Director: Robert Clouse
Executive producer: Raymond Chow
Producer: Fred Weintraub
Stars: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Keith Cooke
After her role in Yes! Madam (aka In the Line of Duty), Cynthia Rothrock became the first female gweilo (foreigner) to become a star in Hong Kong. The success of the movie inspired a series of knockoffs, with women like Sophia Crawford, Karen Shepard and many others heading to Hong Kong to follow in her footsteps. The influx of "talent" (a term sometimes loosely used, since some of the women were picked more for their looks and willingness to do nudity, rather than their acting skills or martial arts ability) coming into Hong Kong -- who were often willing to work for much less money than Rothrock -- caused Cynthia's own roles to dwindle in visibility. While she continued to be involved in notable movies like Millionaire's Express (where she fought Sammo Hung, the producer who originally signed her on to Yes! Madam), her roles were becoming more of glorified cameos than anything else.
With this situation in mind, Rothrock decided to head back to America, where martial arts films were gaining popularity after the success of films by stars such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Golden Harvest president Raymond Chow was (and still is) always looking for a way to break into the lucrative American market, and so he gave the greenlight for this project. For a director, he chose Robert Clouse, who was most famous for directing Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, but had accomplished little afterwards. After Clouse's collaboration with Jackie Chan (the horrible The Big Brawl) failed, Clouse found himself directing B-movie action junk like the kung fu/gymnastics combo Gymkata. Could this movie revive both Rothrock and Clouse's careers?
Well, as you might imagine, the answer is no. For starters, the plot is pretty unoriginal. Cynthia plays a big-city cop named China O'Brien who leaves the force after shooting a teenager during a fight. She heads back to her hometown, where she finds that a corrupt businessman is running the show. Her father is the sheriff of the town, and after he is killed, China decides to run for sheriff to save the day. Along the way, she meets up with her old boyfriend (Richard Norton) and a mysterious Native American named Dakota (groan -- anyway, he's played by Keith Cooke), who, even though he goes around wearing a really bad-looking Evil Dead 2-type fake stump hand, manages to kick a lot of ass on the local rednecks. Of course, everyone teams up during the finale to bring "Mr. Big" down.
From the bad haircuts (even the cops in this movie sport mullets) to garish clothing to the mandatory hard rock score, China O'Brien just screams "bad '80's B-movie" all the way. Worse yet, the production values are lower than your average music video. For instance, Dakota like to ride a dirtbike around, and there are several times where you can see that his stump has magically changed into a hand (it's not like the electrical tape wrapped around his hand was convincing anyway), and apparently, this town's police station consists of one room, which also happens to be one of the bad guy's offices, after some "creative" re-arrangment of the props.
Despite it's inherent problems, China O'Brien is still a pretty fun movie to watch -- it falls into that "so bad it's good category." If you enjoy nitpicking or ripping on movies, you will have a field day with this one; it's most definitely "Mystery Science Theatre" material. Besides that, the action is suprisngly good for a US B-movie. It's a bit too undercranked (sped up) in parts, but overall it's choreographed well, with some inventive use of props and weapons. Both Rothrock and Norton, if not the greatest actors in the world, are excellent martial artists and this movie showcases their talents in a good light. Of particular note is a fight where the two take on a gang of thugs in a gym, where seemingly every piece of equipment that isn't nailed down is used as a weapon in some fashion.
Some notes about the fate of the principal people involved on the film:
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