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Main series: MK1 (Part 1 | Part 2) | MK2 (Part 1 | Part 2) | MK3 | MK4 | Deadly Alliance | Deception | Armageddon | MK vs. DC Universe | MK9 | MKX | MK11
Spinoffs: Mythologies: Sub-Zero | Special Forces
Non-video game: The Movie | Conquest | Defenders of the Realm | 2021 Movie
Individual Characters: Scorpion | Johnny Cage | Liu Kang | Raiden | Shang Tsung | Sub-Zero II | Kitana | Mileena | Shao Kahn | Shinnok

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Spoilers for Mythologies will be unmarked


Shang Tsung

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/shangtsung.png
Click here to see his older self 

Debut game: Mortal Kombat (Ho Sung Pak, Eric Kincaid)note 
Other appearances: Mortal Kombat II (Phillip Ahn, M.D.), Mortal Kombat 3 (John Turk), Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (Richard Divizio), Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Mortal Kombat: Deception (cameo), Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (James Kyson-Lee), Mortal Kombat 9 (Andrew Kishino, Richard Epcar note ), Mortal Kombat 11 (DLC) (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, English; Galo Balcázar, Latin American Spanish)
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Non-game appearances: Mortal Kombat: The Movie (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Mortal Kombat: Conquest (Bruce Locke), Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm (Neil Ross), Mortal Kombat: Rebirth (James Lew), Mortal Kombat: Legacy (Johnson Phan in the first season, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the second), Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge (Artt Butler), Mortal Kombat (2021) (Chin Han)

A powerful and deadly sorcerer and a primary villain in the Mortal Kombat series, Shang Tsung is a demonic shapeshifter who needs to consume souls in order to sustain his health and life. Throughout his unnatural lifespan, he has achieved an intellectual and mental sophistication far greater than that of any other baddie of the series.

Several centuries before the start of the series, a young and promising Tsung was taken to Outworld and trained by the Emperor in the Black Arts. For a time, Shang Tsung would be the Grand Champion of Mortal Kombat himself, but when he lost his title to the legendary Shaolin warrior, the Great Kung Lao, he had to wait several years for his greatest student, the Shokan prince Goro, to restore once more Outworld's domination of the Mortal Kombat Tournament. This time Tsung, now aged and weakened, secured his domain on the Tournament, by becoming its sole Grandmaster and holding future competitions on his private island, a zone in between Earth and the Outworld.

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During the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament, the final victory that would enable Shao Kahn to conquer Earth, Liu Kang, a Shaolin Monk, defeated Goro, breaking the streak. Liu Kang then challenged Shang Tsung in Kombat to restore the honour of the once-sacred tournament; Liu Kang prevailed, and Shang Tsung fled to Outworld. He confronted an enraged Shao Kahn and convinced him that, if they challenged Earthrealm to Mortal Kombat in Outworld, they would have to accept or forfeit. Kahn agreed to this plan, and restored Tsung's youth. Despite this, in the Tournament the sorcerer lost again to Liu Kang, who also defeated Kahn. Shortly after, with the aid of his cult of Shadow Priests, Shang Tsung managed to revive Shao Kahn's former queen, Sindel, on Earth, giving Kahn and his forces a way to invade the Realm. Tsung was granted more power than ever before, but during the invasion that followed he lost to Liu Kang once more.

Sometime after the merge of the two Realms failed, the fellow sorcerer Quan Chi come to Shang Tsung with 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. Tsung accepted, and they formed the Deadly Alliance. Together, the sorcerers not only managed to assassinate both Liu Kang and Shao Kahn, but eventually, the duo defeated Earthrealm's champions and triumphed over Raiden himself in a final battle. 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, with Quan Chi emerging the victor, and immediately after that, Shang Tsung had to confront a revived Dragon King alongside the two enemies; in the battle that ensued, Tsung was killed by Raiden's self-sacrificial blast.

His soul, still bound to Kahn, reached the not-so-dead Emperor. Kahn provided Tsung with a host body and then allied with him and Goro in taking his kingdom back. Sometime later, during the Armageddon, the sorcerer formed an alliance with Onaga, Shao Kahn, and Quan Chi so that the group may prevent the Forces of Light from obtaining the power that Blaze possessed.

The events of Mortal Kombat 9 happen pretty much the same for Shang Tsung as in the previous games, with an exception: nearing the end of the events of Mortal Kombat 3, Outworld's general, Motaro, has been slain and Shao Kahn is running out of options. In a last-ditch effort to weaken Earthrealm's forces, he siphons Shang Tsung's life energy into Sindel and sends Sindel and a squad of Lin Kuei cyber-warriors to the Earthrealm base.

Despite all of this, however, Shang Tsung returns in Mortal Kombat 11 as a DLC character. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa - his original actor from the first Mortal Kombat live-action movie and the second season of Mortal Kombat Legacy web series - reprises his role as the shapeshifting sorcerer. Also, he is one of the characters playing the pivotal role in the Aftermath expansion of the Story Mode.

Read in his own voice here.


    open/close all folders 

     A-G 
  • 0% Approval Rating: Shang Tsung has the dubious honor of being the single most disliked and distrusted character in the entire 11 roster, and perhaps the entire series.note  Even when compared to Frost and Kano, the former being given certain pity and the latter having his clan, Shang Tsung has absolutely no friends and is viewed with scorn and wariness by just about every character.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: As of 11, he has a very outspoken and blatant Villainous Crush on Sonya Blade. She is extremely uninterested.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: A very tame and downplayed example. He anxiously but calmly begs Shao Kahn for another chance in an 11 match intro, to which the Kahn responds to by saying Shang sickens him.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Mortal Kombat 11 allows him to transform into all the colored ninjas (except Tremor) in order to use one of their special abilities.
  • Ambiguously Human: We don't really know where Tsung came from initially, but his biography in Mortal Kombat 9 confirms he is from Earthrealm. His Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition bio states his origin as "Earthrealm/Outworld."
  • Ambition Is Evil: Shang Tsung is heavily motivated to prove his worth to Shao Kahn as well as betraying him and seeking ultimate power (which he succeeds in doing should he defeat Fire God Liu Kang).
  • Amplifier Artifact: Somewhat. He wears a runestone around his neck that houses all of the souls he's absorbed over the ages and is able to replenish his strength.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • He's this to Liu Kang and to a lesser degree to Kung Lao in Deadly Alliance; the one who corrupted the tournament in the first place, absorbed the soul of the Great Kung Lao, and is one of the most prominent enemies of Earthrealm. This intensifies when he ends up killing Liu Kang, causing his zombie to become vengeful.
    • He also becomes a major nemesis to Kitana, both as the person who created Mileena, and because she is in love with Liu Kang. In 11, he even taunts her by revealing he killed Ermac just to rub having Jerrod's soul in her face.
    • Shang Tsung and Raiden also are sworn enemies, due to Shang Tsung serving as Shao Kahn's emissary and representing the threat of Outworld looming over Earthrealm. The fact that he's also betrayed his native realm doesn't help matters.
  • Animal Motifs: Has a minor one for serpents, representing his intelligent, but untrustworthy nature. It also highlights his rivalry with Liu Kang (who has a dragon motif).
  • The Assimilator: Every soul he devours makes him that much stronger, and grants him their knowledge and skills. According to some banter in MK11, Shang Tsung even gains special abilities related to the souls he takes (which is true, considering how his transformations allow him to use the other characters' movesets with no difference from the original):
    Kabal: Stealing my soul won't make you faster.
    Shang Tsung: Actually, that is precisely how it works.
    Kabal: ...Ah, shit.
  • Asshole Victim: If the player picks Fire God Liu Kang in Aftermath, Liu Kang defeats Shang Tsung and erases him from history. And Shang Tsung is such a callous Evil Sorcerer, that no-one's going to miss him.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: At the end of his own ending of 11: Aftermath, his new Elder God form is absolutely gigantic, dwarfing both Fujin and Raiden by many meters. He's practically the size of a house, and his throne is equally sized as such.
  • Badass Boast: Delivers one to Raiden in his gameplay trailer for 11.
    Shang Tsung: I will torment you for eternity.
    Raiden: Do your worst, Shang Tsung!
    Shang Tsung: And now, a taste of things to come...
  • Badass Longcoat: In the movie. Proved so badass that it was included as one of his alternate costumes in 11.
  • Badass Mustache: As of 11, he sports impressive Fu Manchu plus goatee combo for his older look.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Played With. One would assume the ability to steal and manipulate souls for their own ends can only be evil, but Shang Tsung has demonstrated many positive uses for his abilities. Shang's soul-based magic can halt aging, heal people, greatly empower allies, resurrect the dead, and if his 9 ending is anything to go by, can be reversed from its inherently malevolent nature into a force of good. It's just Shang Tsung is so evil that any time he uses his abilities these ways, it's only for his own gain.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Should you choose his ending in the final battle Aftermath, Shang Tsung successfully defeats Kronika and Fire God Liu Kang to become the new Keeper of Time and shape reality to his liking, becoming an all-powerful dictator of the realms.
  • Beard of Evil: White in the first game, black in the other ones.
  • Big Bad:
    • Of the first game, being the foreseer of the Mortal Kombat tournament and the most immediate threat to Earthrealm. However, the sequel reveals that Shao Kahn was The Man Behind the Man.
    • Comes full circle in Aftermath of Mortal Kombat 11, where he is the Big Bad once more. For bonus points, he's manipulated Shao Kahn into getting Demoted to Dragon without him even realizing it.
    • Acts this in Shaolin Monks, manipulated Liu Kang and Kung Lao into various locations to fight and kill enemies so he can use the souls of those they kill to grow stronger. Shao Kahn is in the game but only appears at the end, so he is instead a Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: He's in one with Kronika in the Aftermath DLC storyline, while also being one a Villain Protagonist. Shang Tsung fully intends to hijack Kronika's power for himself to usher in his own New Era. Shang Tsung wins out against Kronika and becomes the Final Boss in Fire God Liu Kang's ending.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: After the first game. He has ambitions to overthrow Shao Kahn, but never able to get anywhere with them until he forms the Deadly Alliance with Quan Chi. This still leaves him as this trope since their alliance ends with Quan Chi pulling an Eviler Than Thou on him, before Onaga pulled an Eviler Than Thou on both of them. Averted in Aftermath, where manages to become the Big Bad for the first time since the original game.
    • In the non-canon Shaolin Monks, he is this compared to Shao Kahn. The plot of the game was set up by Shang Tsung luring Liu Kang and Kung Lao to fight and kill enemies so Shang Tsung could feed on the souls of those who died and gain the power to overthrow Shao Kahn. The end of the game shows that Shao Kahn was aware of Shang Tsung's plot the entire time and from the looks of things, Shang Tsung didn't have much chance of overthrowing him.
  • The Bus Came Back: After his sudden death in 9, he returns as the host for the Krypt in 11, and later as a fully playable DLC character. He also transitions his absence from the events of 11's story mode into a major role in the Aftermath story expansion.
  • Camp Straight: He either wears stylish robes or revealing outfits, and he constantly has long and straight hair. His outfit when wearing Kronika's crown has an even bigger Absolute Cleavage than his other outfits and his hair has small braids in it. Simply put, Shang Tsung is vain.
  • Catchphrase: He's the Trope Namer for Your Soul is Mine!, and gets good mileage from the phrase.
  • Cast From Life Span: Shang's signature Flaming Skulls are in fact the lifeforce of deceased souls, which he depends upon to sustain himself. Casting this during gameplay doesn't actually affect his health no matter how many are spent, even if the move is amplified.
  • Cessation of Existence: This is his fate if Liu Kang wins their final battle in Aftermath, as his defeat has him dissolve into sand and removed from the timeline for good.
  • Chest Burster: One of his fatalities in MK11, where he implants the soul of Kintaro into his opponent. Kintaro proceeds to violently make his exit from inside.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: In fact, he is so untrustworthy that as soon as he was brought back to life via the time merger, Kronika sealed him in a temporal prison so that he couldn't be a potential Spanner in the Works. Even Frost of all people calls him out on it.
    Frost: Kronika's worried about your loyalty.
    Shang Tsung: As if I would ally with Raiden...
    Frost: You're capable of anything.
    • An exchange with Geras confirms that Shang Tsung's untrustworthiness is truly a universal constant.
    Geras: You scheme against Kronika.
    Shang Tsung: Prove your slander, Geras.
    Geras: In all previous timelines, you betrayed her.
    • And of course, several lines from Aftermath trailer allude to this.
    Fujin: I must ask, sorcerer: how long before you betray us?
    • This is such a well known trait of his that in Aftermath, the first action that almost every single person he recruits to help against Kronika takes upon joining his team is to state how little they trust him. Fire God Liu Kang weaponizes this knowing full well that Shang Tsung would backstab everyone on his way to get the crown, lying to him by saying he has to stay with the Hourglass. After defeating Kronika, Liu Kang steps in at the last moment to take the crown from him. Liu Kang knows his arch-enemy far too well.
    • Of course, this is only after Shang Tsung managed to backstab (in rapid succession, Sheeva, Kitana, Raiden, Fujin, Shao Kahn, and Sindel. Even Kronika seemed stunned at the depths of his treachery.
    Kronika: You have no one left to betray.
  • Co-Dragons: With Goro to Shao Kahn as they are Shao Kahn’s most loyal servants.
  • Color Failure: He can invoke this on his enemies in 11 by stealing their souls. Somehow draining a person of their soul and life force will also bleach the colors out of their clothing.
  • Cold Ham: Thanks to Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's incredible delivery, Shang Tsung in MK11 is an amazing ham while almost never raising his voice.
  • Court Mage: Part of his job for Shao Kahn.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: It should be fairly obvious and justified, but anyone that fights Shang and loses isn't leaving alive regardless of a fatality not being performed.
  • Cursed With Awesome: When Shang Tsung committed the atrocity of taking a soul, he 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. However, 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 in the future. 11 reveals that Kronika orchestrated this so she could use the Well of Souls he created as a back-up power source in case she needed it.
  • A Day in the Limelight: In MK vs. DCU, he's the focus of the MK side's Chapter 6. The Aftermath story expansion for 11 also focuses on his return after his absence from story mode, with him as the final chapter.
  • Deader Than Dead: In Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath's Good Ending, Liu Kang obliterates him. Liu Kang's words imply he didn't just kill him, but erase him from time.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Of the very dry and downplayed kind. Compared to most of the other villains, Shang Tsung is rather humorless.
  • Death by Irony: On rare occasions, Shang Tsung gets a taste of his own medicine.
    • Nearing the climax of Mortal Kombat 9, Shao Kahn extracts his soul in order to empower Sindel. He does deliver a payback in Aftermath, by stealing back Shao Kahn's and Sindel's near the endgame.
      • He in turn gets another taste of this in the heroic ending as he falls for Liu Kang's deception, effectively being beaten at his own game.
    • While on the topic of 11, he can be subjected to this via Mirror Match, which he himself lampshades in his intro. Doubly so if his double also ends up stealing his soul.
    • Going back to 9, the notorious soul stealer gets his soul stolen by Mileena in her ladder ending.
  • Demonic Possession: In MKII, he enters his opponent's body, which violently shakes until it explodes as Shang appears in the opponent's place. It inspires one of Liu Kang's Deception Fatalities, and in MK9 it comes full-circle with it being based on Liu Kang's version instead of his own from MKII.
  • Devour the Dragon: In Aftermath he does this to both Shao Kahn and Sindel as Shao Kahn was Demoted to Dragon and Sindel was his unwitting dragon. Shang Tsung defeats them both and kills them by stealing their souls.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: His MK11 ending has him become the new Master of Time after killing Kronika, and in doing so he gains power and influence among his newfound peers: the Titans.
  • Didn't See That Coming: He genuinely failed to anticipate that Liu Kang would lie and effectively let his allies die in order to create an opportunity to take Kronika's Crown back once she was taken care of. Of course, this could backfire spectacularly on Liu Kang if Shang Tsung wins their Final Battle.
  • Ditto Fighter: A trademark of the character which varies from continuity to continuity.
    • In the original trilogy, Shang Tsung could transform into any member of the roster with the corresponding command, with bosses mostly being an exception. This allowed him to perform their specials, combos and Fatalities - he'd revert back to normal in MK2 after doing one except in the case of characters with unique post-Fatality win poses like Kung Lao; this doesn't pop up in MK3.
    • In Deadly Alliance and Armageddon, engine restrictions and the latter's large roster meant that he could not keep his shapeshifting.
    • MK vs. DCU saw this return, but only as he transforms into his opponents for his win pose and one of his Fatalities. His Soul Steal move in MK9 allows him to temporarily fight as his opponent if it lands, gaining a damage boost in the process; unlike the classic games, he cannot perform other Fatalities as he transforms after performing the match-ending blow. As a boss, he could willing transform into two other fighters in addition to the player's.
    • In 11, he could transform into any of the male ninjas to perform a move of theirs. His specials are taken from Rain, Smoke, Reptile and Ermac while he transforms into Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Noob Saibot (funny enough, the three sole ninjas in the base roster) for his Fatal Blow. As was the case in 9, he can transform into his opponent with his Soul Steal move. While he still can't copy their Fatalities, he does gain access to all their Crushing Blows and Brutalities; much like the previous games, he stays transformed if he successfully wins a match with a Brutality, complete with copying his opponents' win poses.
  • The Dog Bites Back: A downplayed example since Tsung would certainly have betrayed them anyway, Tsung takes time out of his attack on Kronika to betray and murder both Shao Kahn and Sindel. Given former spent the last several eons treating him like garbage and the former used his soul as a power source in a previous game, Tsung seems even more giddy to torment them than usual. Which says a lot.
  • Downloadable Content: The second character in 11 after Shao Kahn.
  • The Dragon: To Shao Kahn. While he may have been the Big Bad of the first game he’s actually Shao Kahn’s right-hand man and to that end in both II and 9 you always fight Shang Tsung before you go onto the final bosses as the last regular opponent.
    • In Deadly Alliance, he’s this to Quan Chi, as he is much less active than Quan Chi is.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: In spite of the above, Shang Tsung has his own ambitions to fulfil and is not above trying to usurp or kill Shao Kahn if it means furthering his goals. He joins forces with Quan Chi, another Dragon with an Agenda at some point with Quan Chi being the more authoritative figure. Again, Shang makes no pretence of taking out Quan Chi regarding his personal objectives.
  • Dressing as the Enemy:
    • Inverted. He disguised himself as Kung Lao in order to get the drop on Liu Kang in Deadly Alliance.
    • In Aftermath, he appears as Raiden to get Fujin to give him Kronika's crown.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: His death in 9 is rather sudden and no mention is made of him afterwards.
  • Enemy Mine: In Aftermath, he invokes this to position himself as an ally to Liu Kang, Raiden, and the other heroic characters against Kronika. Inevitably, he goes on to betray the heroes and side with Shao Kahn and Sindel before backstabbing and killing them as well.
  • Energy Absorption: In later games, he can absorb part of his opponent's soul during a fight to restore his health.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Noob Saibot orders him to take his place in the Netherrealm, and Rain once demanded an army of clones from him; to both, Shang Tsung says up front that "I would rather raise Onaga". Considering what Onaga is, that says enough.
    • He hates Joker just as much as the other kombatants, absolutely disgusted by the psychopathic clown's love for careless destruction and crossing lines just for fun.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: His Friendship in MKII and MK11.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • To Raiden, being the Big Good to his Big Bad and that the both of them lead the opposing ensembles in Mortal Kombat while having a special power over an element (Electricity for Raiden, Fire for Shang Tsung). While Raiden is well-respected and admired among the heroes while caring greatly for humanity, Shang Tsung was considered a failure among the Rogues Gallery and his own personal motivations lean towards For the Evulz.
    • To Liu Kang, who is Shang Tsung's Arch-Enemy has Playing with Fire and Shapeshifting powers just like him. However, while Liu Kang is honorable and heroic, Shang Tsung is an embittered and self-centered Jerkass who snakes his way into power while Liu Kang earns it. By the end of MK11's Aftermath DLC Liu Kang and Shang Tsung have both become the strongest kombants in The 'Verse thanks being brought Back from the Dead.
    • To Kenshi. Both him and Shang Tsung wield blades, wear red, and have Badass Beards. They both also use Soul Power, though Kenshi uses it positively through his Cool Sword Sento while Shang Tsung violently sucks the souls out of people to keep his youth.
  • Evil Mentor: To Goro, the Shokan prince. To the point that he misses him the most in 11. Based on pre-match banter with Jax and Jacqui, he seems to be scheming to corrupt the latter into becoming his disciple as well.
    [Towards Jax]: I'll teach her what you never could.
    [Towards Jacqui]: Such beauty in kombat is rare.
  • Evil Old Folks: As his old form, he definitely qualifies given he was the original final boss.
  • Evil Smells Bad: He has a particular odor that Baraka can exploit to instantly detect him through his shapeshifting.
  • Evil Sorcerer: He literally is one.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: In the movie and in MK11, courtesy of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa - who brings his smooth, rich baritone to the role. After almost 25 years, this Evil sounds even deeper.
  • Fallen Hero: In Conquest, he was once Earthrealm's champion in the Mortal Kombat tournament until he was tempted to Shao Kahn's side.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Subverted. In 9, he was very interested in modern weaponry and bought rocket launchers and shotguns from Kano.
    "Well done. You might tell your fellow Black Dragon that I'm very interested in your merchandise."
  • Faux Affably Evil: His politeness is never genuine when he's in Kombat.
    Jade: You cloned Kitana, you despicable fiend!
    Shang Tsung: Would you like a sister too, Jade?
    Jade: I would like to end your life.
    • However, during his reveal in MK11's Krypt, he does sport Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's trademark polite behaviour and charm... which still makes him legitimately creepy. The following words are not helping, either:
      Shang Tsung: Take what you want... within reason.
    • Also, this moment from the Krypt:
      Shang Tsung: Behold the final resting place of Kenshi Takahashi. Valiant and brave, he was an excellent warrior. Which made feeding on his soul most enjoyable...
  • Final Boss: The elderly Shang Tsung is the last opponent a kombatant faces in the premiere game's ladder, and can shapeshift into any of the player characters plus Goro, though he also has a powerful flaming skull attack (complete with screams) when in his true form.
    • He eventually becomes the very last opponent to fight against in the Aftermath expansion of Mortal Kombat 11. That is if you choose to side with Liu Kang.
  • Finger-Tenting: His signature scheming pose.
  • Flaming Skulls: He uses them as projectiles in some games.
  • Foil: As Liu Kang's nemesis, they naturally mirror each other in a few ways.
    • Tsung himself used to be Mortal Kombat Champion before the Great Kung Lao defeated him, and operates as Shao Kahn's champion compared to Liu Kang who is Raiden's.
    • Shang Tsung is doomed to prolong his life through souls, compared to Liu Kang's agelessness as Mortal Kombat Champion... although taking souls doesn't make Shang any weaker.
  • For Science!: His stated reason for his horrific experiments.
    Shang Tsung: If your arms are cut off, will they grow back?
    Kollector: I am not one of your experiments, sorcerer.
    Shang Tsung: Come, Kollector. It's for science.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: As an homage to the first movie, Shang does this to the player in 11, complete with his iconic line.
    Shang Tsung: Your Soul is Mine!!
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: In some of his incarnations.
  • A God Am I: After killing Kronika, Shang Tsung wastes no time in waxing how powerful he has become and bathes in his newfound powers. Even when challenged by the literal Physical God that is Liu Kang, he's still gloating like it's going out of style. You can even have him ascend to Elder God status, his godhood upgrading from delusion to reality.
  • Godhood Seeker: This is his primary motive for wanting Kronika's Hourglass and Crown, and achieves it should you choose his ending.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: Absorbing the souls of Raiden and Fujin to an extent allowed Shang Tsung to de-age himself to his physical prime whilst also being dressed in a white and gold costume to signal is newfound power. But then again, this is Shang Tsung we're talking about.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: One of his new moves in 11 involves summoning a mutilated corpse to fall on his opponent. Enhancing the move causes the corpse to explode.

     H-O 
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: One of his fatalities from 2, in which he morphs into Kintaro and punches the upper half of the opponent's body clear across the stage.
  • Hazy Feel Turn: The most likely interpretation of his Ladder ending in 9, in which Bo' Rai Cho trains him to help defeat a power-mad and newly-deified Liu Kang.
    • This also seems the be the case for his return in Aftermath, as he potentially stands to gain from aiding Fire God Liu Kang in retrieving Kronika's crown.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Shang Tsung arrives to Fire God Liu Kang and Raiden's presence to allow for an alliance to retrieve Kronika's Crown so that the timeline could be merged proper. In reality, he seeks to acquire the crown and Kronika's Hourglass so that he could become a god-like Multiversal Conquerer. Something that Liu Kang saw coming from the very beginning.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Loyalty. According to him, the monks on his island were so devouted to him: news about his death were such traumatizing that they chose mass suicide over living in a world without him. When Nightwolf scoffs at this, Tsung even chides him on his lack of compassion.
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • He forced Sonya to participate in the first tournament by taking her unit hostage (in the new timeline, this was altered to be just Jax).
    • Ironically, he forced Jax and the other Earthrealm heroes to fight in the second tournament by capturing Sonya.
    • He will occasionally use the souls he's captured as leverage to comply with their loved ones to do his bidding. In 11, he specifically tries to force Jade's service by revealing he's taken (or plans to take) her parents' souls.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
  • Immortality: Strongly implied. Several endings in Mortal Kombat X anticipate his return, and an interaction between him and Raiden has him asking the god if he's surprised to see him. Raiden is only surprised that it took long.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: His appearance in Mortal Kombat 11 is literally that of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa - his reprising actor from the first live-action movie and the second season of Legacy.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Shang Tsung is supposed to be Chinese, but his most famous actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is Japanese.
  • It's All About Me: Above all else, Shang Tsung's defining trait is his absolute lack of empathy toward everyone, caring only for himself and his own gain in power and treating everyone as either pawns, or free souls to acquire. Even upon discovering that many of his followers had committed suicide after hearing of his death, he was only amused by their devotion toward him and not at all bothered by the massive number of fatalities, further cementing the fact that Shang Tsung is fueled only by greed and eternal worship.
  • I Was Quite the Looker:
    • Compare his elder form to when his youth is restored.
    • His appearance in Mortal Kombat 11 for most of his costumes, as one of his match intros has him morph from his elderly self into a far younger form roughly around Liu Kang's age. As a bonus, he's modeled after his appearance from the movie.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: In Aftermath, he betrays and kills Shao Kahn and Sindel after Kronika's revenants are dealt with. While Shang Tsung isn't any better, it's not like those two didn't deserve it.
  • Kill and Replace: Most of his Brutalities in 11 let him assume the form of his last victim.
  • Kill the God: Shang Tsung kills Kronika in order the usurp the throne. He even gets to kill and absorb the soul of Fire God Liu Kang in the bad ending.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: While a sorcerer, he does plenty of fighting with his bare hands as well. Emphasized in 11 where a good chunk of his moves involve using either magic scrolls or magical lava.
  • Large Ham: Especially in the first movie.
    (to Goro, after he gets punched in the goolies by Johnny Cage) "You IMBECILE! Follow him! Finish Him!!"
    • There's also his behavior in MK9's story mode, especially after he has his youth restored.
    • The moment he puts on Kronika's crown in the final chapter of Aftermath, he effectively steals the soul of every single scene thereafter.
  • Life Drain: His soul-based moves in 11 give a small bit of health back to him each use.
  • Life Drinker: Shang Tsung adds to his lifetime by consuming the souls of his victims, and he's lived for millennia, so that's a lot of lives drunk. Power Copying is a bonus.
    • 11 provides a very graphic demonstration of his soul stealing. Not only does Shang Tsung extract the soul out of his opponents, but they also visibly shrivel and become rotten, desiccated corpses after he's done with them, as if he's channeling his inner Imhotep. And most of the time, his victims are fully conscious and aware of their rapid demise, too.
  • Magma Man: One of his attacks in 11 is to create a small pool of lava beneath his opponent.
  • Manipulative Bastard: One of his specialties. He once tricked Kenshi into leading him right to the souls of his warrior ancestors by posing as a harmless old man, posed as friends of Earth warriors in order to attack them from behind, lied about the terms of at least one tournament in order to further his agenda, and is generally an all-round untrustworthy bastard.
  • Mirror Match: Whether through shapeshifting powers or flesh pit cloning, he is usually considered to be the only reason for this whenever the characters meet their exact duplicates. As of 11, Shang himself gets this exchange:
    Shang Tsung 1: Shang Lao, I presume? note 
    Shang Tsung 2: You presume correctly, brother.
    Shang Tsung 1: When you die, you will be forgotten.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: White in the original (and 9), green in 3.
  • Monster Clown: One of his Mortal Kombat 9 Fatalities has him turn into one and execute his opponent with a gun, which doubles as a Take That! to MK vs. DCU's censorship of The Joker's fatality.
  • More Dakka: When he was the final boss in the first game, he could unleash up to 6 fireballs that each hit as hard as a roundhouse kick. In Mortal Kombat II when he was made a playable character, the damage was reduced and the number of fireballs got toned down to 4 and then 3 in later updates. In Mortal Kombat 3, he was given a multiple fireball move from the ground that could combo with his regular fireballs for plenty of hits. And all this took place when every other character could only shoot one projectile at a time.
  • More Than Mind Control: Aftermath is a huge showcase of how this formerly mortal man lasted millennia. He was able to convince his enemies - many of whom include demigods - to work with him. Now, the circumstances are so dire that this alliance is needed; but every other character attacks Nightwolf and Fujin thinking that both are under some kind of Mind Control. They aren't: Shang Tsung is that good at persuading.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Despite being an Evil Sorcerer, Shang Tsung is shown to be quite fascinated by modern Earthrealm technology (particularly in the field of weaponry).
    • In 9, Shang Tsung hires the Black Dragon clan to provide Outworld's supernatural armies with conventional military equipment, and one scene even shows him and Kano casually testing RPGs in the Living Forest.
    • In 11, Shang Tsung goes as far as to muse that "Perhaps technology is superior to magic" upon encountering The Terminator.
      Shang Tsung: You feel no pity or remorse?
      Terminator: I cannot feel human emotion.
      Shang Tsung: Perfect...
  • Multiversal Conqueror: Alongside wanting to become a god who rivals the Titans in might, Shang Tsung's end goal is also to have a firm grip in invading and taking over the many realms of the Mortal Kombat Universe, as can be attested to the bad ending of Aftermath.
  • Naked on Revival: In Ermac's ending in X, Shang Tsung is completely nude as he drains Ermac of all his souls. The cameras don't show anything below his waist, naturally.
  • Neck Snap: In Deadly Alliance, he delivers one to Liu Kang, killing him for good. This comes back in the Battle of Armageddon, where Undead!Liu Kang necksnaps him.
  • Nightmare Face: Showcased in Aftermath. In the Netherrealm, when Revenant Nightwolf loses the fight against his living counterpart, Shang Tsung is quick enough to begin consuming the undead warrior's soul... sporting nightmarish rotting face on top of that. Thankfully, Tsung gets rejuvenated back to his old self.
  • No Campaign for the Wicked: He has no playable sections in the story mode for Mortal Kombat 9. Then subverted hard when Shang Tsung has a chapter all to his own in the Aftermath campaign of Mortal Kombat 11.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: A relative example. While he is capable of fighting, he's more reliant on his souls and manipulation when dealing with others. In the movie, he even consciously avoids fighting Liu Kang until the last possible moment. Compared to his battle with Reptile, Liu Kang quickly shows that he is Shang Tsung's superior in combat.
    • He functions as one in Scorpion's Revenge. He never participates in any tournament fights.
  • Off with His Head!: In 9, he possesses his opponent then uses their own hand to rip off their head as his Fatality.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the intro to Armageddon, he gets to face the revived zombie of Liu Kang, who promptly snaps his neck back into place after Tsung personally performed a Neck Snap on him. Tsung flinches at this, all too aware of the irony and danger he was in at that point.
    • The looks on his face when he's about to be Ret Goned by Fire God Liu Kang in the good ending of Aftermath can only be described as a mix of This Cannot Be! and absolute horror.
  • Old Master: Way old.
  • Only Sane Man: In the vs. DC Universe crossover, he has apparently the strongest self-control of all characters from both worlds, as he never gives up to the Rage until Dark Khan reveals himself and makes Rage take everybody. But even after that, he managed to bring himself back to normal, while Raiden was still under Dark Kahn's influence. It's also worth noting that he agrees with a Rage-stricken Raiden that while Shang Tsung himself might have taken the time to betray him right there and then, Evil Versus Oblivion means that he genuinely wants to defeat Dark Kahn.

     P-Y 
  • Pet the Dog: Zig-Zagged in Aftermath. When Shang Tsung travels to his abandoned island, he discovers that his minions have hung themselves, unable to cope with his previous death. Tsung is genuinely touched by this devotion. However, he's largely touched by their fanaticism to him and not necessarily the minions themselves.
    • Speaking of his island. For once, Shang Tsung is shown to be all but wholly generous, as he allows the Descendant of Apep to loot his hoard in the Krypt to the player's desire. Even if he may throw in a snide remark or two when the player gets killed by a trap or critter, he'd still gladly resurrect them at the nearest checkpoint no worse for wear, no matter how many times they die. Keep in mind, the Descendant is, for all intents and purposes, an insignificant stranger whom he holds no obligation towards, who came to basically steal his valuables, and yet he'd happily give them a treatment worthy of Goro.
  • Playing with Fire: Summons skulls on fire as projectiles.
  • Power Copying: Whenever Shang Tsung steals somebody's soul, he can learn their techniques and incorporate their powers into his own repertoire. Starting with 9, if he performs a Soul Steal during gameplay, Shang Tsung will briefly morph into his victim and gain a damage buff, whereas doing so in 11 will let him use their Krushing and Fatal Blows, as well as their unlocked Brutalities if the match ends while he's still transformed.
  • Power Floats: He's floating off the floor of Goro's Lair in the fight against him in the original game, making him impervious to sweeping attacks until he shapeshifts. He also uses this in Mortal Kombat 9, but not in battle.
  • Psychic Link: His Armageddon bio makes a reference to Shang binding his soul to Shao Kahn, which might explain why his victories would count for Outworld despite being from Earthrealm. MK11 confirm this when it's revealed that he willingly bound his soul to Shao Kahn's in exchange for power.
  • The Punishment: This is what the Elder Gods call his soul-sucking ability. Admittedly, it's required to keep him sustained, but he can do much more with it than that - and he's definitely not objecting.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Really ten thousand years old, to be exact, if his pre-match banter with Erron Black in 11 is to be believed. And he is capable of slowing down the aging process of anyone, as stated by Black's Arcade ending in MKX.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: He wears a black kimono shirt under a crimson robe in 9.
  • Scaled Up: He could turn into a cobra to finish his opponents as an Animality in MK3.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Even though the timequake in 11 brings him back, he's put into a temporal prison offscreen by Kronika to prevent his inevitable betrayal. Her death at the hands of Fire God Liu Kang is what releases him and sets off the events of Aftermath.
  • Serious Business: Implied in MK11. Even though Shang Tsung personally welcomes the nameless traveller who came to the Krypt (with an obvious intention to rob the place), he gives said traveller a subtle warning (see Faux Affably Evil above). Considering the fact that the Krypt is located on Shang Tsung's private island...
    Shang Tsung: I've heard rumors.
    Sindel: Tales of me "acquiring" your power?
    Shang Tsung: Obviously, such stories concern me.

    Shao Kahn: Come, Sindel awaits.
    Shang Tsung: Why, so you can transfer her my power?
    Shao Kahn: Where would you get that idea?

  • Shadow Dictator: Shang Tsung fashions himself as one of these. It's implied that he prefers to subtly influence all sides of conflict from the shadows while his pawns and enemies destroy each other on his behalf. Especially if said pawns are Titans themselves.
    Shang Tsung: I have use for you, D'Vorah.
    D'Vorah: You lead no faction, Shang Tsung.
    Shang Tsung: Why lead one when I can influence all?
    • His intro with Jade also applies:
      Shang Tsung: An invisible hand must guide Outworld.
      Jade: Your hand, Shang Tsung?
      Shang Tsung: Such it has always been, princess.
  • Shapeshifter: His signature move is the ability to turn into other characters.
  • Shape Shifter Guilt Trip: In the movie.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Intro dialogue to most of the mirror matches in MKX imply that he came back like this.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: His demise in the first game.
  • Shipper on Deck: According to Kano's mirror match intro, Shang Tsung is this to Kano and Mileena, if making multiple Kanos can translate to anything.
  • A Sinister Clue: Given his weapon style in later games, Shang would appear to be a lefty.
  • Sickly Green Glow: Green is his signature color owing to his soul-based powers.
  • Smug Snake: He just couldn't bare a minute without evil smirk.
  • The Sociopath: Shang Tsung appears very polite and approachable towards allies and foes alike, an artificial mindset which is never inherently sincere. He is also very fixated on his goals and his desires, not giving a damn about anyone and is more than welcome to be mocking and sadistic when it comes to killing people and absorbing souls out of those. His parasitical characteristics come to a head when he attacks Kronika's Keep, betraying everyone he comes across without a shred of remorse - and his trait of boasting and caring only for himself becomes more pronounced after killing Kronika and developing a God-Complex.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Compared to the bombast and boisterousness many of the portrayals in MK11 deliver, Shang Tsung is notably this, almost never raising his tone and delivering threats in Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's trademark smooth baritone.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Is this in the first game and the first third of MK9, since he personally hijacked the Mortal Kombat tournament and disgraced it.
  • Soul Jar: 11 gives him a literal one, in the form of his phylactery, from which he frequently draws his power (and more souls!). The player can unlock more Soul Jar options for him by playing. Subverted in that his phylacteries only contain the souls of those he killed and not his own.
  • Stalker with a Crush: 11 adapts his movie version's creepy crush on Sonya Blade, and hints that he might be similarly interested in Cassie as well.
    Cassie Cage: Another "friend" of my parents...
    Shang Tsung: I have always been so fond of your mother.
    Cassie Cage: Do you practice being creepy?
  • Stance System:
    • In Deadly Alliance, he has Snake and Crane as unarmed styles and Straight Sword as weapon style.
    • In Deception, he swaps Crane with Mantis.
    • In Armageddon, he has Snake as unarmed style, while keeping the weapon stance.
  • The Starscream: The degree varies with the adaptation, but he's always just a little too ambitious to be a good Number Two. With the exception of 9, his ending in every game amounts to him overthrowing his current boss and taking over, and the only reason he fails there is because he's killed before he gets the chance.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Most noticeable in 11: Shang Tsung can morph into Reptile, Ermac, Smoke and Rain to use their special moves during the fight - and into Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Noob Saibot for his Fatal Blow. This trait practically makes him a substitute for Chameleon, with his third competitive variation having a unique ability which grants him all of the ninja abilities at the cost of being able to mix and match them with his other options.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: In his younger form.
  • Tele-Frag: One of his fatalities in MK11 involves opening a summoning portal inside his opponent, from which Kintaro will burst out from. His Spatial Override Brutality works in a similar fashion, only with Tsung himself doing the telefragging instead of a minion.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: A very minor example in the Krypt section of MK11. He's surprisingly polite to the player, basically inviting them to help themselves to whatever treasure they find as long as they don't get greedy. He even mourns Goro in his own way.
  • Tournament Arc: He really likes these, to the point that, in MKvDCU, when he encounters Captain Marvel in the Netherrealm, he has his allies face off against Marvel one at a time, announcing results between rounds as if it were Arcade Mode ("Captain Marvel wins!").
    • In 11, Shang even brags to Nightwolf that he was able to finish Nightwolf's ancestor with Flawless Victory.
  • Treacherous Advisor: He serves as this to Shao Kahn, acting as his Number Two while having his own designs. This culminates in him betraying Shao Kahn to form the Deadly Alliance with Quan Chi in the original timeline.
  • The Unfought: In Scorpion's Revenge.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: There's no better example in this franchise. Shang Tsung's "main" appearance has changed considerably from game to game, except in Armageddon, which reutilized his Deadly Alliance model.
  • Villain Decay: While all the villains suffered from this in the new timeline, Shang Tsung got it the worst. Most of his roles were given to Quan Chi, reducing Shang Tsung to another henchman, one who loses every single fight he takes part in. He can't even win a fight with Kung Lao with Quan Chi's help. This ends when he returns in Aftermath and becomes the new Big Bad.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When Liu Kang begins erasing him from history, the formerly-smug and ever confident Evil Sorcerer spends his final moments desperately trying to crawl away from Liu Kang, with a look of positive fear in his eyes.
  • Villainous Crush: His pre-fight banter with several characters demonstrates that Shang Tsung has an incredibly strong perverse interest in Sonya Blade. Which she is NOT enthused about.
  • Villain Protagonist: Is effectively the main character of Aftermath, being the one who drives almost the entire plot and the focus of most characters' attention. Despite allying himself with the heroes and helping them save the world from Kronika, it's openly stated that zero characters trust him, and will kill him at the slightest sign of betrayal.
  • Villain Respect: When Fire God Liu Kang arrived in Shang Tsung's moment of victory, he immediately deduced that he must have let him win due to his superior usage of the soul crown to Kronika's. He let him basically doomed his friends to death or worse, and Shang is visibly impressed throughout, calling it Deliciously Cold-Blooded.
    Shang Tsung: I see now. The Hourglass showed that only I could wield the Crown against Kronika, successfully. You let me win!
  • Villain World:
    • His ladder ending in 11 sees him make one out of the entire universe after claiming Kronika's powers and manipulating the other Titans.
    • In the evil ending of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, Shang Tsung uses the hourglass to set himself up as a Multiversal Conquerer and sole apparent elder god of the cosmos, with corrupted versions of Raiden and Fujin as his Co-Dragons.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: After his rejuvenation.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: For the atrocity of stealing a soul, Shang Tsung was condemned to... do it over and over again, with the punishment of aging and dying prematurely if he relents. Just to twist the knife, Shang doesn't give a crap about the souls he takes - and it actually makes him more and more powerful! It's like condemning a murderer to life as a Serial Killer, while the murderer enjoys killing and giving him no incentive (or ability) to repent of his crimes. The 11th game does provide an explanation, however: Kronika engineered the situation in the event she ever needed the power provided by absorbing souls for her works.
  • Yellow Peril: In the original game, though it's balanced by the fact that the main protagonist is also Chinese.
  • You Don't Look Like You: Shang Tsung's had one hell of a makeover between 9 and 11. His character design was decidedly Ambiguously Brown, with a gaunt face and prominent cheekbones the last time we saw him in-game in 9 and Ermac's ladder ending in X, while his 11 appearance is literally just Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in a robe, young or old. "Race Lift" doesn't quite describe how drastically his character design has changed.
  • You Have Failed Me: Some of Tsung's dialogue with Shao Kahn lampshades the fact that Kahn turned against Shang Tsung the instant he failed, despite over a millennium of capable service.
    Shao Kahn: You've failed me too often, sorcerer...
    Shang Tsung: Over a millennium, I've failed you twice.
    Shao Kahn: THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE!
  • Younger Than They Look: He was biologically nineteen years old in MKII. He doesn't exactly look like it.
  • Your Soul is Mine!: The Trope Namer. As expected of him, Shang Tsung has the power to suck out and devour the souls of his enemies to extend his own lifespan and grant him the skills of his opponents. During gameplay, by sucking a portion of his opponent's soul, this would grant him a temporary change to his opponent's playstyle and abilities. As it stands, he can even absorb the souls of those who explicitly lack one, such as the Terminator or Noob Saibot.
    • In 9, this ironically happens to him. After Motaro's death, Shao Kahn chooses to use Shang Tsung to empower Sindel, fueling the massacre of the heroes.
    • One of his victory poses in 11 has him recreate the iconic shot from the movie after stealing his opponent's soul, complete with quoting the trope verbatim.
    • Taken to extreme in Aftermath. Quite a lot of characters get their souls siphoned out of them by Shang Tsung... not even Shao Kahn or Kronika are safe!

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