that's what fuels the specter's powers. Like the other characters, he pursued the powers of the Tao Te Zhan. In the Battlewave series, Sub-Zero allied himself with Kitana, Kung Lao, and Baraka to overthrow Shao Kahn. During the final Tournament Edition issue, Sub-Zero is depicted as being the victor of Shao Kahn's tournament, defeating Goro and claiming the Dragon Medallion, despite being mortally wounded by Scorpion. The Mortal Kombat 3 version of Sub-Zero made a cameo appearance in the epilogue of Malibu Comics' 1995 Battlewave miniseries, in which he froze a group of Lin Kuei while proclaiming that the clan was corrupted and no longer worthy of his services. This subplot was never developed as the Mortal Kombat comic book series folded shortly thereafter.
In the first Mortal Kombat movie, the elder Sub-Zero was played by François Petit and served as one of Shang Tsung's guardians alongside Scorpion in the tournament. Although Shang Tsung does make a reference to the rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero early in the film, their relationship is not explored and both are slaves under the sorcerer's command. He is killed in combat by Liu Kang when he is impaled and frozen. In the animated film Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, the elder Sub-Zero was once again featured alongside Scorpion as servants to Shang Tsung and their feud was explained by Raiden through flashbacks, although interpreted differently from that of the games.
The younger Sub-Zero made an appearance in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and was portrayed by Keith Cooke, who had played Reptile in the first movie. After saving both Liu Kang and Kitana from an ambush by Smoke, Sub-Zero has an inconclusive fight with Scorpion, who kidnaps Kitana and escapes. He urges Liu Kang to seek out Nightwolf, as instructed by Raiden, before going after Kitana, then leaves Liu Kang to continue on in his quest.
A brief image of Sub-Zero can be seen in the short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. Dialogue implies a deadly rivalry between him and Hanzo Hasashi, better known as Scorpion.
An ancestor of Sub-Zero featured in two episodes of Mortal Kombat: Konquest, and was played by J.J. Perry. He was a Lin Kuei assassin hired by Shang Tsung to defeat Great Kung Lao and retrieve a magic crystal from his home, which had the ability to transport its keeper to other dimensions. Sub-Zero's rivalry with Scorpion was also featured, in which Scorpion murdered Sub-Zero's sister and Sub-Zero killed Scorpion's lover in retaliation. The two fought to a draw and Scorpion escaped when Kung Lao and his friends came to Sub-Zero's aid. Sub-Zero was subsequently berated by the Lin Kuei for his weakness, resulting in him killing the Grandmaster.
Bi-Han, the elder Sub-Zero appeared in the seventh episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, assassinating a shogun whom Hanzo Hasashi was supposed to protect and fought against him at the end of part one. In the next episode it is revealed that Quan Chi impersonated him in order to deceive Scorpion that Sub-Zero murdered his family and clan to enact a false sense of vengeance in him against Bi Han and gain his allegiance for the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament.
In season two of Legacy, Eric Steinberg portrayed Bi-Han while his brother Kuai Liang was played by Harry Shum. The relationship between Bi-Han and Hanzo is further explored, as they were childhood friends driven apart by the preexisting rivalry between their two clans, as well as the jealousy of Kuai Liang. When they become adults, Kuai Liang threatens Hanzo and his family while out for a walk and Hanzo is forced to kill Kuai Liang. Bi-Han, believing Hanzo was protecting his family, decides to end the feud between their two clans out of respect for his friend. He becomes saddened and enraged over the fact that his clan had supposedly killed Hanzo, his family, and his clan. He then discovers that Quan Chi had impersonated him. Having been chosen to fight for Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat, he encounters Hanzo on the battlefield. Bi-Han's efforts to explain himself to Hanzo are fruitless, as Hanzo is now an undead specter only responding to the name Scorpion, who then kills Bi-Han by ripping out his spine.
Sub-Zero's redesign in Mortal Kombat 3 was disliked by GamePro, which they deemed "suspenders" and compared his scar to a red smear. However, his appearance in Deadly Alliance received praise by Gaming Age's Tim Lewinson noting that "Sub-Zero never looked so good." GameDaily listed his appearance in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero as one of his worst moments. On the other hand, IGN staff liked how Sub-Zero was given his own video game, noting him to be one of the series' most popular characters, and that "it offers gamers a new look at Sub Zero". A GamesRadar article from 2011 discussed his and Scorpion's evolution across the Mortal Kombat series, citing them as its two most popular characters. The rivalry between Sub-Zero and Batman in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was emphasized by IGN who noted that although both characters were extremely powerful, Sub-Zero's freezing skills were more entertaining than Batman's abilities.
In 2010, UGO ranked Sub-Zero ninth on their top list of Mortal Kombat characters, noting his ninja costume as the most iconic from the series. That same year, GamePlayBook ranked him as the best Mortal Kombat character, praising his freeze attacks and "Head Rip" Fatality, but the unmasked version of Sub-Zero was ranked as the third worst Mortal Kombat character. In 2011, ScrewAttack ranked Sub-Zero second in their top list of Mortal Kombat "kharacters" while Anthony Severino of Game Revolution tied him with Scorpion at the top of their list of the best "old school" Mortal Kombat fighters, noting both of them as the most popular characters from the franchise. In 2012, Sub-Zero placed third in UGO's list of top Mortal Kombat characters. That same year, IGN's Brian Altano and Ryan Clements chose him as the most iconic character of Mortal Kombat to represent the series against Jin Kazama of Tekken and Ryu of Street Fighter.
IGN included Sub-Zero's first incarnation at 85th place in their list of 100 video game villains. He also made it to the semifinals of GamesRadar's 2008 "Ultimate Character Battle!" poll, losing to Hulk. In 2009, GameSpy named him one of the 25 "extremely rough brawlers" in gaming, praising his fighting style. In 2012, WatchMojo.com tied him with Scorpion for second spot on their list of the most iconic fighting game characters. Complex ranked Sub-Zero as the fifth "most dominant" fighting game character in 2012, as well as the 24th "most badass" video game character of all time in 2013. The readers of Dorkly voted him the series' fourth (the elder Sub-Zero) and second (the younger) greatest character in a 2013 poll.
Sub-Zero was featured on numerous lists of the best video game ninja characters, including in these by CrunchGear (at number ten) in 2008, by Unreality (at number four) in 2009, and by Wild Gunmen (at number four) and ScrewAttack (at number five) in 2010. Scorpion and Sub-zero shared the fifth place on the top video game ninja list by PC World in 2009 and the fourth place on the top playable game ninja list by WatchMojo.com in 2013. Virgin Media too featured him on their list of "top ten ninjas" and GamesRadar also featured him in their 2008 article discussing the top video game assassins, stating that "his bloody ways and ability to freeze opponents solid enabled him to punch his way into the hearts of arcade gamers everywhere." In 2012, BBC News mentioned Sub-Zero as a prominent example of "Western ninja-inspired nonsense" in popular culture.
His ice-projectile technique has been noted by 1UP.com to be one of the best mechanics that changed video games due to how practical it is as it gives players the opportunity of making any move while the opponent is frozen. According to GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann, the unlocking of the hidden character Classic Sub-Zero in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was so "annoying" to the point that players would not do it. In 2010, ScrewAttack ranked Sub-Zero's original Fatality as the best in the series and credited its infamy with the creation of the ESRB video game ratings system.
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Raiden: Do you realize what you've done?? / Sub-Zero: I was just earning my living. / Raiden: Your clan's ignorance and greed will cost this entire realm. You must now set things straight. / Sub-Zero: Quan Chi could simply be a lunatic sorcerer. I've never heard of an elder god named Shinnok or of a place called the Netherealm. / Raiden: Well, you'd better start believing in both, because you're going to the Netherealm and you've going to bring the amulet back. We must act quickly. I have no dominion in the Netherealm... You are reality's only hope. / Sub-Zero: I'll do it, Thunder God... but only because I have no choice.
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