A thousand years before the events of the film, Shang Tsung begame the Mortal Kombat tournament master after defeating the Shaolin Monks who hosted the tournament at the time. After achieving nine victories for Outworld over a 500 year period, he lost to the Shaolin warrior Kung Lao. He would return to Earthrealm for a new tournament along with the Shokan prince Goro, who killed Kung Lao and built up a new winning streak for Outworld. With nine tournaments won in a row, only one more victory was needed to allow the armies of Outworld to invade Earthrealm.
During the events of the movie, Shang Tsung murdered Liu Kang's younger brother Chan, made a deal with the Black Dragon thug Kano and with Earthrealm fighter Johnny Cage in order to secure an easy win for Outworld. After Johnny defeated Goro, Shang Tsung kidnapped Sonya Blade and took her to Outworld, intending to challenge her in the tournament's final battle. Johnny and Liu Kang followed him to the Black Tower, the fortress of Outworld's emperor, and there Liu Kang challenged Shang Tsung. Shang 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.