For what it's worth, the following story has to be one of the
most surreal experiences in my young gaming life.
a time, in early May 2011, I was on eBay browsing game auctions
when a listing caught my eye: an original script from one of the
Mortal Kombat games.
If you ever
visited an arcade sometime in the early 1990's, you've most likely
seen a bloodthirsty crowd around Mortal Kombat. I remember
one hardcore Kombatant who'd stand there all day at my local arcade,
typically in his Bart Simpson "Don't Have A Cow, Man!"
tee-shirt and white washed jeans, just waiting for a chump to
challenge. An insufferable braggart, the lanky kid's name was
Jason, or JAS on the high scores list, and he knew every move
for every character and all of the Fatalities. Recklessly cocky
with the joystick, he'd talk trash before, while, and after he
beheaded you. I played him once. I don't like to talk about it.
I'm pretty sure I saw him years later working behind the returns
counter at Circuit City before the store folded. He was arguing
with some lady over opened Seinfeld DVDs. My, how the mighty
of Jason and all the other Jasons spanning across the globe helped
make Mortal Kombat one of the most successful arcade franchises
of the decade, if not of all-time. The only thing greater than
the game's success was its controversy, the over-the-top violence
of the Fatality finishing moves spurring on a Congressional hearing
headed by Joe Lieberman, which eventually led to the gaming industry's
creation of the ESRB rating system.
In spite of,
or because of, the media hoopla, kids couldn't get enough blood
splatter and maiming. Could you blame them? Even a pacifist wimp
such as myself couldn't fight the allure of digital guts and bloody
skeletons. It didn't matter if you were the birthday boy and I
was an invited guest at your Sahara Sam's blowout, I'd still finish
you with an uppercut into a pit of spikes. And the theme song
from the movie's soundtrack? Still drilled into my brain to this
day, the techno beat still makes me want to kick holes in walls
and rearrange faces and wave blood-red glow sticks.
amplify the gore, Mortal Kombat famously made use of digitized
sprites, in which real actors posed to achieve the game's cutting-edge,
literally photo-realistic graphics. This made the decapitations
that much more disgusting... and fun!
But back to
the story: I clicked on the script eBay auction, and up popped
a photo of a scary-looking, bald-headed man making constipated
faces at the camera in what appeared to be his backyard. He looked
hauntingly familiar. Like out of a nightmare I once had.
I had just stumbled upon a listing from actor Richard Divizio,
who's best known for his roles in the Mortal Kombat games
as Kano, Baraka, Kabal, and Quan Chi.
had a nightmare involving Baraka when I was younger. I'm probably
going to have another one tonight.
I wasn't particularly interested in buying the script from Mr.
Divizio, but I did want to send him a message telling him how
much of a fan I was of the series growing up. When else would
I get the chance? To my geeky delight, he replied in mere minutes,
and before I knew it, I was shooting the shit with a demonic mutant
from the Outworld.
He told me
how cheaply made the Baraka blades were, some sort of mylar on
cardboard, and he went on to say how he had a small role in The
Dark Knight as one of the street thugs. He talked about how
far his acting skills had come from the time he performed in the
1997 video game, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero for
the Playstation and Nintendo 64, to when he co-starred in the
2007 independent film, Book of Swords. He then sent me
a link to a model
railroad site that doubles as his acting page.
And that was
when things got really interesting.
Only a few
things in this world give me an instant mental erection. Not sexual
erectionmentalwhen my mind elevates and focuses at
a near obsessive level, and my brain starts jizzing dopamine.
Video games are one of those things. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
is another. And what do my eyes first see on the site? Foot Soldiers
fighting a Ninja Turtle. A game actor-turned-Shredder ally. The
two loves of my life finally met, and crazy passionate neurotransmitter
sex was had all night long.
All this time
I hadn't been talking to just Kano, I had been talking to a member
of Shredder's Foot Clan who got his butt handed to him by Raphael
in the second Turtles movie! Truly one of life's unexpectedly
him how foolish it was to take on a Ninja Turtle in battle, I
inquired about his time filming TMNT II in Wilmington,
NC. And as a Turtle lover and collector, I had to ask him about
props. Without even thinking, I asked.
to be denied, just knew I was going to be denied, but to my surprise,
Baraka was as cool as Barack. He apologized and said he didn't
have anything but some cool behind-the-scene photographs, but
that his friend, Daniel, who also played a Foot Soldier in the
movie, had kept some stuff and that I should contact him. He gave
me his friend's workplace number.
how ridiculous it would sound if I called up and was like, "Hi,
you fought the Ninja Turtles in '91, right? How was that? By the
by, do you have the rat's animatronic head?" I didn't recognize
the area code, so I put the number into Google, and a Wushu school
in Chicago appeared ("Wushu" is Chinese for martial
the school's web site, I decided to go the e-mail route so I could
better hide the creepiness of my fanboy pursuits. After name-dropping
Richard Divizio, I asked if I could speak to Daniel. A day later,
I received a response from the person I was looking for, a man
who turned out to be the head master of the dojo. He signed his
name as Daniel Pesina.
The very same
Daniel Pesina who played Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile,
Smoke, and Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat I and II.
say he was a regular gaming celebrity back in the day. You could
say he was a bit of a hero to me.
I could hardly
believe it, but we began discussing the Turtles. I began talking
Ninja Turtles with the real Johnny Cage!
to Daniel, he appeared as a Foot Soldier in the majority of the
film's fighting scenes, getting kicked, punched, or thrown, including
in the notorious nightclub scene with Vanilla Ice near the end
of the movie.
At one point
during that scene, the actor who played Donatello (Leif Tilden)
was supposed to roll him and then do a side kick, but he decided
to do a roundhouse kick instead without warning Pesina, and as
a result, Daniel almost lost his two front teeth.
The Foot Soldier
actors could barely see where to move in front of whatever technique
was being thrown with the giant Turtle heads on. During the cuts,
a few of the Foot would run around and get hit again. In one instance,
Daniel got hit four different times in the same fight. He laughed
and said, "It was a bloody mess."
I then pressed
him on Vanilla Ice and what it was like working with the Ice Man.
He told a story about the first day Ice showed up on set. The
actor who dressed as Michaelangelo in the film (Michelan Sisti)
went up to Vanilla Ice to give him a hug and welcome him aboard,
and Ice's overweight bodyguard stiff armed himeven with
the full Turtle suit oncoldly stiff armed him. About eighteen
of the actors, including Daniel, stepped forward to pounce until
Pat Johnson, the stunt coordinator (who used to work under Chuck
Norris in the 70'syou may remember him as the mustached
ref in 1984's The Karate Kid), stopped them from fighting
right then and there.
Ice's] bodyguards almost got their butt kicked."
Ninja Turtles and Foot Soldiers teaming up on one side, and on
the other, Ice and his entourage getting ready to throw down.
Something tells me Ice would've been the zero, not the hero, in
interaction with the crew grew even more bizarre in a later encounter,
but Daniel made me promise to keep the rest strictly between us.
The least I can do is keep my word. Let's just say the allegation
has changed my perception of Van Winkle forever. I'll never listen
to "Ice Ice Baby" the same way again.
seeing, there is a definite connection forming between the TMNT
films and video games. But Pesina and Divizio were not the only
game actors to appear in the Ninja Turtle movies.
the stunt actor who played Raphael in TMNT II and III,
was another alum of the Mortal Kombat games. He acted as
Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat I and II, and Shang Tsung,
the final boss in the first game.
or Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat II, did the stunts for Leonardo
in TMNT III.
Daniel's younger brother, Carlos Pesina, was the stunt double
for Elias Koteas (Casey Jones) in TMNT III, and he acted
as Raiden in the Mortal Kombat games. Carlos continues
to work on the series today at Ed Boon's NetherRealm Studios in
Chicago. The same cannot be said about Daniel.
get into Daniel's dark days, we need to go back to Mortal Kombat's
origins and focus our attention on a man named John Tobais.
A friend of
Daniel's, and a fellow Chicago native, Tobias communicated to
Pesina how he wanted to make a fighting game and asked for his
creative input into the project. Who better to go to for help
on designing a fighter than a highly accomplished, award-winning
Chinese martial artist with three black belts?
After a number
of brainstorming meetings, the initial idea to sell to Chicago-based
Midway was to be a coin-operated game centered around Jean Claude
Van Damme (who would, coincidentally, go on to star in Street
Fighter: The Movie). That idea was eventually scrapped because
of the investment needed to sign Van Damme. They had no other
choice while working with such a small budget but to quickly create
their own original characters. To honor and depict real fighting
techniques, Daniel and other martial artists and athletes were
hired to act out the game characters' moves.
Cage was the first to go. Cage was loosely based on Van Damme,
and poked fun at action movie actors in general. Shot in a storage
space he helped clear out, Daniel made good use of his Wushu training
to show off real martial arts action and poses.
a marked-off section in the room, Daniel stared straight ahead
at a pole so he could focus his attention and would know where
to land his blows. Tobias stood behind the camera, shouting out
moves, and Daniel would perform kicks, punches, or splits over
and over again until there was enough usable footage. In between
takes, Mortal Kombat co-creator, Ed Boon, would appear
on camera, offering his remarks.
the flying kicks, Daniel balanced himself on a short wooden staircase
and stretched out his legs as if he were gliding through the air.
The process repeated with the other actors, and this original
capture session would become the foundation for the rest of the
Once the game
was put together, released, and became a certified hit in arcades
everywhere, talks about porting the title to home consoles began.
The initial agreement Daniel had made with Tobias only concerned
the coin-op, but his friend assured him that he would be compensated
for the home releases as well.
what was to come, Daniel participated in promotional tours and
events around the world, even making an appearance on the British
TV show, GamesMaster, where he challenged (and lost to) Elizabeth
Malecki (a.k.a. Sonya) in a match on the SEGA Genesis version.
friend's promises, when Mortal Kombat debuted on nearly
every major game system of the day, Daniel did not receive any
royalties. He took Midway to court. Other game actors like Malecki
and Ho-Sung followed suit.
same time that this was happening, Hollywood had its eyes on cashing
in on the property by adapting the best-selling games into a movie.
A producer approached the game actors for possible roles in the
upcoming film. At the request of the producer, Daniel choreographed
a fight scene and submitted the tape. The producer told Daniel
that he would be put in the movie if he dropped his lawsuit against
Midway. Rightfully suspicious, Daniel refused.
a small fleet of Midway lawyers, Daniel lost his case, did not
receive any additional money, and was not offered a role in the
1995 movie (nor its 1997 sequel). He was, however, finally able
to claim credit for co-founding the game series.
In 1994, looking
elsewhere to be compensated for his work, or perhaps to send a
message to Midway, Daniel tested his might by dressing up in his
trademark Johnny Cage outfit to pose in an advertisement for a
competing coin-op fighting game called BloodStorm. The
flyer featured Daniel shirtless and standing by the game's cabinet,
giving a thumbs up, with his signature written above the words:
"Daniel Pesina, who starred as Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat
has switched to BloodStorm."
He was fired
by Midway for making that appearance. BloodStorm failed
to sway fighting fans away from Mortal Kombat, and Strata,
its publisher, went bankrupt.
Kombat 3 rolled around in 1995, fans took notice of the missing
characters, in particular Johnny Cage and Scorpion. Carlos Pesina's
Raiden had also been removed as punishment for appearing with
his brother in Data East's Tattoo Assassins one year earlier
(a coin-op fighter that remains unreleased to this day).
In the graveyard
level of Mortal Kombat 3, players could see a gravestone
with "CAGE" inscribed. Midway had, quite literally,
killed off Daniel's most beloved character.
Due to the
outcry from fans, an updated version called Ultimate Mortal
Kombat 3 was released later that same year with more characters,
and Mortal Kombat Trilogy in 1996 added Scorpion and Johnny
Cage back to the rosterthis time played by new actors. John
Turk (Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Smoke, Noob Saibot) and Chris
Alexander (Johnny Cage) took over for Daniel. The other original
game actors who had also sought compensation in court were replaced,
too. The golden age of Mortal Kombat had ended.
In 1995, several
former Mortal Kombat actors, such as Daniel and Ho-Sung,
became involved with Atari's Thea Realm Fighter for the
Jaguar. The game was never released due to the commercial failure
of the system (the Atari Jaguar was officially discontinued in
later, in 2010, Daniel uploaded video footage of the original
Mortal Kombat capture session on his YouTube account ("wushucoach").
Warner Bros. Entertainment has since removed all videos due to
a copyright claim. Warner Bros. bought the franchise when Midway
went under in 2009.
things did get better. Daniel would continue to stay in touch
with the Mortal Kombat family over the years, including
Tobias, and he'd co-star in 2003's Book of Swords with
Ho-Sung and Divizio and in 2007's Press Start with his
younger brother. He'd also go on to become the head shifu (Chinese
for "master") at Chicago Wushu Guan in Uptown Chicago,
where he's been teaching students young and old his passion for
Wushu and Kung Fu since 2004. And although you won't find any
coin-operated machines inside of the school, kids can play Xbox
after their lessons are over.
As for the
closure to my story, fast forward in time to about a week ago
when a package arrived in the mail from Chicago. The contents:
a really nice letter, a signed picture, behind-the-scene photographs,
and everything you see below.
(Daniel Pesina) Masks and Bandanas
This mask and bandana make up part of a Foot Soldier costume worn
by actor/Wushu Master Daniel Pesina in Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Although similar to the
Foot Clan masks seen in the first movie, the sequel's mask eye
holes are smaller. If you look closely, you'll notice that the
patch is a bolder red than the rest of the bandana. This was most
likely done so that the Japanese symbol would be more pronounced
and stand out better in the film. The black on the wire frame
of the eyes appears to be painted. No additional repairs were
made. Any wear comes from the action scenes.
have major roles in the Ninja Turtle universe, especially in the
first two movies. Troubled teens are drawn into the Foot Clan,
an underground crime ring in New York City that originated in
Japan and is under the ninjutsu tutelage of the group's leader,
Oroku Saki, a.k.a. The Shredder (François Chau). After
the Turtles and Splinter defeated Shredder in the first movie,
his second-in-command, Tatsu (Toshirô Obata), takes over
what's left of the Foot until Shredder makes his triumphant return.
Pizza delivery boy, Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr.), infiltrates the Foot
Clan's new junkyard hideout with the help of Raphael. Little do
they know that Shredder has his hands on the last canister of
ooze and is designing his own mutants to do battle against the
and costumes are made for back-up and continuity purposes. This
is Daniel's second mask, and as you can see, it saw much more
action than the first. It may seem weird to think this way, but
the well-worn condition is a good sign because that means you
know the mask was used heavily during filming. He must have really
been thrown around for the eyes to have fallen off afterwards.
(Daniel Pesina) Arm Guards
These arm guards make up part of a Foot Soldier costume worn by
actor/Wushu Master Daniel Pesina in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
II: The Secret of the Ooze.
(Daniel Pesina) Belt
This belt makes up part of a Foot Soldier costume worn by actor/Wushu
Master Daniel Pesina in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The
Secret of the Ooze.
(Daniel Pesina) Wrist Bands
These wrist bands make up part of a Foot Soldier costume worn
by actor/Wushu Master Daniel Pesina in Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Daniel loaned the rest
of his Foot Clan costume to someone and it was never returned.
(Michelan Sisti) Right Knee Pad
This right knee pad makes up part of the 60-pound latex Turtle
costume worn by Michelan Sisti as Michaelangelo in Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Musician,
Broadway actor, and later puppeteer for the Jim Henson Company,
Sisti played Mikey in the first two TMNT movies as well as the
Domino's Pizza delivery guy who slides the pizza down the sewer
grates in the first movie.
He would later
play Charlene Sinclair in the Jim Henson TV series, Dinosaurs.
There were four acting Turtles and about six stunt Turtles by
the end of the movie. This pad was saved by one of the British
prop girls who gifted it to Daniel on the last day of filming.
The Turtle costumes were to be destroyed after shooting wrapped.
Daniel was also given a Turtle arm and passed it on to Ho-Sung
Pak, who played Raphael.
(Leif Tilden) Elbow Pad
This elbow pad makes up part of the 60-pound latex Turtle costume
worn by Leif Tilden as Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
II: The Secret of the Ooze. He's credited as playing Don in
the first two TMNT movies, and also a Foot Soldier in both
He would later
play Robbie Sinclair in the Jim Henson TV series, Dinosaurs.
This was also given to Daniel before the costumes were reportedly
crew poses for a photo together. Divizio can be seen in black
on the far left, and Pesina, in blue, in the very middle. The
stunt coordinator on all three Ninja Turtles films, Pat Johnson,
sits front and center. Johnson prevented Pesina and the other
actors from getting into a fight with Vanilla Ice.
this photo, himself, during a promotional shoot. The promotion
photographer allowed Daniel to stand behind him to snap the shot.
on set with fellow actors.
I want to
personally thank Daniel Pesina again for all of his help and generosity.
The floodgate of memories has been opened, and I feel like a kid
again. What he's given me is priceless, and I'm honored to be
able to share these artifacts and stories with all of you. Don't
you just love a happy ending?