Cynthia Rothrock is one of the best movie martial artists of all time. We pay tribute to “Lady Dragon” by counting down her best movies.
Also known as The Lady Dragon, Cynthia Rothrock first started acting in Hong Kong films in the 1980s following a very successful career as a competitive martial artist. She holds 5 black belts and is ranked 8th Dan Grandmaster. She competed against men for a good part of her competition days due to there not always being a women’s category, where she won many times over. Her achievement in the martial arts world got her the first female cover of Karate Illustrated and her film career is filled with action and a bit of humor. Here are 5 of the best Cynthia Rothrock movies:
Yes, Madam (1985)
Her very first movie role, the part of Inspector Carrie Moss was designed for Rothrock and her skills, or so it would seem while watching the film. Directed by Corey Yuen (So Close, The Transporter) and co-starring Michelle Yeoh, a woman who needs no introduction at this point, the film is a fun action romp with plenty of fight scenes, including the last one of the film that is quite something, allowing Rothrock to truly show her skills here with kicks, hits, jumps, splits, and using a pole as a weapon and to jump. This film is credited for being the first Hong Kong film with a Caucasian lead actress in Rothrock. This lead was meant to be a male one, something in the vein of Bruce Lee’s work, but when the casting saw Rothrock and her skills, she was offered the part on the spot leading to a very dynamic duo with Yeoh. This intro to Rothrock is one that is memorable to this day and truly showcases her capacities.
Righting Wrongs (1986)
Also from director Corey Yuen, this one co-stars Yuen Biao and has Karen Shepherd in the cast. Rothrock’s fight with Shepherd at the mall is fantastic to watch and the fights she gets to have with Yuen are great. The film itself is highly entertaining and has a rather grim original ending with a happy alternate ending filmed. This film shows that with the right fight choreography, a fighter as skilled as Rothrock is can really show what they can do on the screen. Here work here is solid, giving the viewer some fight scenes to remember and giving a performance that shows why she kept getting more and more roles after this one. As one of her many films with Corey Yuen, Righting Wrongs is one that is worth looking for to see what Rothrock can do, who she is as an actress and a fighter, and to have some fun.
China O’Brien (1990)
This film is what some consider the ultimate Cynthia Rothrock film, China O’Brien was built just for her, mixing her American identity with her Asian influences and career, this film takes her martial arts, adds some drama, puts the stakes up, and releases the lady on a town needing some cleaning up from bad elements. Here, Rothrock gets plenty of fights and gets to be joined by Richard Norton, another action film regular, on the good guy side. These two have costarred in films before and since, creating a great duo for fights and fun scenes. China O’Brien was a loved film when it was released and really helped put Rothrock on the map for American audiences even though it was not her first release in the US. Her work here is strong as usual and really sets her up to be the force to be reckoned with that she became in American action films of the 1990s.
Tiger Claws and its sequels (1991, 1996, 2000)
One film that led to 2 sequels, the first and second films are about a martial artist who goes around killing other martial arts masters using Tiger Claw style of fighting. As Detective Linda Matheson, Rothrock plays the rookie detective on her first case, one that will put her character in danger and allow the actress to show her skills. Her fight with Bolo Yeung in his character’s air leads to Rothrock not only showing her hand-to-hand combat skills, but also her sword fighting skills. She also gets to have an impressive fight with a boat oar, showing that anything can be a weapon in this lady’s hands. Considering these are but a couple of fights in a film series filled with them, Tiger Claws (and its sequels) are worth checking out for these in particular. The third film goes in a fully new direction with a supernatural element brought in, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Sworn to Justice (1996)
One of the many films released in the 1990s starring Rothrock, this one may seem a bit off in terms of story making her a psychologist who often serves as an expert witness in court who finds herself thrown into a case as her sister and nephew are murdered and she develops ESP capacities that lead her to find criminals and fight them. While this is a very 1996 movie in terms of story, the ESP angle, the wardrobe, and how it’s filmed, it’s a fun, enjoyable watch. Rothrock gets to stretch her acting muscles a bit more here than in many of her other films as the grieving sister/auntie and she gets to have plenty of fight scenes and moments to show her martial arts skills. The film is also fun to watch for the presence of Mako and Brad Dourif. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle out of costume with actor Kenn Scott getting to play a bad guy. Of course, this is a film all about Rothrock and she does quite well here.
Cynthia Rothrock has been active in films since 1985 and still is very active to this day with 14 films at different stages of pre-production and post-production at the moment. She also maintains an active online presence, teaches seminars, attends non-profit events, and meets fans as often as she can. She’s a presence that is very magnetic everywhere she goes, showing that her acting career is something that made a lot of sense after she stopped competing and winning all the titles.