|Mortal Kombat character|
Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat 11 (2019)
|First appearance||Mortal Kombat (1992)|
|Created by||Ed Boon|
|Designed by||John Tobias (early games)|
Luis Mangubat (MK:D/MK:A)
Mark Lappin (MK:SM)
Atomhawk Design (MK2011)
Marco Nelor (MKX)
|Portrayed by||Robin Shou (films)|
Brian Tee (web series)
Ludi Lin (2021 film)
|Voiced by||Ed Boon (MKII)|
Josh Tsui (MK4)
Jin Kim (SM)
Tom Choi (2008–2015)
Matthew Yang King (MK11)
|Motion capture||Ho-Sung Pak (MK, MKII)|
Eddie Wong (MK3, UMK3, MKT)
Carlos Pesina (MK:A/MK:D)
Lawrence Kern (MKvDCU, MK2011)
|Weapon||Dragon Sword (MK4, MKG)|
Nunchaku (MK:D, MK:A, MK11)
|Family||Lee Kang (father; deceased)|
Lin Kang (mother; deceased)
Chan Kang (brother; deceased)
|Origin||Henan, China (Earthrealm)|
|Fighting styles||Pao Chui (MK:D)|
Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (MK:D, MK:A, MK:SM)
Choy Lay Fut (MK:SM)
Liu Kang (Chinese: 劉鋼; pinyin: Liú gāng or Chinese: 劉康; pinyin: Liú kāng) is a fictional character in the Mortal Kombat fighting game series from Midway Games, introduced as one of the original seven player characters in the 1992 first game as a Shaolin monk who enters the Mortal Kombat tournament to save Earthrealm (Earth). Following his victory in the tournament, Liu Kang becomes the Mortal Kombat series' primary protagonist as the champion and chief defender of Earthrealm guided by his mentor, the thunder god Raiden and has appeared in most titles.
Designed with special moves intended to be easier to perform than the moves of other characters, Liu Kang has appeared in many of the Mortal Kombat fighting installments, in addition to starring with Kung Lao as the title characters of the action-adventure game Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, and being among the eleven series characters representing the franchise in the crossover game Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Liu Kang has extensively featured in alternate Mortal Kombat media and official merchandise, serving as the primary protagonist of the two feature-length films and the Malibu Comics comic book adaptations, in addition to supporting roles in other media such as the 1995 Mortal Kombat novel and the animated series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm.
Critical and general reception of the character has been mainly favorable, although various aspects have been criticized. While some less gory skills have been criticized for lacking the appeal of other characters' finishing moves, as well as the sounds he yells during regular attacks, Liu Kang's darker characterization in the later games has been praised while his development in Mortal Kombat 11 was also well received for his growth.
Design and development
Liu Kang was originally going to be a Japanese character called Minamoto Yoshitsune, but Mortal Kombat co-creator and character designer John Tobias stated that the staff could not "deal with the name." According to Tobias, whose favourite character in the series is Liu Kang, he "was originally going to be a traditional monk – bald and in robes – but he wound up resembling Bruce Lee." According to Tobias, Liu Kang was purposely the only character that voiced his finishing move in the original game, and was "the best" in the first sequel. The 1973 film Enter the Dragon was a major influence in Liu Kang's story. The name Liu Kang was inspired by Gordon Liu, an actor famous for the film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
Liu Kang was the only character in the first game whose finishing move (Fatality) did not explicitly murder his opponent, and also without the background dimming. This was because Liu Kang was depicted therein as a Shaolin monk, who in general have strict beliefs regarding killing and murder. However, starting with Mortal Kombat II, he was given gory Fatalities as he was thereafter depicted as a renegade monk who decided to grow his hair back, and who had "strong Shaolin beliefs, but was no longer a part of the Shaolin monks." In response to rumors that Liu Kang would die in Mortal Kombat II and therefore not make it into Mortal Kombat 3, Boon said, "It'd be like doing part three of Star Wars and not having Luke Skywalker in there. You don't do that." His eventual death caused Dan Forden, the music composer of the series, to make a "funeral song" for Liu Kang as he felt saddened by his death. The track titled "Liu Kang's Tomb" would be used in Mortal Kombat: Deception in the arena that shows his tomb.
Liu Kang was played by Ho-Sung Pak in the first two games. John Tobias originally intended for the character to be a traditional bald monk, but the actor refused to shave his head. In the first game, Liu Kang was modeled after Bruce Lee, as he had short hair and went shirtless, with a threadbare outfit of only black pants and white shoes. In Mortal Kombat II, his outfit was enhanced with red stripes, and now included a red headband, black shoes, and studded wristguards (the intro of MKII shows the younger version of the character defeating Shang Tsung in the background, while the updated character is in the foreground). In Mortal Kombat 3, his hair was considerably longer, with the only alteration to his outfit being thin black leg strips wrapped above his ankles in order to give him a "sleeker" look for the game. He was given a red tank top in addition to his usual costume in Mortal Kombat 4, but his alternate outfit was blue and featured him shirtless again. His wardrobe from the third game was carried over into Deception and Armageddon, but due to his resurrection, his skin was ash gray, and he wore hooked chains around his wrists. This form is also known by fans and Mortal Kombat producer Shaun Himmerick as "Zombie Liu Kang". Nevertheless, his alternate outfit for both games featured him as a living person in order to contrast his undead form. In Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, he sported a slightly altered version of his third costume, in addition to a championship belt adorned with the Mortal Kombat dragon emblem. Although Liu Kang's design in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks remains similar to his Mortal Kombat II one, Himmerick said that it was the most revised one from the game, along with Kung Lao's.
Voice actor Tom Choi played the character in Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe until Mortal Kombat X. He took pride for doing the acting for Liu Kang, claiming it as important as the film Minority Report. While calling it as a typical work, Choi was pleased with the positive critical response the game got as it would open up ideas for a sequel.
Had Tobias continued to work on Mortal Kombat beyond 1999, he would have continued to center the plot around Liu Kang and then his son. Liu Kang returned as the protagonist of Mortal Kombat 11 with Boon stating that the main theme of the game was "redemption". This is explored through the story mode where Liu Kang and Kung Lao's past selves confront their corrupted future selves and thus confront their own sins. Boon found interesting exploring more the villains' side of the cast. Boon further referred to the heroic one as the "epytomy of hero"Matthew Yang King voiced Liu Kang in the Mortal Kombat 11, a role he enjoyed to do.
As stated on his Mortal Kombat: Armageddon bio card, Ed Boon mentioned that Liu Kang was designed to be the most easily "accessible" character, meaning that both casual and experienced gamers could play as him with little difficulty. Liu Kang specializes in kicks, with his most common move being flying across the screen and connecting with a kick to the opponent's torso. Another such move is the "Bicycle Kick" in which Liu Kang flies across the screen with a series of multiple kicks to the opponent's torso resembling pedaling a bicycle, hence the name. A different kind of his signature abilities is the "Dragon Fire": with it Liu Kang sends a fiery flame in the shape of a Chinese dragon across the screen out of his hands at his opponent. After Mortal Kombat II, he gains the ability to perform this while crouching and in the air, also for Deception and Armageddon. The developers made Liu Kang immediately selectable in Mortal Kombat: Unchained, the PlayStation Portable port of Deception, as they noted that unlocking him in Deception had proved difficult.
Liu Kang's Fatality from the original game is the "Shaolin Uppercut", invented by Ho-Sung Pak, in which he performs a butterfly kick (often mistaken for a cartwheel) on his opponent before hitting an uppercut that knocks them offscreen before landing. Originally a glitch, John Tobias remembers the reason for Shaolin Uppercut not changing the background was to symbolise Liu Kang's noble motivations. In Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, there were two versions; one where the victim explodes into pieces upon impact and the original, in which the opponent is torn to pieces upon falling to the ground. In another signature Fatality, he morphs into a large dragon, chomping the upper body of his opponent. This Fatality was turned into an Animality in Mortal Kombat 3 and back into a normal Fatality in Mortal Kombat 4. In the Game Boy and Game Gear versions of Mortal Kombat II, the dragon torches the opponent with fire instead. The series' composer and co-designer John Vogel noted it to be his favorite Fatality due to how much Liu Kang's appearance changes. Another famous Fatality of Liu Kang has him vanish and a Mortal Kombat arcade game machine drop down and crush his opponent. According to GameSpy's MK2011 walkthrough, Liu Kang "inflicts better damage" than Kung Lao "by jumping around like a lunatic and kicking the crap out of everything he sees."
In video games
In Midway Games
Introduced in the first Mortal Kombat game as a Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu fighting monk, Liu Kang enters the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament in order to protect Earthrealm from being destroyed after having lost the previous nine tournaments. He defeats Grand Champion Goro and the tournament host, the nefarious sorcerer Shang Tsung, and emerges as the new Mortal Kombat champion. In the 1993 sequel Mortal Kombat II, Liu Kang finds many of his Shaolin brethren killed in a vicious attack by a horde of nomadic mutants led by Baraka under orders from the evil Outworld emperor Shao Kahn, Shang Tsung's master. Enraged, Liu Kang decides to travel to Outworld to seek revenge, backed by friend and fellow Shaolin Kung Lao. At the tournament, Liu Kang defeats Shao Kahn. In Mortal Kombat 3 (1995), Liu Kang and his friends fight against Shao Kahn's extermination squad, which invaded Earthrealm. He once again defeats the Emperor, causing him and his forces to retreat back to Outworld.
In Mortal Kombat 4 (1997), Liu Kang discovers that his lover and ally, Princess Kitana, has been captured by the disgraced Elder God Shinnok's forces, and begins gathering Earth's warriors to defeat him. Liu Kang confronts Shinnok and once again emerges victorious, with Kitana and her people having survived the attack, but he is unable to commit himself to a relationship due to his duty as Earthrealm's champion while Kitana has to remain in Edenia to rule her kingdom.
Liu Kang becomes nonplayable for the first and only time in the Mortal Kombat series in 2002's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, in which the titular partnership of Shang Tsung and fellow sorcerer Quan Chi join forces to kill him in the game's introductory sequence. In Mortal Kombat: Deception (2004), an unknown party reanimates Liu Kang's corpse and sends it on a murderous rampage, leaving his soul to attempt to regain control. He returns as a playable character in this game, albeit in undead form and as a secret character that can only be unlocked by completing the game's Konquest Mode. His spirit enlists the reformed ninja Ermac to try to save Kitana and his Earthrealm allies from the Dragon King Onaga. Liu Kang is still unable to fully regain control of his body in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006), where he is playable along with the entire series roster, and in which it is revealed that the thunder god Raiden had revived Liu Kang's corpse in Deception. Liu Kang's bond with Kitana had succeeded in keeping his power in check, with Nightwolf then assuming her position as Liu Kang's "spiritual anchor" in attempt to find a way to reunite his body and soul, which he accomplishes in his ending.
Along with Kung Lao, Liu Kang is the lead character in the 2005 spin-off action-adventure game Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. The game is a retelling of the storyline of the events leading up to Mortal Kombat II, and features the two Shaolin monks traveling to Outworld to find and defeat Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn, rescuing Kitana along the way. Liu Kang is among the eleven characters representing the Mortal Kombat franchise in the 2008 crossover title Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which features fights between characters from the Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics universes. In this game, Liu Kang appears as the protagonist of the first chapter of the Mortal Kombat story mode. Tobias said that the fight he expected to see in the game was between Liu Kang and Batman as he noted their back-stories are very similar, as both attempt to help their respective leaders regain their senses.
NetherRealm Studios titles
In the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot video game, Liu Kang reprises his role from the first three tournaments as one of Raiden's chosen warriors. Despite his victory over Shang Tsung in the first tournament, Raiden starts having visions of Shao Kahn, which leads to Kung Lao taking Liu Kang's role. However, Kung Lao is killed by Shao Kahn and Liu Kang nearly kills his nemesis in revenge. When Shao Kahn prepares to invade Earthrealm following the second tournament, all of Liu Kang's allies are murdered by a soul-infused Sindel. This, coupled with Raiden's failed attempts to change the future, causes Liu Kang to grow more and more disillusioned with him, who accidentally kills Liu Kang while attempting to stop Shao Kahn.
Liu Kang returns in Mortal Kombat X. In the game's story mode, Quan Chi resurrects him as an undead revenant to serve him. He fights Jax and Raiden, blaming the latter for his death. Following Quan Chi's death and Shinnok's defeat, he and Kitana become the new rulers of the Netherrealm. They are visited by Raiden, who brings them Shinnok's disembodied head as a warning for them not to attack Earthrealm.
In Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang plans to invade Earthrealm. After Raiden and the Special Forces destroy his castle in the Netherrealm, Liu Kang and his allies join the keeper of time, Kronika, in forging a new timeline without Raiden. While making preparations however, she creates a time storm that brings a younger version of Liu Kang to the present. Despite learning of what happened to him and an encounter with his revenant, Liu Kang continues to trust Raiden and aligns himself with Earthrealm's warriors to combat Kronika. When he clashes with Raiden after the latter uses Shinnok's amulet to strengthen himself, the thunder god discovers that Kronika manipulated them into fighting across multiple different timelines as she fears their combined power. Kronika kidnaps the past Liu Kang so his revenant can absorb his soul. Rather than kill him, Raiden merges with the revenant and younger Liu Kang, transforming them into "Fire God Liu Kang". With Raiden's godly powers and his revenant counterpart's knowledge of Kronika's plan, he storms Kronika's keep and engages her in battle. In the game's bad ending, Kronika kills Liu Kang and ushers in her New Era. In one of two good endings, Liu Kang defeats Kronika and is either joined by a mortal Raiden or Kitana in shaping a new timeline. In the DLC story expansion Aftermath, Liu Kang and Raiden attempt to restart history, only to be interrupted by Shang Tsung, Nightwolf and Fujin, who tells them they need Kronika's Crown of Souls in order to do so. As Liu Kang destroyed his version of it, the sorcerer has the Fire God send him, Fujin and Nightwolf back in time to retrieve a past version of the Crown. While Shang Tsung is successful, he reneges on the deal and attempts to restart history for himself after defeating Kronika. However, he discovers that Liu Kang had manipulated events to ensure his victory, having known that the sorcerer would betray everyone from the beginning, and tasked Fujin privately to keep an eye on him during a journey to secure the crown. In the expansion's bad ending, Shang Tsung kills Liu Kang. In the good ending, Liu Kang erases Shang Tsung from history and, in the process of forging his New Era, visits Kung Lao's ancestor to give him special training for his future battles.
Liu Kang was the hero of the comic book adaptation of the Mortal Kombat series Malibu Comics. In the first miniseries, Blood and Thunder, his backstory was mostly kept intact as a Shaolin monk out to restore the tournament to their righteous owners, with the only difference being that he was not the chosen one to defeat Goro, which instead fell on twin monk brothers named Sing and Sang, two original characters created specifically for the comics; after they are killed by Goro in the third issue, Liu Kang becomes the Shaolin's only hope in defeating Shang Tsung. The following miniseries, Battlewave, stated that Liu Kang won the first tournament after defeating Goro, which never appeared in the first miniseries. He returns to his normal life as an architect in Chicago, having left the Order of Light before the events of the first series. However, he suffers from constant attacks by an unknown force of ninjas and later receives help from Johnny Cage's bodyguard Bo when Goro ambushes him in an office building. Eventually he decides to travel to Outworld, realizing that he cannot avoid Mortal Kombat.
In the Midway Comics, Liu Kang reprises his role from the first game's prologue, focusing first on dealing with the criminal Kano. Mortal Kombat II Collector's Edition starts with Liu Kang winning the first tournament and then meeting the ninja Sub-Zero in the aftermath. When clashing the other realm's forces, Raiden instructs Liu Kang to enter into the next competition. A prologue of Mortal Kombat 4 was also written, dealing with Liu Kang and his new ally Kai as they prepare to face Shinnok's forces.
Live action adaptations
Liu Kang is the main protagonist of both Mortal Kombat films, where he is portrayed by Robin Shou. Director Paul W. S. Anderson wanted Liu Kang's character to be "really engaging" and chose Shou, noting his skills with martial arts. Anderson compared Shou with Jackie Chan due to how both actors did not rely on stunts for their movies and thus made his fight with Reptile one of his favorites. In the first film, he takes part in the tournament out of guilt over his brother's death at the hands of Shang Tsung (portrayed by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and defeats Tsung in the final battle. As a result of the film's style the relationship between Liu Kang and Kitana is more of a metaphysical than a romantic nature. Shou stated that the fight he had with Reptile was the most memorable as he got his ribs wounded in one of the takes where Reptile's character kicked Liu Kang towards a pillar. This take was the one used in the movie with Shou explaining viewers would notice his pain when the fight begins. In retrospective, Shou comments that the production team managed to "find Liu Kang" during the making of the feature, with Shou's facial expressions fitting their criteria.
Shou and Talisa Soto (Kitana) were the only two actors to reprise their roles in the sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. In the sequel, Liu Kang joins the Earthrealm warriors to stop Shao Kahn's menace. In the 1995 animated film Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, Liu Kang appears as one of the main characters.
Liu Kang appears in the 2013's second season of the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy, portrayed by Brian Tee. Liu Kang in Legacy is portrayed as an anti-hero and fighting on the side of Outworld rather than that of Earthrealm in the web series. In this version, he is shown to have left a monastery to live a normal life working at a diner with a fiancée. After watching a pair of thieves kill her in a robbery attempt, he becomes consumed with anger and revenge, and further distances himself from Kung Lao and the ideals that were taught to him. After working as a freelance assassin for a few years, he is approached by Shang Tsung, who convinces him that humanity is not worth protecting and asks him to join the realm of Outworld in the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament, which he agrees to. During the tournament, he easily subdues Johnny Cage and Kurtis Stryker before being confronted by Kung Lao, who is surprised at his old friend's change of allegiance.
Liu Kang is one of the lead characters in the 1996 animated series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, voiced by Brian Tochi. He is not the protagonist therein as opposed to the game storyline, instead sharing this role with several other Earthrealm heroes.
In 1996, Toy Island published a Liu Kang action figure which had a white shirt. Two Liu Kang action figures from Shaolin Monks were released by Jazwares. Apart from being flexible, both figures included different types of weapons such as swords and axes.
Jordan Rodrigues voiced the role of Liu Kang who appeared as one of the lead characters in the 2020 animated movie Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge. He, Sonya and Cage reprise their role from the first Mortal Kombat game with Scorpion's aid.
Liu Kang is also mentioned in the song by Wale "My Love" (feat. Major Lazer, WizKid, and Dua Lipa).
The character has received mostly very positive response by gaming publications. Liu Kang topped UGO Networks' 2012 list of the top fifty Mortal Kombat characters and placed 94th on their 2008 list of the "top 100 heroes of all time".GameSpot featured him in their 2009 poll for the title of "All Time Greatest Game Hero", in which he lost to Yoshi. In 2012, GamesRadar ranked him as 51st "most memorable, influential, and badass" protagonist in games, adding that while "Sub-Zero and Scorpion may get most of the fanfare", Liu Kang "can shoot fireballs, whoops and hollers just like Bruce Lee, and pioneered the Animality with his dragon-transformation fatality--it’s no wonder that Liu Kang’s the chosen champion of Earthrealm." DigitalSpy listed him as the 13th best Mortal Kombat character comparing him with Street Fighter character Ryu, stating they while both are "kind of dull", they develop appealing techniques across their respective series. Complex listed Liu Kang as the third best character in the franchise based on his heroic traits, moves as well as his undead form. His relationship with Kitana was ranked fourth in IGN's list of best video game couples in 2006.
Like all the characters from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Liu Kang was selected to be a playable character based on his popularity. Jesse Schedeen of IGN said that "it just wouldn't be right having a game without [Liu Kang]," noting him to be as fierce as the DC Universe characters in this game. In 2010, GamePlayBook ranked Liu Kang as the second best Mortal Kombat character, commenting that "his nimbleness and fighting expertise make him an ideal pick" and how he is as good as zombie as when he was alive.
Upon his death in Deadly Alliance, IGN's Jeremy Dunham noted that Liu Kang was killed as the series needed "'starting over' mentality", as he regarded Liu Kang as the series' strongest character. Complex remarked that the Mortal Kombat developers "finally found their groove again with Deadly Alliance, which began by snapping Liu Kang's neck." Game Informer listed his death in their article about "characters that died under our watch" calling it a "shock" as Liu Kang was stated to be one of the "most loved" characters from the series.
His redesign in Mortal Kombat: Deception was praised by GameSpot for being one of the best ones from the title, and was featured in GamesRadar's list of the "greatest zombie triumphs" in 2009, but was also ranked as the ninth-worst Mortal Kombat character by ScrewAttack in 2011. Additionally, GamesRadar used Liu Kang as an example of a stereotype of gaming heroes who reveal an evil alter ego that ruins the character's appealing traits, and considered him to be "a little like the Shaolin version of Goku, in that he's saved his world countless times and come back from the dead even more frequently." GamesRadar featured him, Fei-Long and Tekken's Marshall Law in the article about "kickass Bruce Lee clones" citing his similarities with Bruce Lee and with one of his shouts featured in famous quotes.
Liu Kang's darker characterization starting with Deception and in the reboot were received with good critical response as Den of Geek listed him as the 22nd best Mortal Kombat character due to this aspect. Both Den of Geek and Hardcore Gamer found Liu Kang's possible role in the series to be shrouded in mystery due to his possible revival as a villain as well as how he is not available to face Shinnok as in the first games created for the series. In regards to his and Kitana's role in Mortal Kombat 11, Escapist Magazine found it confusing as a result of Liu Kang's transformation into a god and the couple becoming rulers of time. Game Revolution enjoyed Liu Kang's ending in the Mortal Kombat 11 and thus wondered which of his two endings where he allies with either Raiden or Kitana would be taken as canonical. GamesPCN found Liu Kang's development in the game touching due to the handling of his character to the point gamers looked forward to his best ending which was difficult to achieve. Upon God Liu Kang's inclusion in the game as playable, Game Revolution compared it with Ryu's evil persona from Street Fighter. Both Shack News and Even Thubs enjoyed the actions Liu Kang makes as a God due to the major direction the narrative takes in the DLC Aftermath as he aims to restart the generation. Den of Geek commented that Liu Kang's role as a protagonist in Mortal Kombat 11 was well handled as he fitted the heroic role through his transformation into the God of Fire and Lightning.
Gameplay and finishing moves
Liu Kang's famous finishing move of turning into a dragon was ranked by ScrewAttack as the second best in the series, referred to as the most iconic Fatality in Mortal Kombat II, but his cartwheel Fatality from the original Mortal Kombat was ranked by ScrewAttack as the second worst in the series. Liu Kang's dragon Fatality has been listed as one of the best Fatalities from the series by both Game Informer and UGO in 2010, as well as by Complex in 2013. On the other hand, his Fatality in which he drops a Mortal Kombat arcade machine onto his opponent were pointed by both Game Informer and GamePro as one of the worst from the series, even as GamesRadar listed it among the reasons of Liu Kang being "boss".
Some video game publications criticized his gameplay and shouts while others noted him to be entertaining. IGN's Douglas Perry wrote that he preferred Liu Kang over Kung Lao as a playable character in Shaolin Monks because of his "intuitive fighting moves," adding that his shouts were "annoying" yet "strangely pleasing." GameDaily too complained about his voice, saying that "Liu Kang screams out like a chicken," and GamesRadar wrote that "the strange squeals he emits during his trademark Bicycle Kick move are unforgettable." Nevertheless, Mary Shearman from 100 Entertainers Who Changed America: An Encyclopedia of Pop Culture considered that Bruce Lee himself used to make animal noises when attacking.
Media related to Liu Kang at Wikimedia Commons
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