"Your soul is mine!" - Shang Tsung, Mortal Kombat (2011)
Shang Tsung is a demonic sorcerer and one of the primary villains in the Mortal Kombat universe. Cursed long ago by the Elder Gods for cheating in Mortal Kombat, this once-human creature has since become a servant of the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn. He has lived for centuries by consuming the very souls of slain warriors.
Shang Tsung's origins have never been explained in full, but it has been said that he was once a human from Earthrealm. He participated in the Mortal Kombat Tournament, but he cheated in one of the battles. Breaking the sacred rules is considered treason against the represented realm and the Elder Gods, and so Shang was sentenced to death by the tournament judges. The Dark Emperor Shao Kahn took advantage of the evil in his heart and made a deal with Shang Tsung; that he would be spared if he swore allegiance to him. Tsung agreed and was taken to Outworld and was trained by the Emperor in the Black Arts.
When he committed the atrocity of taking a soul, Shang Tsung was cursed by the Elder Gods not only to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off his grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely. As a side effect of his consuming the souls of others, Tsung was able to access their memories and knowledge, a happenstance which would greatly benefit him years later.
A thousand years before the last Mortal Kombat tournament, Shang Tsung was tasked by Shao Kahn to usurp control of the tournament and ensure Outworld's victory. Tsung achieved the title of Grand Champion, consuming the souls of all of the vanquished warriors and corrupting the tournament rules to suit the desires of his emperor. However, when Outworld neared its tenth victory which would allow Kahn to invade Earthrealm, Tsung was defeated by the Shaolin monk known as the Great Kung Lao.
Though Shang Tsung had failed to achieve ultimate victory, his life was spared by Shao Kahn and he was banished to the Kobalt Mines of Kuatan. During the years he spent toiling away in the underground depths, Tsung met the Shokan prince Goro. Recognizing the four-armed royal's strength, Tsung pleaded with Shao Kahn to allow him to return to Earthrealm with Goro for the next Mortal Kombat. The emperor granted the sorcerer's request, and when the tournament began anew, Shang Tsung returned with the monstrous Goro at his side. Goro succeeded in defeating the Great Kung Lao and became Grand Champion, a title he would keep for 500 years.
In the 20th century, Shang Tsung's final victory was threatened by the Shaolin monk Liu Kang, a direct descendant of Kung Lao. Goro would fall before Liu Kang and so Tsung stepped forward as Outworld's last chance to win the tournament and conquer Earthrealm. In the end, even Tsung with all of his dark sorcery and trickery could not best Liu Kang and was defeated. Though Earth's new champion spared Tsung's life, the sorcerer faced an even worse fate when he returned to Outworld having failed Shao Kahn once more.
When brought before the emperor, Tsung pleaded for his life and was able to convince his master that victory could yet be salvaged. He proposed that Outworld host a new tournament, a single Mortal Kombat that would do away with the original ten-win system established by the Elder Gods. Shao Kahn was intrigued by this proposal and pardoned Shang Tsung, restoring his power and youth so that the sorcerer might extend an 'invitation' to the chosen warriors of Earthrealm. Tsung led a group of Tarkatan warriors to the White Lotus temple in China where they slaughtered many of Liu Kang's countrymen, luring the Earthrealm Champion to Outworld so that he might seek retribution. Also, Tsung arranged for the abduction of Sonya Blade and Kano, two other competitors from the last tournament. They would serve as bait to lure the other chosen defenders of Earth into a trap.
The Outworld tournament was merely a cunning diversion. While the Earthrealm warriors were distracted battling against Shao Kahn's forces, Shang Tsung - with the aid of the necromancer Quan Chi - sought to damage the barriers between Earthrealm and Outworld by resurrecting Kahn's former queen Sindel on Earth, which would allow Kahn to pass through the portal in order to claim her. While it appeared that the Earth warriors won the Outworld contest, everything had gone according to Kahn's and Tsung's machinations: Sindel was reborn on Earth and Shao Kahn was able to force open the portals between Earthrealm and Outworld, launching a full-scale invasion and beginning a merger of the two realms.
Despite his careful planning, Shang Tsung's scheme did not account for the divine protection granted upon a handful of Earth's warriors, whose souls could not be claimed by Shao Kahn's sorcery when he stripped the Earth of life. These chosen mortals were able to fight back against the Outworld onslaught and defeated Shao Kahn once more, undoing the merger of the realms and restoring Earth and its people to their former state. Shang Tsung would be punished for his failure by being locked away and periodically tortured within Kahn's dungeon, only being released on occasion to carry out his master's bidding.
A few years later, Shang Tsung found Quan Chi in his palace courtyard, fighting Scorpion. When Quan Chi defeated him, he gave Shang an offer: if Tsung helped him revive the lost army of the Dragon King by means of his ability to transplant souls, he would open a "Soulnado " to the Heavens , giving him an endless supply of souls to feed on. Tsung accepted, and together, they formed the Deadly Alliance. In order to carry out their scheme, however, they first needed to remove the two largest obstacles in their way: Shao Kahn and Liu Kang.
Shang Tsung introduced Quan Chi to Shao Kahn, vouched for his loyalty, and then they attacked and apparently killed him. After killing him and accepting Kano's offer to serve them, they traveled through a portal, known only to sorcerers and deities, to Earthrealm and headed to the Wu Shi Academy. There, Shang Tsung disguised himself as Kung Lao and approached Liu Kang. As Liu practiced his kata, Shang revealed his true form and attacked. Although Liu had the upper hand, Quan Chi struck from behind, giving Shang the opportunity to finally take his revenge on Liu Kang by breaking his neck and taking his soul.
Shang Tsung did not fully trust Quan Chi. Upon returning to Outworld, he gave the Oni Drahmin and Moloch, who had escaped from the Netherrealm, an offer: after Tsung performed his part in the plan, Quan Chi, who the two despised for abandoning them in the infernal pits after promising to free them, would be theirs to do with as they wished.
The Deadly Alliance soon commanded Kano's troops to force a small Outworld village to construct a new palace around the tomb to house the Soulnado. When one of the citizens, Li Mei, attacked Kano, they offered to free her village if she could win a tournament they would hold. About the same time, they approached Mavado, offering him a deal as well; he could earn the right to fight and kill Kano in exchange for eliminating Kenshi, who had been spying on Tsung. Mavado accomplished his mission, and the Alliance granted him his wish. Li Mei, having won the local tournament, demanded her reward, but instead Shang Tsung started transferring her soul to a mummified soldier of Onaga's army. It was at this time that the forces of Earthrealm, led by Raiden, attacked. Li Mei was rescued by Bo' Rai Cho, who escaped with her, but the remainder of the warriors assaulted the Alliance.
The duo defeated Earthrealm's champions and eventually triumphed over Raiden as well. Their victory, however, would not be savored. Shang Tsung's lust for power and Quan Chi's suspicion finally came to light. The two fought, and Quan Chi emerged the victor. But immediately after defeating Tsung, he was confronted by a reborn Onaga, who seemed to shrug off his most powerful blasts with ease. Tsung regained consciousness, and recognizing the Dragon King to be an immediate threat, assisted Quan Chi in attacking him. Bare moments later, the thunder god did as well, but their combined efforts could not stop the former Outworld ruler, who had come to reclaim Shinnok's amulet and his ancient army. In Raiden's ensuing last-ditch attempt at victory through a self-sacrificial blast, Shang Tsung was caught in the blast, killing him. The thousands of souls he had consumed over the years were released, including the soul of Liu Kang.
Tsung's own soul was magically drawn to Outworld, where he was delivered to Shao Kahn. Tsung pledged his soul to the emperor ages before; this agreement was binding, even beyond death. Kahn provided Tsung with a host body and then allied with him in taking his kingdom from Mileena. Although Tsung is bound to serve Kahn, an opportunity to free himself arises when he discovers Quan Chi is alive. Quan Chi brings word from Shinnok of a plan to take a great power for the Forces of Darkness , and Tsung realizes if he were to take the power for himself, he could sever his bond with Shao Kahn. Until his opportunity arises, Tsung continues to feign loyalty to the emperor while redirecting suspicion to other members of the alliance.
While fighting against the Forces of Light during the Battle of Armageddon, Shang Tsung was the one to almost reach to the top of Pyramid of Argus, only to be confronted by Liu Kang's corpse. Despite gaining the upper hand and throwing him off the pyramid, the zombie Liu Kang eventually caught up with Shang Tsung and held him in place with his hooks before he could reach Blaze. This caused Shang Tsung to revert back to his elderly form. He died near the top of the Pyramid.
In the new timeline established by Raiden when he sent a psychic message back through time to himself during Mortal Kombat, Shang Tsung's activities changed little. During the Outworld Tournament, he fought Kung Lao alongside Quan Chi, but both sorcerers were defeated. During the invasion of Earthrealm, Shao Kahn destroyed Shang Tsung by transferring all of the souls the sorcerer had consumed to Sindel so that she would become powerful enough to exterminate the champions of Earthrealm. In spite of this, Sindel would be destroyed and Shao Kahn would soon follow, ending the threat to Earthrealm.
Many years later, the realms were thrown into crisis when Kronika enacted a plan to create a perfect timeline. Due to the temporal merger caused by Kronika, Shang Tsung was restored to life. When he refused to take part in Kronika's plan, the sorcerer was banished to the Void, unable to interfere with events and could only watch as they unfolded. After Liu Kang managed to kill Kronika, Shang Tsung was freed, along with two other captives in the Void: the shamen Nightwolf and the wind god Fujin.
Shang Tsung, Fujin and Nightwolf emerged from the Void to greet Liu Kang and Raiden at the Dawn of Time. Tsung revealed to them that the Hourglass could not be used without Kronika's crown, which Liu Kang had destroyed along with Kronika herself, and so history could not be restarted. Liu Kang suggested going back in time to defeat Kronika again in a different manner and salvaging her crown, but Shang Tsung pointed out that it would be too dangerous and victory could not be guaranteed. He instead suggested going back in time to retrieve the crown when it was first created on his island. Liu Kang and Raiden were hesitant to agree, fully expecting treachery from their old adversary, and told Nightwolf and Fujin to accompany him.
The trio then traveled to Outworld, right at the time when Kitana had defeated Shao Kahn in battle and claimed his throne. Unable to enlist any notable players in the conflict without drawing Kronika's attention, Shang Tsung suggested reviving Queen Sindel as she played no part in these events. To do so, they had to first acquire energy from Earth's Jinsei Chamber to heal her body and use Outworld's Soul Chamber to free her from Quan Chi's influence.
Shang Tsung, Nightwolf and Fujin managed to intercept Kronika's warriors at the Wu Shi Academy and obtain enough Jinsei energy for their task. They then traveled to the Netherrealm in order to find Sindel, locating her at the Bone Temple during Raiden's siege. After subduing her, they took her to Outworld where, with the assistance of Queen Sheeva, they placed her inside the Soul Chamber, thereby restoring her to her living self. Sindel enjoys a brief reunion with Kitana before joining Shang Tsung and the others as they head for Tsung's island to retrieve Kronika's crown.
Arriving at the island, Shang Tsung mused over the loyalty of his followers as he observed their corpses all over the palace courtyard. When he reached the Well of Souls, he revealed to Fujin and Nightwolf that he had been a backup pawn in Kronika's scheme, that she was the one who cursed him to consume the souls of his foes in order to fuel the crown. After acquiring the crown, Shang Tsung's powers were greatly amplified and his youth was restored.
Shang Tsung then met with Sindel, who was accompanied by Shao Kahn. It was then revealed that Sindel had been allied with Shao Kahn all along and they had planned to claim the Hourglass with Shang Tsung's assistance. During the battle at Kronika's keep, Raiden tried to warn Fujin and Nightwolf of the sorcerer's treachery, but he was too late. Tsung then defeated Nightwolf, Raiden and Fujin in battle and drained the two gods of their essence, but kept them alive so that he could use them as batteries to rejuvenate himself indefinitely.
As Shao Kahn, Sindel and Shang Tsung entered the keep to confront Kronika, the malevolent sorcerer turned on his allies. With his enhanced power, he easily managed to defeat them and drained their souls. He then fought against Kronika and defeated her as well, consuming her soul and becoming ever more powerful. Before he could take possession of the Hourglass, however, Fire God Liu Kang suddenly appeared, warning Tsung to stop. The sorcerer realized that Liu Kang had allowed him to progress as far as he did before intervening, even at the cost of his friends' lives, and congratulated his old nemesis on his deviousness.
Confident that nothing could possibly stop him at that point, Tsung fought Liu Kang one last time. However, despite being more powerful than ever before, Tsung fell to Liu Kang once again. Drawing on the temporal energies of the Hourglass, Liu Kang blasted Tsung and caused him to crumble into sand. Before Tsung completely disintegrated, Kang took the crown from his head and placed it upon his own. With the crown and Hourglass, he could reset the timeline and bring about the New Era.
Powers and Abilities
- Dark Magic - Shang Tsung is a great sorcerer, wielding a high level of magical power.
- Flame Magic - In battle, Shang Tsung regularly wields the elemental power of fire. His signature attack is to cast fireballs in the shape of flaming skulls at opponents.
- Soul Consumption - Ever since he was cursed by the Elder Gods, Shang Tsung has been forced to consume the souls of his vanquished enemies in order to prolong his life. Without consuming souls, his body will rapidly age and decay. Over the centuries, he has turned this curse into his most fearsome and effective tool for destroying those who stand in the way of his ambitions.
- Shapeshifting - Shang Tsung is capable of assuming the forms of other beings he has encountered and uses this power to deceive his foes. By devouring the souls of others, he can not only mimic their appearances but gains their knowledge, memories and powers, completing the deception. Having absorbed countless souls over millennia, Tsung has gained numerous powers and learned many fighting styles.
Appearances in other media
Mortal Kombat (1995)
In the live-action movie, Shang Tsung (portrayed by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) had controlled the Mortal Kombat tournament for centuries. As the final tournament approached, the wicked sorcerer preemptively murdered Chan, brother of Liu Kang, removing a potential threat to Outworld's victory. This prompted Liu Kang to return to the Order of Light to accept his original responsibility, though he was mainly focused on avenging his brother.
As Earthrealm's warriors fell to Goro, Tsung consumed the souls of the defeated. However, Goro was killed in battle against Johnny Cage. Prior to that match, Tsung and Cage made a deal: in exchange for Johnny being moved up the roster to fight Goro, the final battle of the contest would take place in a location of Tsung's choice. The sorcerer chose to challenge Sonya Blade for the final kombat and kidnapped her, taking her to Shao Kahn's castle in Outworld. Liu Kang and Johnny followed after them and were guided to the castle by Kitana. There, Liu Kang challenged Tsung and the two fought.
Tsung called upon the souls of several dead warriors to aid him and even tried to confuse Liu Kang by morphing into his brother Chan and luring Liu into a spike-filled pit. Liu was not decieved by Shang Tsung's tricks and fought with all his strength and will, finally defeating the evil sorcerer by blasting him off of a ledge with a fiery chi blast and on to a bed of spikes. As Shang Tsung died, his body rapidly deteriorated and the hundreds of souls he had stolen were released into the heavens.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
Prior to the animated series, Shang Tsung had been killed by Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat. In the episode "Resurrection", the sorcerer is brought back to life by Shao Kahn and his Shadow Priests. The emperor offers Tsung a chance to redeem himself by giving him a mystical orb capable of harnessing the elements of nature. Tsung travels to Earthrealm where he uses the orb to not only cause natural disasters to occur, but to drain Raiden of his powers. However, Raiden is still able to defeat Tsung in kombat without his powers and sends the sorcerer back to Outworld to recieve his punishment. He also teleports the orb into space where no one will find it again.
Mortal Kombat Legacy
In the live-action webseries, Shang Tsung fulfills many of his past roles from the games. He was in league with Quan Chi's plan to kill Scorpion and resurrect him as a spectre, he was responsible for creating Mileena, and even hired Kano and the Black Dragon to do his dirty work while he prepared for the tournament.
This incarnation of Tsung's most notable departure from the original game character is his relationship with Liu Kang. In the second season, Tsung manages to convince Kang to fight in the tournament on behalf of Outworld. Kang, feeling abandoned by Kung Lao and his other friends, agrees to Tsung's request, seeing it as an opportunity to take revenge.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge
Shang Tsung is one of the two main antagonists of the film (the other being Quan Chi). He hosts the final Mortal Kombat tournament that will decide the fate of Earthrealm, though he and Quan Chi are also involved in their own game of deceit and trickery. Tsung possesses the Amulet of Shinnok in his treasury which Quan Chi wants Scorpion to steal, though Scorpion ultimately decides against this.
As the tournament reaches its climax, Scorpion intervenes with Liu Kang's match against Goro, killing the Shokan warrior. He then threatens to kill Tsung, but decides to forfeit his status as a contender and secures Liu Kang's victory in the tournament. Tsung then retreats to Outworld where he suffers Shao Kahn's punishment.