China O’Brien (1988)

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Hong Kong-based Golden Harvest unleashes their version of Walking Tall, only the new sherrif is town in not only a female, but she doesn’t need a gun to dispense justice.

China O’Brien is a big city cop who also teaches martial arts to inner city teens. When she is challenged to a rumble against friends of student Termite, she agrees. However, Termite is later jumped and China soon learns that the guys she is fighting are for real. With help from her friend Jonesy, China is able to dispatch the guys but when Termite has a gun pointed to him, China shoots the assailant, who turned to be a teenager himself. Feeling remorseful, China quits her job and decides to head home.

China’s father is the local sheriff of their hometown. Upon arriving, she learns the once peaceful town is now been overrun by corruption. Sommers is a businessman who has used the town to run many rackets and despite efforts from Sheriff O’Brien, it proves to be too much. When Sherriff O’Brien is killed by a car bomb set up by Sommers and his men, which include a local deputy, China decides she has no other choice but to run for sheriff. With the help of her old friend Matt and a mysterious motorcycle rider named Dakota, China will do what it takes to make the town peaceful again.

The classic 1972 film Walking Tall was based on a true story of a small-town sheriff who dispensed justice with a 2×4 for the most part. Before Dwayne Johnson starred in the remake of the film, Golden Harvest, who at the time were making films in both Hong Kong and the United States (Cannonball Run I & II), decided to offer their own version of the story. Sandra Weintraub decided to change things up by making the sheriff a female and instead of a 2×4 and a gun, this female sheriff would use martial arts.

Enter Cynthia Rothrock, who the film was meant for. After becoming the first female foreigner to lead a Hong Kong film, Golden Harvest decided to get her some fame in her native America and she is perfect for the role here. She demonstrates both her acting talent and her martial arts skills thus making her exactly what the character of China O’Brien is about. Australian martial artist and actor Richard Norton also gets to showcase his abilities as China’s old friend Matt while former wushu champion Keith Cooke makes an impressive film debut as the mysterious Dakota. One you hear about the latter’s backstory, it is clear his intentions are known.

With the exception of Rothrock and Norton, most of the cast are comprised of first-time actors and in all honesty, most do a decent job in their first films. One notable actor is Patrick Adamson, who plays dirty deputy Lickner. Just from looking at him, you can tell this guy is potentially bad news. Some of the cast members playing villains, including lead villain Sommers, perform their roles pretty well, even if this is a B-movie film.

Nijel, who makes an appearance in the opening of the film as assistant instructor and China’s friend Jonesy, choreographed the film’s action sequences. He does a great job at utilizing the talents of Rothrock, Norton, and Cooke. This “triple threat” of martial artists take on a barrage of various stunt actors and extras in some pretty good fight scenes that do use the technique called “undercranking”. However, the speed looks just right as compared to other films that have used this cinematic technique, where the scene is shot slowly and then sped up to enhance the action.

The film would be shot back-to-back with its sequel China O’Brien II, which will explain a lot of the same actors in different roles. If you like Walking Tall, chances are you will like China O’Brien. The guys will like the action scenes and even the ladies will like it because they have a female action hero in the lead and her name is Cynthia Rothrock.

WFG RATING: B+

A Golden Harvest Production. Director: Robert Clouse. Producers: Fred Weintraub and Sandra Weintraub. Writer: Robert Clouse; story by Sandra Weintraub. Cinematography: Kent L. Wakeford. Editing: Mark Harrah

Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Keith Cooke, Doug Wright, Nijel Binns, Patrick Adamson, David Blackwell, Steven Kerby, Lainie Watts, Chad Walker, Robert Tiller, Stanton Davis, Frang Magner, Wil Hazlett.

 

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