Cynthia Rothrock was a five-time world karate champion before coming to an open audition (mostly as a joke) at D&B Films. She put on a little demonstration for the producers and impressed them so much, she was signed on the spot. The male role she was "auditioning" for was changed to female and the result was the hit Yes, Madame!, which teamed her with Michelle Yeoh (and, in a rare onscreen role, producer/director Tsui Hark). Suprisingly, even though the film is widely regarded as Rothrock's best, it was initially shelved for a year before she "proved" herself in other roles.
With the release of Yes, Madame!, Rothrock became the first non-Asian to become a star in Hong Kong, going on to appear in over 30 films. Her performance also established a new sub-genre of the kung fu movie, the "nasty foreign chick" movie (the name coming from her nickname in Yes, Madame!), where gweilos such as Sophia Crawford and Karen Shepard beat the hell out of each other. Rothrock's establishment as a legitimate actor also allowed white males, such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Richard Norton, to begin starring in Hong Kong movies and generally opened up new markets, as redubbed "nasty foreign chick" movies were proving popular in other markets such as America as well. However, after Righting Wrongs (aka Above the Law), Rothrock became a gimmick in Hong Kong films. Producers didn't want to offend HK audiences by giving her too much screen time, but still wanted to keep foreign markets open, so she was often regulated to what amounts to little more than cameo roles to entice foreign distributors to buy films. Oftentimes, the few scenes she was in she was mostly used as a punching bag, both physically and verbally, as her opponents would often hurl borderline racist comments at her.
After a few years, she decided to try her hand in America, where she gained some notoriety in the China O'Brien films. The minor success would not last -- unlike Hong Kong, martial arts films were not given priority by US studios, and Rothrock was forced to work on grade-B films where her talents were often wasted (she, in fact, has become known as the "queen of the grade-B kung fu movie"). Over the past few years, Rothrock has made her living appearing on US TV shows such as Hercules and writing martial arts books, as well as moving back into films with several low-budget kung fu movies. She also surprised many fans by appearing semi-nude in a European magazine. Though she still has a rabid cult fan base, it looks as if she will never be a star, which is kind of sad. She's not a great actor, but she is definitely one of the most talented martial artists out there, male or female. With the new popularity of Michelle Yeoh, maybe it's time for a remake/sequel of Yes, Madame!