Review: ‘China O’Brien’ (1990)
In both academia and worldwide fandom, the American actress Cynthia Rothrock has been regarded as both the “Queen of Martial Arts” and the “Queen of Video”.
After a successful few years in mainstream Hong Kong action cinema, her time had come to be returned home and launched in the American market – this came in the form of the back-to-back shot China O’Brien (Robert Clouse, 1990) and China O’Brien II (Robert Clouse, 1990) – ultimately, instant cinematic failure led to instant home video stardom.
China O’Brien – an action movie – begins with the title character (Cynthia Rothrock) mistakenly shooting a child who she thought to be the bad guy, which ultimately leads to her resignation of being a cop in the big city. In a decision to “move on”, China literally does this by returning to her hometown in Utah, where her dad is the local sheriff, but a virtually powerless one, as he fails to dismantle corruption within the law, and remove the general baddies.
China’s world turns upside down when her father and another honest cop are both murdered via car bombs. The death of the sheriff entails an emergency election for a new sheriff, an election which China becomes a part of, in her quest for justice.
Ultimately, China wins the election (as you would expect), but plenty of fight sequences occur and they are what sell this movie.
And here are the key players:
- Cynthia Rothrock (Martial Law, No Retreat No Surrender 2) is China O’Brien, the film’s heroine.
- Richard Norton (co-star of plenty of Rothrock’s films) is Matt Conroy, the double-denim-wearing and muscle-car-driving Aussie hunk boyfriend of China.
- Keith Cooke (stuntman) is Dakota, a motorbike-riding sidekick of China, but stalker at first.
The trio pictured below for the sequel:
Most importantly, China O’Brien was produced by Golden Harvest – a big Hong Kong producer. However, films (at the time in Hong Kong) were made much cheaper and much quicker than their American counterparts, hence why the production values of China O’Brien are quite poor in comparison to the more typical American action films of the time (late 1980s/1990).
Sound effects in China O’Brien are comedic to say the least – the same sound effect is used for Matt/Richard Norton’s punches, kicks and jumps… why?
Two occurrences in the story are unintentionally hilarious:
- Dakota is stalking China and Matt – he pursues China on his motorbike – however, both China and Matt corner Dakota, which results in them quizzing him over who he is and why he’s stalking. Dakota confirms that he is fighting the same people as China, this leads to the next shot being of Dakota in China’s house… eating a bowl of cereal by himself… very, very strange.
- The ballot box for the election is protected in the local high school gym by two sporty friends of Matt, who are in possession of walkie-talkies to contact Matt if the bad guys appear. The bad guys do appear – they attempt to steal the ballot box in order to rig the election, so that a corrupt individual can win. The funny bit is that the ballot box is symbolised like bank money or state-of-the-art weaponry seen in other movies.
Ultimately, China O’Brien (along with majority of Rothrock’s films) is specifically aimed at fans of martial arts and B-movie action, and mostly direct-to-video audiences at the time of release, or that era in general.
My final rating: Not Rothrock’s best film.
Why not have a China O’Brien-viewing party with your friends?