Action Rewind: Cynthia Rothrock Reigns in the Imperfect Martial Arts Classic CHINA O’BRIEN!

By: Jacob Bloodee Jacob Babcock

China O’Brien was first released in 1988 and was the first real foray into American Kung Fu cinema for martial arts extraordinaire Cynthia Rothrock. The plot was a very familiar but energetic tale that revolves around the daughter of a sheriff who sets out to weave out the corruption in her hometown after her father is murdered, as she deals with her own guilt of killing someone while on duty. I liked this reasonably well, it definitely echoes other classics of the genre that came out around this time and is mostly a success at that. Rothrock isn’t the greatest actress but she puts more effort into it than some and when the fists abs feet start flying, she delights and isn’t matched by many.

The characters themselves are all pretty typical and some kind of stereotype that with the plot makes it feel kinda dated but you’ll find that to some extent with most flicks around this time besides the few that defy said time. What I did appreciate is the perspective on martial arts in that it’s not about punching & kicking, but the nurture of the soul for ones self & others and only using it as violence when needed. Richard Norton whose been alongside Rothrock in a number of her other flicks as well as appearing in the Norris classic (one of my favorites), The Octagon co-stars. Keith Cooke (MK: Annihilation, Beverley Hills Ninja) is along for the ride and looks to have a better handle on the choreography then Norton does at times.

The fight choreography in general is solid but definitely Americanized and simple compared to Rothrock’s previous Hong Kong style work. Let me reiterate that the fights aren’t bad, they’re pretty good actually but you can tell she had to slow down a bit for it and besides Cooke and Norton to a lesser extent, some were clunkier pulling it off than others. The rest of the cast wasn’t bad but a little wooden for me. I honestly feel like for me anyway that this would have worked better as a complete solo outing for Rothrock. I find myself constantly annoyed that they always give her a make co-star as well as in this case make it a group dynamic which I don’t think was needed. The movie is paced out alright though I feel like sometimes there was just a bit too much time between its fight scenes making it feel a tad longer than the runtime was.

Overall though this was an imperfect but still memorable dive into the American action movies pool for Rothrock and and is at the very least an essential among many essentials for fans.

About The Author: Imbued with a lifelong diehard passion for film and TV, Jacob loves to share what gives him his lifeblood in the action genre. From childhood heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, JCVD, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, and Mark Dacascos, to modern day torch bearers like Jason Statham, Gerard Butler, Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins and more, Jacob knows no bounds.

See his latest at Action-Flix as well as his Social Media:

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