China O'Brien

China O'Brien is a 1988 martial arts film produced by Golden Harvest studios and starring actress and martial artist Cynthia Rothrock[1] with co-stars Richard Norton and Keith Cooke. The film was directed by Robert Clouse, the fight choreography was by Nijel Binns, and it was executive produced by Raymond Chow. Rothrock plays a former cop who runs for sheriff after her father, the previous sheriff, is killed.

China O'Brien
Directed byRobert Clouse
Produced by
Screenplay byRobert Clouse
Story bySandra Weintraub
Music by
  • David Wheatley
  • Paul Antonelli
CinematographyKent L. Wakeford
Edited byMark Harrah
Distributed byStudio / Sterling
Golden Harvest
Media Asia Group
Release date
  • 1988 (1988)
Running time
86 minutes


Police officer China O'Brien (Cynthia Rothrock) is a good cop who teaches martial arts class to her fellow officers. After an altercation with a gang that leads to the accidental death of a young boy, China resigns from the force, and returns to her hometown of Beaver Creek, Utah. On her way into town she runs into her former high school sweetheart Matt Conroy (Richard Norton). Searching for her father, she goes to the Beaver Creek Inn and encounters a hostile situation, as her father has just arrested one of the men there. Her father, John O'Brien (David Blackwell), is the town sheriff. China finally catches up with him back at the station. John is losing control of the town to local crime boss Edwin Sommers (Steven Kerby), who controls corrupt deputy Marty Lickner (Patrick Adamson) and corrupt local judge Harry Godar (Wil Hazlett). When John and honest deputy Ross Tyler (Chad Walker) are killed by car bombs that were planted by Sommers's henchmen, there is an emergency election to elect a new sheriff.

Matt tells China that she has a lot of support from the townspeople, so she decides to run for sheriff against Lickner. At the same time, she starts cleaning up the town with the help of Matt and a Native American biker named Dakota (Keith Cooke), whose mother (Judy Kotok) was murdered by Sommers. China wins the election, and then Maria (Gae Cowley), who had been her father's housekeeper up until his death, is murdered by Sommers' men in a drive-by shooting during the victory celebration. China has to force Judge Godar to swear her in as the new sheriff. China deputizes Matt and Dakota, and they set out to free Beaver Creek from Sommers' stranglehold.

First, they bulldoze a house that Sommers was using to distribute drugs. Then, during an altercation at the Beaver Creek Inn, Dakota questions Lickner about his mother, and Lickner admits Sommers was responsible for his mother's death. Dakota takes Lickner's gun and gets on his motorcycle to Sommers's home. China realises Dakota intends to confront Sommers, and so she and Matt pursue Dakota. Dakota finds Sommers at the stables and points the gun at him. However, he restrains himself and when China and Matt arrive, Sommers is still alive. Matt handcuffs himself to Sommers but as they leave the stable, a woman that Sommers had locked up and beaten fires at Sommers and kills him. The next day, China asks Dakota what he will do next. Dakota says he will stay for the trial and China tells him she could use a man like him. Dakota laughs off being a cop to which Matt replies that they can discuss it over a beer.


  • Cynthia Rothrock as Lori "China" O'Brien
  • Richard Norton as Matt Conroy
  • Keith Cooke as Dakota
  • Patrick Adamson as Deputy Marty Lickner
  • David Blackwell as Sheriff John O'Brien
  • Chad Walker as Deputy Ross Tyler
  • Stanton Davis as Barlow
  • Robert Tiller as Owens
  • Lainie Watts as Patty
  • Steven Kerby as Sommers
  • Frank Magner as Jake Karns
  • Wil Hazlett as Judge Harry Godar
  • Gae Cowley as Maria
  • Doug Wright as Termite
  • Bubba Reeves as Ballard
  • Nijel Binns as Jonsey


Parts of the film were shot in Park City, Utah.[2]

After a career in Hong Kong, Golden Harvest worked to raise Rothrock's profile in her native America, and she was cast in China O'Brien.[3] Film scholar Rikke Schubart says the producers paired her with Richard Norton, who plays her boyfriend, and made her the daughter of a slain cop to make her more feminine and seem less threatening.[4]

Early in her career, Tori Amos recorded a song, "Distant Storm", which can only be heard by viewing the original film. Amos did not want to be credited under her real name and created a fake band, Tess Makes Good, to be credited.[5]


China O'Brien was released direct-to-video in the United States in 1990.[6]


Variety called it "an okay showcase" for Rothrock.[7]


A sequel, China O'Brien II, was released in 1989. The film retains the same cast and crew.


  1. Broeske, Pat H. (1989-01-29). "Sly's Match?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
  2. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  3. Schubart 2007, p. 148.
  4. Schubart 2007, p. 151–152.
  5. Jacobs, Jay S. (2006). Pretty Good Years: A Biography of Tori Amos. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 27. ISBN 9781423400226.
  6. Parisi, Paula; Cagle, Jess (1991-08-09). "China Syndrome". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
  7. "July 1, 1991: Home Video: China O'Brien". Variety TV REV 1991-92 17. Taylor & Francis. 1994. ISBN 9780824037963.
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