Friday, June 23, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 23: Cynthia Rothrock!


  1. YES, MADAM! (1985, dir. Corey Yuen) - as In The Line of Duty II: The Super Cops on Amazon Prime

    I did not realize this was Yes, Madam! until I looked on IMDB. This had been on my watch list for a while. It is the beginning of Cynthia Rothrock's career, too. She makes a great entrance when she takes down a suspect at Hong Kong airport. Rothrock is Scotland Yard Inspector Carrie Morris, arriving to investigate the murder of one her own in Hong Kong. Tasked to work with Michelle Yeoh (billed as Michelle Khan) to find the killer, they will fight their way to solving the case. There are a lot of other subplots happening concurrently with plenty of that goofy Hong Kong comedy. The most important part of the film is the fight scenes, which are a blast to watch. The stunt doubles are evident in certain scenes, but Rothrock and Yeoh do plenty on their own work. Those Hong Kong stuntmen were truly up for anything. Excellent 1980s action.

  2. I overslept! :-O Damn you Galaxy Fold alarm clock! :-P

    Also watched Corey Yuen's YES, MADAM! (1985, AMAZON PRIME) and second everything Casual said above. This is the type of action movie I wanted Rothrock to do more: less solo star vehicles, more guest appearances on other people's better-directed flicks to get noticed. "Yes, Madam!" didn't really need Cynthia, the movie was trucking along fine without her. The first five minutes where Michelle ̶K̶h̶a̶n̶ Yeoh and the HK cops take down a cross-dressing, marathon-running criminal before stopping a bank robbery pack more insane action/stunt work than most 80's action films. When Rothrock's Scotland Yard detective crosses paths with a fugitive at an airport (what an entrance!) she IMPROVES THE MOVIE and makes a dynamite team-up with the star, which is what you want a guest actor to do. I liked the epic brawl at the end so much I immediately rewound it, then did it a 3rd time. Yes, it's that crazy-good! :-D

    So why am I not ranking this 5 out of 5? Because "Yes, Madam!" has two cardinal scenes that bring it way down. First, the English dub on Prime it's bad and really, really sucks... a lot! I could learn to live with that, but not with the fact the filmmakers (me thinks it's more the Chinese producers than director Corey Yuen) clearly don't believe Michelle and Cynthia can carry the narrative by themselves. This is bullshit because "Yes, Madam!" clearly comes alive whenever we cut to Inspectors Ng and Morris (alone or together) doing their police thing. But at least 40-50% of screen time deals with a trio of comic-relief bumbling thieves (top-billed John Shum, Mang Hoi and, of all people, director Tsui Hark playing a documents forgery expert) mishandling the microfilm that the police and the main bad guy (James Tien's Mr. Tin) are after. To add Bechdel Test flunking insult to injury, these unfunny comic relief idiots get the final shot/cathartic moment of "Yes, Madam!"... with our sidelined heroes right there! This is sadly apropos to Cynthia Rothrock's entire career: even in the best action movie she's in, a male character either overshadows her or a male co-star has to team-up with Cynthia for her character to come atop. Shame. :-( 4 1985 COCA-COLA SPONSORED MARATHONS (out of 5).

    David Worth's LADY DRAGON (1992, YOU TUBE --English Dub w/commercials--)

    I had high hopes that the director of Van Damme's "Kickboxer" would do wonders for Cynthia and put her fighting skills to good use. Shit, Worth even stages a "Bloodsport"-type training montage (complete with silly Casio keyboard music) for Cynthia's out-to-avenge-her-killed-on-their-wedding-day-hubby Kathy Galagher to take her skills/endurance up a notch. Shooting in Indonesia means there's some meat in the still-cheap-DTV production value, which comes across during a motorcycle/car chase through a Jakarta fruit market. And Richard Norton (the Joe Pesci to Rothrock's DeNiro) is a worthy antagonist for Kathy to take down, even if the semi-frequent appearances of Robert Ginty ("Exterminator 1 and 2") annoy more than advance the plot.

    Alas, David Worth loves the sped-up film look and he goes crazy with it for "Lady Dragon," shooting almost all action scenes at insane speeds. This doesn't help Cynthia as it makes it seem even her director didn't trust that she would look cool fighting (which again, bullshit!). Acting is wooden/bad across the board, and Rothrock (who has a presence about her that, like with Fred Williamson, makes you overlook the shortcomings) is neither worse or better than those around her. At least the story moves at a decent clip, has 5 or 6 action set-pieces (versus the 2-3 I'm used to seeing in Cynthia's lesser films) and gives us sympathetic characters (a mute Indonesian grandpa and his grandson) to root for. This is one of the better Cynthia DTV action flicks I've seen, but it's only good enough to muster 3 HENCHMEN ON FIRE BURNING RICHARD NORTON'S LAWN (out of 5).

    1. Going with a movie from Cynthia Rothrock's Hong Kong period was inevitable because I am leery of 1990s straight-to-cable action movies in general. I have not had good experiences with them.

      I completely agree about the subplot with the thieves and Tsui Hark in Yes, Madam taking up too much run-time, J.M. Those scenes became tiresome quickly. Since Neither Rothrock or Yeoh had been in anything up till then, I understand why they were not completely trusted to carry the film, though they are undoubtedly the standouts in it. It would have been nice if they had been the ones taking out the villains.

    2. I know. 🤨 These are nitpicks, though. This is easily the most fun, more entertaining and more ass-kicking Cynthia Rockroth movie l've seen... whenever she and or Yeoh appear. 🫣😷

    3. I'm with you guys. Had they had the guts to make this a full Rothrock/Yeoh buddy cop movie we would be talking all-time classic. Rothrock and Yeoh are MAGIC in this.

    4. I've slotted this movie in for yesterday and can't wait! Despite your criticisms it still seems like a perfect Junesploitation choice. Or even just a plain just wicked awesome movie.

    5. I watched it for 80s Action last June and had the exact same reaction as you guys.

  3. China O'Brien (1990, dir. Robert Clouse)

    China O'Brien (Rothrock) is a cop and a martial arts trainer. After killing an armed criminal who turns out to be a kid, she decides to hand in her badge and move back to her small hometown. Not all of her old friends make her feel welcome ("Ooh, we're using big city words now, are we?" and all that) and her dad, the local sheriff, is powerless against the organized crime and corruption that have infested the town. When the sheriff is killed, China decides to run for sheriff and clean up the town.

    The script's so silly it must've been written by a 12-year-old and a lot of the acting is terrible, but at least the fight scenes are solid (if not spectacular).

    New York Ninja (1984/2021, dir. John Liu and/or Kurtis Spieler)

    Writer-director-star John Liu plays a reporter whose wife is killed by a street gang, so he dresses up as a ninja (occasionally with rollerskates) and becomes a vigilante cleaning up New York City of violent criminals. Meanwhile, a vaguely supernatural villain and his henchman with a rattail haircut are kidnapping women for a mysterious buyer.

    But more interesting than the plot is the movie's backstory. Vinegar Syndrome bought a bankrupt distribution company's whole inventory, and discovered they owned the camera negatives (but no sound elements or script) for a ninja movie that had been completely (or at least mostly) filmed but for some reason never edited. They set out to complete the movie, including trying to guess what the actors were saying and which order the scenes should go in, writing a script based on that, and hiring voice actors to do the dubbing and a band to write and perform new music.

    The result of all that is a glorious piece of janky 80's schlock action. Some footage was clearly either lost or never shot, because some of the movie makes very little sense, but that just enhances its charm.

    The voice cast features big 80's and 90's genre movie names, including Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Linnea Quigley, Michael Berryman, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Ginger Lynn Allen. Rothrock voices a detective on the kidnapper's case.

    (1988) aka Top Squad
    dir. Wellson Ching Sing-Wai

    This movie is AMAZING! About 20 minutes in I wondered ”Where did Cynthia Rothrock go?” after being in the opening fight. But then I just started enjoying the boys-vs-girls-summer camp / Police Academy movie it becomes.
    There’s seriously a Top Secret-inspired musical number with line-dancing in roller skates!

    And then Cynthia shows up in the 3rd act and there are some incredible and campy (but not in a bad way) fight scenes. Still, could have used more Rothrock.

    “I’m wretched too. I pick my nose in public. I’m a peeping Tom. I rig when playing snooker. I dress without buttoning. I gas in public…”

  5. New-to-me: CHINA O'BRIEN (1990)
    After losing her job, a woman returns to her quaint hometown (don't a lot of romcoms start this way?), where she becomes the new sheriff and takes on the local crime lord. I'm reminded of stuff like ROAD HOUSE and HARD TARGET, where Small Town USA is the backdrop for both conspiracy and karate. It's done with a much smaller budget, yet that's part of the charm. The action is classic chop-socky fighting with classic "whoosh-SLAP!" sound effects. But it's also a lot of small-town drama, which slows things down some. Rothrock is an interesting actor. Her line deliveries are flat, but also earnest. You believe she believes what she's saying.

    Old fave: UNDEFEATABLE (1993)
    Remember that "Greatest Fight Scene Ever" video that went viral in the early days of YouTube? It's from this movie. That fight -- really the last two fights back-to-back -- is just as wonderfully over-the-top as I remembered, but the rest of the movie is rather dreadful. Rothrock plays an illegal street fighter of some kind. When her sister is murdered by a psychotic kickboxer (!) she teams up with a kung fu detective to seek revenge. B-movie mainstay Godfrey Ho seems to think he's making SILENCE OF THE LAMBS with how dark and grimy the rest of the movie is, as if a serial killing kickboxer is genuinely terrifying and not silly. A mixed bag, as they say.

  6. Rage and Honor (1992, dir. Terence Winkless)

    Cynthia Rothrock and Ken Norton team up to take on the villainous Brian Thompson (as Conrad Drago) and his gang of drug dealers. This was very standard 90's DTV action (that's not a criticism) buoyed by Rothrock and Norton. Both are amazing martial artists and great screen-presences, as well as being badass enough to be accepted by the Hong Kong action community in the '80s. This was successful enough to spawn a sequel which I will have to check out. Rothrock Rules! Recommended.

  7. Death Fighter (2017)

    First time viewing. A pretty rewarding recent effort filmed on location in Thailand, starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson, with Cynthia Rothrock as the main henchman (henchperson?) to the bad guy. Could have used more Rothrock (particularly for her Junesploitation day), but there are several good kung-fu sequences, including a fight between her and the Dragon that makes it all worthwhile. Altogether, an entertaining watch.

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  9. Like Mookie, I watched a movie with Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock called The Martial Arts Kid (2015, dir. Michael Baumgarten). It was just a Karate Kid ripoff, where a kids goes to live with his aunt/uncle (Wilson and Rothrock) and becomes a karate master. Rothrock has a couple of scenes where she kicks some bullies asses, but it felt forced. The movie really shines with The Dragon and there's tons of training scenes. Good family movie, but then it ends on a cliffhanger? wtf. I thought this was dtv. Did they think they were making more of these? Which wouldn't be a bad thing. It's basically Cobra Kai without the bad acting of Ralph Macchino.

    Wish it had more Rothrock, but she's either charming and loving as the aunt or kicking the butt of the beach bullies, so great performance. I'm going to watch Yes Madam tomorrow, so a double feature of Rothrock yes madam!

  10. UNDEFEATABLE (1993, d. Godfrey Ho)
    First-time watch on Vinegar Syndrome BluRay, 7/10.
    A guy that looks like Kim Coates’ mulleted, beefcake brother is killing women who wear flowered dresses. Meanwhile, Cynthia Rothrock is fighting in underground matches to pay for her sister’s college. A typical Godfrey Ho flick might never find these two paths crossing, but not so here. Before long, martial arts-savvy cop John Miller (HONOR AND GLORY) is working with Rothrock to catch this blue-eyed brutalizer. Originally a cat.III flick called BLOODY MARY KILLER with most of the same people, UNDEFEATABLE has that unreal feeling of a foreign production shot in the U.S. fueled varying degrees of camp intensity. There are gangs with names like The Maniacs & The Red Dragons, a shrink gets involved & at some point it seems almost everyone knows karate. If you want a great martial arts picture, a solid serial killer movie or an intense revenge flick, this isn’t quite any of those. It is great entertainment with college enrollment used as something of a threat. “What’s Stingray have eyeballs in the fish tank for?”

  11. Sworn to Justice (1996)

    Sexy criminal psychologist investigates the murder of her sister with the help of her psychic visions in black and white. While at it, she becomes a hoodie-wearing vigilante who starts to gain notoriety around town. What a tonal rollercoaster this movie is. One minute the heroine cradles the head of her dying sister, the next she beats up thugs to jaunty music and with cartoon sound effects, a brutal torture scene is followed by kung fu foreplay leading to fireside sex, and so on. There's crime, revenge, mystery, grief, corruption, betrayal, martial arts, supernatural visions, secret identities, office romance, courtroom drama, cold-blooded murder, horned-up comedy, unhinged cops… This was only my second Rothrock movie (after Yes, Madam!), but I know it's not gonna be the last.

  12. China O'Brien (1990)

    Robert Clouse worked with some of the greatest martial artists on film, from Bruce Lee to Jim Kelly, Robert Wall, Bolo Yeung, Jackie Chan and for this movie and its sequel, Cynthia Rothrock.

    China O’Brien is a cop who teaches a martial arts class to her fellow officers. One of the class members challenges her to a fight in an alley that ends up involving several gangs and someone is killed. She resigns in disgrace and heads back home to Beaver Creek, Utah.

    She learns that her father — and town sheriff — John (David Blackwell) is losing control of the town thanks to corruption in the force and a bought-off judge. But the real problem is Edwin Sommers (Steven Kerby), a crime boss who is taking over the town. He uses car bombs to kill the last two good cops, Ross Tyler (Chad Walker) and China’s dad.

    Now, Marty Lickner (Patrick Adamson) looks to become the paid for law for Sommers, unless China follows the advice of her ex-boyfriend Matt Conroy (Richard Norton) and runs for sheriff herself. She wins — they shot her parade scene during an actual town parade and the local newspaper reported that Rotchrock was actually running for sheriff — and is nearly killed in a drive-by shooting, so she deputizes Matt and Native American biker Dakota (Keith Cook, who was Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat Annihilation) to go after Sommers.

    Golden Harvest worked to make Rothrock a star back home in the U.S. and cast her in this. It works but she doesn’t come off as fearsome as she did in her Hong Kong films. Most of the cast and crew returned for the sequel.

    The song “Distant Storm” in this movie is by the band Tess Makes Good. That’s actually Tori Amos.

  13. China O’Brien - 1990, dir. Robert Clouse

    What a delight it’s been over the last few years to catch up on so many Rothrock titles now that the boutique labels have finally realized that US martial arts releases were severely lacking. I was more familiar with Rothrock from ‘Above the Law’ (aka ‘Righting Wrongs’) and ‘In the Line of Duty IV’ (aka ‘Yes, Madam!’) having watched VHS bootlegs of those that my friend’s ex-pat uncle would bring home from Hong Kong. For whatever reason, I never really followed Rothrock. I don’t recall ever seeing her movies at our neighborhood rental spot, nor do I recall seeing them on cable but again, it’s been fun catching up. This title came up while I was cruising the rest of director Robert Clouse’s other work (‘Enter the Dragon’, ‘Black Belt Jones’, ‘Battle Creek Brawl’), some of which I already watched for this month (‘Golden Needles’, ‘The Pack’). I’ve got a feeling ‘China O’Brien 2’ might be on the list as well if I can track it down.

    ‘China O’Brien’ feels a lot like a gender-swapped Van Damme or Seagal movie from this same era. She returns to her hick Cali lumber town after being overseas to find her lone-good-cop father in the middle of corrupt city officials and business men illegally logging on protected First Nations land. Her father is quickly dealt with, so she takes matters into her own hands and runs for his now vacant position as sheriff in order to deal out justice to the scum controlling the town.

    It’s the usual sweaty, denim-clad stuff you’ve seen before, but Rothrock’s brand of justice feels justified because it’s not selfish(?). It’s not about seeking revenge for her father, it’s about seeking justice for the town, the exploited indigenous community, and putting an end to greed and corruption. It doesn’t come across as grossly judge/jury/executioner fashie as many of these movies do when the lead assumes a position of authority. You’re rooting for China the whole way, pump your fist at the end, and then wish that you too could look cool and do high kicks while wearing cowboy boots and tight denim.