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Bad Movie Tuesday: China O’Brien (1990), small town crime lords, spin kicks, confused law men and Cynthia Rothrock.

July 26, 2016

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MY CALL:  This is on the better side of the Cynthia Rothrock movie spectrum.  It’s highly stupid, but highly entertaining if you are in a “bad movie” mood.  MOVIES LIKE China O’Brien:  Well, don’t watch Outside the Law (2002) or Night Vision (1997) unless you’re looking for proper Bad Movie Tuesday material.  They are awful!  You might also try the Brazilian remake of China O’Brien called Only the Strong (1993) or the “old white guy” re-imagining Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001).  Clearly Rothrock has left her mark in cinema history!

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Written and directed by the legendary Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, Gymkata), this is far better than the likes of Outside the Law (2002) or Night Vision (1997) but falls far short of a Bruce Lee movie.  Clouse has handled fine martial artists on screen before and understands how to stage tandem techniques (6-12 techniques per cut) to provide an enjoyable action movie experience for martial arts fans and general (bad movie) action fans alike.  But even though Rothrock is capable of some impressive stunts please make no mistake, this absolutely is a Bad Movie Tuesday quality movie! LOL.

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After a grown-ass man in a mid-drift belly t-shirt doubts the practical utility of martial arts in front of his karate instructor (Cynthia Rothrock; Night Vision, Outside the Law, Undefeatable) and her class, he challenges China to a back alley fight with five guys.  “You and five guys,” he says.  Is that 5 on 5, her plus 5 against him plus 5… or 5 on her?  Because this sounds vaguely like an invitation to a gang rape.  Well, we never find out what it was meant to be because China (big city police officer by day and martial arts instructor by night) gets ambushed by a gang of random criminals in the alley that evening and, because of an otherwise justified shooting resulting in the death of a minor, China surrenders her badge.

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To clear her head China returns to her little home town to stay with her father, the local sheriff.  She’s in town not 10 minutes before accidently offending all the Podunk townies with her nice clothes and big fancy words—clearly “she thinks she’s better than us.”  So a silly bar fight ensues with her in her nice clothes, a man “attacks” her by grabbing her butt, and she kicks down a group of guys like dominoes like something out of a cartoon.  As far as martial arts movies go, this is really campy and the setting feels a bit like Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001) meets Walking Tall (1973, 2004) with a dash of Roadhouse (1989).

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Now Rothrock is no Jackie Chan.  But she earns her title as the Queen of Martial Arts by executing stunts rarely seen performed by white actors and outside of Hong Kong cinema.  She nails aerial cartwheels from higher ground and does all manner of physics defiant strength maneuvers all the while narrating the names and utility of the techniques like a Shaolin master teaching her pupil in some 1970s Kung Fu Theater flick—which she thankfully stops doing after the opening fight scene.  It’s so corny, but it’s surely enjoyable as long as you weren’t expecting anything serious.  Compared to this, Van Damme is 100% straight-faced serious.  Oh, and evidently Rothrock is a T-800 series Terminator because she never appears to be phased by having someone twice her size punch her in the face!

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What’s really “interesting” about the action choreography is that that “characters” are just as good at things as the “actors” are. For example, Rothrock has kicked someone like 10,000 times—so when she kicks someone the kick looks good.  But an actor that hasn’t “been kicked” too often looks like a stuntman school dropout in this movie and, worse yet, an actor who has never strangled someone will offer up the least inspired strangling scene on record.  You basically sit there wishing the strangling assassin would die from his own poor technique.

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Nobody panic. It’s just a dead hooker.

This movie also has no sense of pacing. We go from a contemporary Kung Fu theater flick with lots of technical action, to a long run of boring exposition and painful acting, and then find our point of conflict when China’s dad dies in an exploding car assassination and we see her (and her boobs) run and jump in slow motion.  Then the movie shifts to nothing but fights—lots of them.  China didn’t know how long she’d be in town, but now we know she’ll stay until she avenges her father and takes down the local crime lord.

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Within days of leaving her big city job China is running for sheriff to replaced her murdered father so she can take on a syndicate of shockingly poorly organized small town criminals.

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So what makes this a bad movie?  Here are a few clues:

  1. The town is protected by a “seasoned career sheriff” who seems to know nothing about the law. And he’s subsequently replaced by his daughter who constantly breaks the law to enforce it.
  2. Slow motion boob running for the sake of slow motion boob running.
  3. The sound effect of bowling pins when kicking down five guys at once.
  4. Car explosions. Multiple car explosions.  80s and 90s movies loved bad guys who killed people with car bombs.  I’m not sure why.
  5. A completely unexplained Australian accent in BFE, Utah. This character Matt (Richard Norton) grew up with China, so he presumably lived in the town since the late 1950s.
  6. Crime “lords” that bother with tiny towns. Of course, these criminals seem to really suck at crime.
  7. Criminals being deputized the day after being arrested for attempted murder and posting bail (imaged below). And to make up for it, China deputizes a bunch of Matt’s high school gym class students who run around town punching bad guys with deputy badges pinned to their tank tops!
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  8. No explanations whatsoever, for ANYTHING! (see items 1-7…and 9-11)
  9. Using the ass-grab technique as a viable bar fight attack. The fight already started and everyone there wants to knock China out.  So, wild haymaker to the face or…perhaps…ass grab?  Good choice.  Ass grab.
  10. A one-handed Native American ninja (Dakota) who inexplicably couldn’t fight until he lost his hand—and, speaking of which, I didn’t know that stepping on someone’s hand resulted in amputation! How and where did this guy learn to fight?  And why couldn’t he fight at all before?china-o-brien-ii_367102_24753
  11. This is a big one. China’s name “China” is never explained—but I figure it’s to make us associate Rothrock’s character with Asian martial arts.  But she (Rothrock and her character) was born in the late 50s and grew up in a small, ill-educated town that probably lost a lot of men to American wars, and China and America went to war in the early 1950s.  It was kind of a big deal!  So wouldn’t her dad think better of naming her after a rather hated country at the time?

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Rothrock actually shares the fighting screen spotlight almost equally with her two martial artist co-stars Richard Norton (Mad Max: Fury Road, Roadhouse 2: Last Call) and Keith Cooke (Mortal Kombat).  The spin kicks are abundant but never awesome, the plot points are idiotic, and there’s nothing wowing to be found here.  You’ll be consistently entertained but you won’t get piss drunk and try to emulate any of it with your friends…like I did after watching Van Damme movies in the 90s.

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What is he even doing here!?!?!?!
Setting his stump from stun to kill?

This movie is not good, but it can be really entertaining if you walk into it with the right Bad Movie Tuesday frame of mind.  Keep in mind, nothing is going to make sense in this movie.  So if you can decide ahead of time that something like this would be funny, then you’ll come out of this a winner!  I did!  And I actually expected a totally serious R-rated action movie like the old Jeff Speakman (The Perfect Weapon, Street Knight) and Steven Seagal (Hard to Kill, Under Siege) days.

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