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Who Are The Lin Kuei In Mortal Kombat?

The color-coded ninja characters in "Mortal Kombat" are international icons. As the official mascots of the franchise as a whole, the cyan-swaddled Sub-Zero and the yellow-draped Scorpion possess a level of fame that reaches far beyond that of other characters. They're so famous that many people who have never played or seen "Mortal Kombat" could recognize them in an instant. But there's more to these two than contrasting color schemes and promotional material. They are only two of the series' many similarly dressed ninja warriors.


The recent Warner Bros. "Mortal Kombat" film technically showed off one of these other ninjas in Reptile. But while the film portrays Reptile as nothing more than a massive lizard-man, the original games portrayed him as a humanoid green ninja. However, unlike most other ninja characters, he has very few connections to the Lin Kuei. But who are the Lin Kuei, and why are they so important?

The Lin Kuei are Mortal Kombat's most important ninja clan

Simply put, the Lin Kuei are a major clan of ninja-assassins in "Mortal Kombat" lore. The group hails from China and is the precursor to Japan's more famous ninja clans. In addition to being trained in the ways of stealth and combat, Lin Kuei assassins tend to specialize in either a form of elemental magic (like Sub-Zero's ice manipulation) or technology. Notable members of the clan include Sub-Zero, Smoke, Cyrax, and Sektor.


While many entries in the franchise portray Lin Kuei members as heroes, the original game (as well as the recent movies) feature Lin Kuei members as villains allied with Outworld. This is especially true for Bi-Han, the original Sub-Zero, who forged a centuries-old rivalry with Scorpion after destroying the latter's clan, the Japanese Shirai Ryu. The "Mortal Kombat" movie focuses heavily on this rivalry but only brushes on its full scope when compared to its source material.

In addition to Bi-Han's rivalry with Scorpion, the Lin Kuei remain at the center of many important events in the series. From the group's conversion into mindless cyborgs to its reconversion and redemption at the hands of the second Sub-Zero, the Lin Kuei are an important faction in the franchise's lore. Aside from the Special Forces and the Shaolin Monks, the Lin Kuei are one of the few organized groups of humans capable of combating Outworld's attempts to conquer Earthrealm in the "Mortal Kombat" tournament.


Mortal Kombat's creators based the Lin Kuei on movie and myths

It's fairly obvious that the story and aesthetic of Mortal Kombat all borrow from the subjects of East Asian mythology and martial arts cinema. The presence of the Japanese god of thunder, Raiden, and his Bruce Lee-esque Shaolin protegee, Liu Kang, are evidence enough of that. However, this inspiration unsurprisingly extends to the Lin Kuei and its members, according to series co-creator John Tobias.


Tobias recently took to Twitter to answer a specific question regarding the origins of Sub-Zero and Scorpion. He explained that the Lin Kuei in Mortal Kombat were inspired by a semi-historical book called "China's Ninja Connection."

"In that book, the author told what he claimed was the true story of the Lin Kuei," Tobias wrote. "A brand of vagabond thief and assassin from China and precursor to the ninja of Japan."

From there, Tobias and his partner, Ed Boon, would go on to develop their own spin on the Lin Kuei myth. They designed characters, assigned characters archetypes, and expanded upon the idea of a Japanese rival clan. The end result was two of gaming's most iconic characters and the formation of one of the series' most popular and important factions.