Shang Tsung is a boss and player character from the Mortal Kombat series. He is a powerful and deadly sorcerer and a recurring antagonist from the series. Shang Tsung is a shapeshifter who absorbs the souls of those he slays in order to maintain his youth and power. He has also frequently appeared in the other media in the franchise.
Most of Shang Tsung's past remains shrouded in mystery. There are several different origin stories for Shang Tsung. On Midway's defunct Mortal Kombat Mythologies website, it was stated Shang Tsung was originally from Earth. However, his Armageddon bio makes reference to Tsung binding his soul to Shao Kahn, which could provide a loophole allowing him to represent Outworld in the tournament despite not being a native of that realm. Shang Tsung's bio in Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition states his origin as "Earthrealm/Outworld". According to the first Mortal Kombat comic, he was cursed by "his gods" not only to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off a grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely. As a side effect of his consuming the souls of others, Tsung also absorbed their memories and knowledge, an ability which would greatly benefit him years later. At some point, Tsung entered the Mortal Kombat tournament and then overcame all competition and became Grand Champion. How long he retained the title is unclear; however, the overconfident Tsung would eventually be defeated by the legendary Shaolin warrior monk, the Great Kung Lao.
Shang Tsung returned years later, much older in appearance, after the "mysterious" death of one of the tournament's three Grandmasters. With him was his greatest student: the Shokan Prince Goro. Tsung had been ordered by the ruler of Outworld, Shao Kahn, to finally bring about the winning streak in Mortal Kombat necessary to unbalance the Furies and weaken the dimensional gates, allowing the Outworld Emperor to conquer Earth. After a valiant but doomed fight, The Great Kung Lao was defeated by Goro and killed; Tsung consumed his soul, and the Outworld's domination of the Mortal Kombat tournament began. Shang Tsung came into contact with another sorcerer, Quan Chi, who was seeking a mystical item, Shinnok's amulet. The amulet's location was known only to the Shaolin Monks; as a result of consuming the Great Kung Lao's soul, Shang Tsung knew where it was. In exchange for Quan Chi's and Shinnok's aid in completing a task for the Emperor Shao Kahn, he revealed the location of the Map of the Elements – but neglected to inform Quan Chi that no sorcerer could enter the Temple where it was stored. Over the next 500 years, as Goro remained undefeated, the tournament fell further into Tsung's depraved hands. He became the sole Grandmaster, and the tournament came to be held on his private island – in reality, a zone in between Earth and the Outworld. Near the end of this time period, Tsung learned of the swordsman Kenshi. Realizing that Kenshi's pride could easily be exploited, Tsung disguised himself as an old man named Song and tricked him into releasing his warrior king ancestors, blinding Kenshi in the process. Tsung revealed his true self, consumed the souls, and left Kenshi to die, not knowing the swordsman would survive to become his bitter enemy. Tsung also sparred with Shujinko to determine whether or not he would allow him to enter the tournament. The spar ended in a draw with Tsung granting Shujinko permission to enter. Shujinko did not do so as he was on a quest.
During the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament, the final victory that would enable Kahn to conquer Earth, Liu Kang 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. Dragged before Shao Kahn, Shang Tsung begged for his life and said 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. While the tournament served as a diversion, Shao Kahn could continue with his own scheme, 10,000 years in the making: the restoration to life of his former queen, Sindel. During the Outworld tournament, despite having his youth restored and after a long brutal fight, Tsung lost again to Liu Kang, this time in front of Kahn. After Shang Tsung's defeat at the hands of Liu Kang, Shao Kahn finished the process of Sindel's resurrection with the aid of his cult of Shadow Priests. Thanks to the help of Quan Chi and Shinnok, her soul would indeed be resurrected – but in Earthrealm, and tainted by evil.
When Queen Sindel was revived in Earthrealm, Shao Kahn could reach across the realms and reclaim her, forcefully merging Earthrealm with Outworld. Shang Tsung led one of Kahn's extermination squads to hunt down the fighters that Lord Raiden had protected. Despite being granted more power than ever before, Tsung still lost to Liu Kang for a third time. Upon Kahn's defeat, Shang Tsung retreated with him back to Outworld, when the merger was reversed. Tsung would then be imprisoned and tortured for his failure to help his master merge Earthrealm into Outworld. He was periodically released to do Kahn's bidding, and was finally released for good after regaining Kahn's favour.
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 Onaga 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 together, they formed the Deadly Alliance. Shang Tsung introduced Quan Chi to Shao Kahn, vouched for his loyalty, and then they attacked and apparently killed him (however, Shao Kahn appears in the GameCube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception, and reveals that they merely killed a clone). After accepting Kano's offer to serve them, they travelled through a portal, known only to sorcerers and deities, to Earthrealm and headed to the Wu Shi Academy where 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. However, Shang Tsung did not fully trust Quan Chi. Upon returning to Outworld, he gave the Oni Drahmin and Moloch, who had escaped from the Netherealm, 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 two defeated Earthrealm's champions (with Shang Tsung victorious in a one on one battle against an improved Kung Lao) and finally Raiden. Then, Shang'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 the powerful reborn Onaga. Tsung regained consciousness, and recognizing the Dragon King to be a more serious threat, assisted Quan Chi in attacking him. 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 souls of Liu Kang and the Great Kung Lao.
Tsung's own soul was magically drawn to Outworld, where he was delivered to Shao Kahn. Tsung had pledged his soul to the emperor ages before and this agreement was binding, even beyond death. Kahn provided Tsung with a new body and then allied with him in taking his kingdom from Mileena, Kitana's clone once created by Tsung for him. Although Tsung was bound to serve Kahn, an opportunity to free himself arose when he discovered that Quan Chi was alive. Quan Chi brought word from Shinnok of a plan to take a great power, and Tsung realized if he were to take the power for himself, he could sever his bond with Shao Kahn. Until his opportunity arose, Tsung continued to feign loyalty to the emperor while redirecting suspicion to other members of the his alliance. In the ensuing battle of the Armaggeddon, Tsung manages to hold off several warriors, including Kahn himself, and nearly reaches Blaze, but is stopped when Liu Kang's corpse holds him back with his chains; this causes Tsung to age rapidly and perish.
Shang Tsung appears in the video game Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe representing the Mortal Kombat Universe against the DC Universe. Despite an apparent alliance between himself and all of the Mortal Kombat Universe warriors involved in the event, he still has aspirations of supreme power and is as devious a villain as ever. In the story mode, Liu Kang mistook the Flash as Shang Tsung transforming his appearance as a red devil with a lightning bolt on his chest and defeated him. As the Mortal Kombat champion awaited his masters to discover its origin, he showed up and challenged him to a fight in which the sorcerer was defeated. As the realms began to merge with the DC Universe's Earth, he attempted to invade Themyscira, but was driven off by Wonder Woman and her Amazons. He later teamed up with Quan Chi and Baraka to find Scorpion accomplishing his objective to locate Princess Kitana and bring her to Raiden. As they did so, they saw Captain Marvel nearby, and they lured him into the Netherrealm to kill him, but all were singlehandedly defeated. As they returned to the Thunder God, he was given an assignment to fight alongside Liu Kang. He fought Superman, but Kang turned against him. Nonetheless, he defeated him, however Green Lantern finished him. A fight between them ensued, and Shang Tsung gained the upper hand. He returned once more, only to handle Kano. In the ensuing battle against the DC heroes and villains, he fought against Captain Marvel. He suggested that he should follow Dark Kahn to his fortress, but Raiden himself considered that he was leading them into their doom and fought him. In his ending Shang Tsung, being impressed by Captain Marvel's fighting ability, but angered at his own defeat by the hero, he seeks to create a new creature which would have Captain Marvel's abilities but be a perversion of them. Using his sorcery, he merged blood from a torn piece of Captain Marvel's cape, and the flesh of a Tarkatan corpse. The result of this experiment being a "Super Tarkatan", an abomination the likes of which had never been seen before. Knowing that he would be unstoppable with more of such creatures, Shang Tsung quickly began preparations to create an army of them.
He is featured as a playable character in Mortal Kombat. As the game is a reboot of the first three titles in the series, his role is mostly consistent with these; however, he is killed when Shao Kahn steals his soul to power up the resurrected Sindel.