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Review China O'Brien (1988) + China O'Brien II (1989): Deep exploration of guilt and responsibility!

genre: martial arts, action

Review China O' Brien (1988) 

After policewoman China O' Brien was forced to shoot a young kid in self defense she goes deep within herself to find the answer to the age-old questions "What's the meaning of life?", "What purpose do I have" , "Who am I to play god and kill other living beings?", "Should I get punished?". Her path of self enlightenment is soul crushing but at the same time inspiring and exhilarating as through her you get confronted with some real truths about guilt, responsibility and life.

At this point, some of you might be wondering if you have seen the same film as I have. Worry not, I was messing with you. Unfortunately, China O' Brien is nothing of what I just have stated. It easily could have been if the film had a better script, better cast, better budget and more sophisticated director. Then again most action films could use these elements although would that really increase the quality that much? Besides, too much pretension often kills the fun factor and while China O' Brien is pretty bad it's immensely fun. You do have to give the film credit for at least giving an explanation why the lead refuses to use guns and hence always resorts to her martial arts instead of shooting the crap out of them. Seeing how the bad guys do keep standing up and coming at her over and over again does beg the question if that is wise of her. But to be honest, I personally can't get enough of Cynthia Rothrock kicking ass and is one of the main reasons you watch this little action flick in the first place.

I would say the action is decent to very good. Plenty of fights where Cynthia lays down the law her way. As a showcase of what is capable of I think this does fall short a little. In her Hong Kong days the directors were more demanding and made her do so much more which benefited all. But fear not Richard Norton and Keith Cooke are in the house as well and they both are magnificent. Especially Keith Cooke shines and seems extremely skilled as a martial artist. He could and should have been a star. Although in an interview he stated he is a true martial artist in his heart and found teaching more important, so that is why he stepped back from acting. 

Overall China O' Brien is a must watch for Cynthia Rothrock fans and to be fair the story is exactly what it should be in films like these. In service of the action and not the other way around.

Review China O' Brien II (1989)

Like with many martial arts flicks of yesteryear, it's hard to get decent copies of them. When browsing the net, I came across this double feature released on DVD. And image wise, I can't complain. But still, it's rather puzzling why gems like these haven't been released yet on Blu-ray. These films might not be masterpieces, they sure are a lot better than the crap that come out these days. In any case, China O' Brien 1 and II have been shot back to back, so it makes sense for them to be featured on one disc. It's also very easily to confuse the first with the two since apart from the main cast, most of the cast and extra's also return in different roles. What do you mean, confusing?

Contrary to the original, this second part feels like a rush job in every way. Apparently even Cynthia couldn't be there all the time, since there are quite a few scenes where a very obvious stunt double steps in for her. Now that is not uncommon, except a lot of times they use this double doing things Cynthia can do herself easily. It's a bit disjointing and confusing. This part also has the illusion of having non-stop action. Except most of the fights within these scenes don't last. For example, there are two highly compelling ones. One with Billy Blanks versus Keith Cooke. Could and should have lasted much longer. And a fight between Cynthia and Toshishiro Obata (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) with Freddy Krueger claws. A guy with several knives on his hands theoretically should be a real threat. Not in this film. He is overpowered within seconds. Why?

Overall, China O' Brien II is a huge step-down compared to the original. But despite this the fun factor like the first is enormous, so chances are you will hardly notice it's really bad! I mean, where else are you going to see a stripper assassin in action?

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