China O'Brien

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China O'Brien
China O'Brien.jpg
Directed by Robert Clouse
Produced by
Screenplay by Robert Clouse
Story by Sandra Weintraub
Music by
  • David Wheatley
  • Paul Antonelli
Cinematography Kent L. Wakeford
Edited by Mark Harrah
Distributed by Studio / Sterling
Release date
  • 1988 (1988)
Running time
86 minutes
Language English

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.


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. Her father, John O'Brien (David Blackwell), is the sheriff and is very pleased to see her. China discovers that John is gradually 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.

After seeing that nothing is being done to find her father and friends killer, China runs for sheriff against Lickner to see who take John's place while, at the same time, she starts cleaning up the town with the help of her former high school sweetheart Matt Conroy (Richard Norton). They get extra help from 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's men in a drive-by shooting during the victory celebration. Having won the election, China ends up having to force Godar to swear her in as the new sheriff. China deputizes Matt and Dakota, and they set out to free Beaver Creek from Sommers's stranglehold.

During the altercation at the Beaver Creek Inn, Dakota stops Lickner and confronts him about his mother. Lickner admits Sommers was responsible for his mother's death and Dakota gets on his motorcycle to Sommers's home. China and Matt continue to take on Sommers' men and head to Sommers' house after they defeat all of the goons. When Dakota finds Sommers at the stables, he points a gun at him. However, he restrains himself and when China and Matt show up, Matt handcuffs himself to Sommers. However, en route to the police car, a woman Sommers had imprisoned fires a gun, killing Sommers and knocking Matt down with 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 talk 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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