Tag Archives: martial arts

Our Lady of Lethal: An Interview with Cynthia Rothrock by Kent Hill

Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock, is an American martial artist and actress who I first encountered in a little movie called Raging Thunder or No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (part of my beloved Seasonal Films Library). From there I followed her through the China O’Brian and Martial Law movies. It is fortuitous that she shares this triple martial arts action extravaganza with Don “The Dragon” Wilson; the pair having shared the screen in a number of Cynthia credits, including The Martial Arts Kid and its forthcoming sequel.

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Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.

It was in her hometown in Northern California in 1983 where she was on the Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Martial Arts Demonstration Team. A Leading Asian Film production company, Golden Harvest, was searching, at this time, in Los Angeles for the next Bruce Lee. Rothrock’s forms and manoeuvres were observed at a demonstration by Golden Harvest and they signed a contract with Cynthia there and then. It was two years (1985) later that she made her first martial arts movie, Yes, Madam (or Police Assassins / In the Line of Duty Part 2) which also starred Michelle Yeoh. Proving to be a box office hit, Cynthia ended up staying in Hong Kong until 1988 doing seven films there.

Rothrock would go on to be one of a handful of western performers who achieved stardom in the Hong Kong film industry, before even achieving success in their own country. Producer Pierre David initiated Rothrock’s move to back to America, offering her a co-starring role with Chad McQueen in Martial Law, Rothrock’s first U.S. production. A ten year successful career in B-grade action movies would follow in movies such as: China O’Brien and China O’Brien 2, Guardian Angel, Honour & Glory, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 and Prince of the Sun amongst a roster of thirty films

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Rothrock appeared in the television film The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion. She was also the inspiration for the video game character Sonya Blade from the game Mortal Kombat, though was given neither credit nor compensation. After the film Sci-Fighter, she retired from acting to teach martial arts at her studio in California. She made her comeback in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and in 2014, she starred in the action movie Mercenaries, (the all-female Expendables) alongside Kristanna Loken, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox and Zoë Bell directed by Chris Olen Ray.

Like her contemporaries of the genre, Cynthia is still going strong, busy with slate of movies either in the works or beginning production. She is dynamic, fearsome and as I’m sure Cynthia will tell you herself . . . she isn’t too old to quit kicking ass yet.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7DTnJSX0WQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiE18U7to0M

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Enter “The Dragon”: An Interview with Don Wilson by Kent Hill

When you used to decide to hit the video store (back in the day) and roam the aisles in search of hidden gems, you’d discover a great many things. Sometimes it was the films in total – other times it was a star you seemed to have an unending body of work.

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That was my first impression of Don “The Dragon” Wilson. There always seemed to be more and more movies that he had been in. So, being the completest I am, I sought out each, any and every film he was in.

Don “The Dragon” Wilson is a world champion kickboxer, a European Martial Arts Hall of Famer and an action film actor. He has been called “Perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history.”

Some (and I stress the word SOME) movies to his credit include: Futurekick, Bloodfist 1-8, Ring of Fire 1, 2 & 3, Out for Blood, Operation Cobra, Blackbelt, Cyber Tracker 1 & 2, Terminal Rush, Redemption, Say Anything, Capitol Conspiracy and Batman Forever as the leader of the Neon Gang. You can judge the scale of a film’s budget by the quality of the craft services. In the case of is brief but memorable appearance in Batman Forever, there would be no mere fold-out table with ice mochas and Doritos. No, Don found  the whereabouts of a catering trailer in which stood a chef, ready to cook him whatever he desired.

But back to the movies – Don’s career has been motoring along for decades – and he shows no sign of slowing down. With films like The Martial Arts Kid and Paying Mr. McGetty along with several others waiting in the wings, Don “The Dragon” Wilson is still as vital and explosive as ever. I for one can’t wait to see where journey goes from here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7DTnJSX0WQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaqZ3iH54lY

 

 

Romeo Must Die


Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die is not a great flick, but I still somehow enjoy it if only for a few stylish scenes and the presence of Aaliyah before her tragic and fateful plane crash, which tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a pseudo Romeo & Juliet tale involving her and Jet Li caught up in Asian/African American gang warfare, but it’s more just a silly showcase for Li’s impressive martial arts prowess and a playground for several well staged shootouts. Bartkowiak is actually responsible for two very similar films of this ilk, Cradle 2 The Grave and Exit Wounds, which all have the same cast members running about and when viewed in succession create some weird holy trinity of kung fu urban crime lore. This one is probably the best I suppose, or at least the most memorable. Aaliyah is reprimanded by her gangster father (Delroy Lindo) and his incompetent lieutenants (Isiaah Washington and Anthony Anderson), while rambunctious Li is supervised by some vague cousin of his (half-asian Russell Wong, definitely the coolest character), and DMX growls out a few lines as a violent club owner also somehow involved. The romance is fleeting, swallowed up by zippy editing and deafening action sequences that come fast and frequent. Li jumps around while the rest of them empty all kinds of firepower all over Vancouver, and so it goes. It ain’t great, but the opener set in DMX’s club during a raid perpetrated by Wong and his crew is the highlight and seems to have been plucked from a far better action film. 

-Nate Hill

THE STREET FIGHTER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Like many people of my generation in North America, the first exposure to The Street Fighter (1974), starring Sonny Chiba, was probably the brief clip shown in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993), which was written by Quentin Tarantino, a big fan of Chiba, an actor who got his start appearing in science fiction and crime thrillers but is best known for his martial arts movies, chief among them The Street Fighter series. True Romance’s main character celebrates his birthday by going to see a Sonny Chiba triple feature at a local theater and there he meets the girl of his dreams. In explaining the allure of Terry Tsurgui – Chiba’s character in the film – he sums it up best by telling her, “Well, he ain’t so much a good guy as he is just one bad motherfucker. I mean, he gets paid by people to fuck guys up.” Based on the worldwide success of Enter the Dragon (1973), the Toei Company decided to release its own martial arts action films and the result was The Street Fighter. It would be this film that would make Chiba an international movie star. The film went on to garner a notorious reputation for its bone-crunching violence, which earned it an unprecedented X rating in North America – the first film to do so based solely on violence.

Terry Tsurgui (Chiba) is a mercenary hired by the Yakuza to free a convicted killer named Junjo (Masashi Ishibashi) from prison who is about to be executed. The man killed seven people with his fighting skills, which one prison guard says sarcastically, “He must think he’s Bruce Lee.” Terry enters the prison under the guise of a Buddhist priest (?!) and engineers quite a clever breakout by zapping Junjo with a move that induces paralysis thereby making him unfit for execution. It takes less than four minutes into the film and we get a pretty cool fight sequence in slow motion complete with funky sound effects that were the hallmark of 1970s era martial arts films. If that weren’t enough, a fantastic spaghetti western-esque theme song by way of Shaft-era Isaac Hayes plays over the opening credits sequence and off we go.

With his sidekick and comic relief Ratnose (Goichi Yamada), Terry hijacks the ambulance carrying Junjo en route to the hospital. When the man’s brother and sister are unable to pay up, Terry proceeds to mess them up, including sending the brother out a window to his death and selling the sister into prostitution. When Terry dares to ask for more money to kidnap a rich Japanese heiress in order to control her fortune, his employers decide to kill him because Terry knows too much. As we all know from these kinds of films that that is a fatal mistake and boy, does he make them pay.

Terry only really cares about money and asks a lot for his services. He is a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy. The film wastes no time in establishing Terry’s badass credentials as he takes on more than six guys that stupidly try to ambush him in his apartment. There’s a wild-eyed intensity that is quite unnerving to his opponents. What Terry lacks in finesse, he more than makes up for in ferocity. Subtlety is certainly not his forte. For example, he attempts to tail his target in a car without caring about or knowing to follow from a discreet distance. For his troubles, the car he and Ratnose are in is grabbed by a construction vehicle and dropped off a bridge! However, Terry’s not invincible and gets his ass handed to him when he takes on the head of a karate school who knew his father. There’s no denying that Sonny Chiba has a unique screen presence and an intense stare that puts guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal to shame.

Goichi Yamada’s Ratnose is a character whose only purpose appears to be as comic relief (“Who do you think you’re talking to, Madame Butterfly?” he says to Terry at one point in reference to his lousy cooking skills), groveling and being endlessly insulted by Terry. However, he does get his self-sacrificing heroic moment in the sun and this selfless act draws a rare tear of emotion from Terry, which in a weird sort of way humanizes the film’s brutal protagonist.

The Street Fighter is chock full of great, cheesy B-movie dialogue intoned by a guy dubbing Terry’s voice trying to affect a gravely Clint Eastwood-esque vibe. One choice gem has Terry tell some assailants, “So I’m to die because I know who it is that controls the Yakuza here? Isn’t that mean and nasty?” Another gem comes when Junjo goes into an oxygen coma, collapses right before being executed and a prison official asks someone nearby, “You’re a lawyer – what must I do?” It is how this line is said – in stilted, badly done dubbing – that makes it funny. However, there are also some pretty cool lines, too, like when Junjo confronts Terry and tells him, “I’ve waited a long time to settle the score.” Terry replies dismissively, “Sorry, I’ve more urgent things right now.” How cool is that? Yeah, I’m not too busy completing a job to kick your ass right now… maybe later.

In The Street Fighter, Terry punches, kicks and viciously gouges his way through a series of brutal encounters. Among the scenes that earned the film an X rating are one in which Terry castrates a would-be rapist with his bare hands, which still manages to shock with its intensity and graphic nature even by today’s standards. Guys are punched so hard they spit out mouthful of teeth and spew judicious amounts of blood. But the film saves the best (and nastiest) move for the final showdown, an impressive battle as Terry proceeds to single-handedly decimate a tanker boat full of henchmen with a climactic fight on deck in the pouring rain.

Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction is appropriately dynamic with plenty of skewed camera angles, slow motion, black and white flashbacks and even an X-ray shot of Terry crushing a guy’s skull with his fist. How badass is that? He makes excellent use of the widescreen frame, especially during the fight scenes, letting them play out along the entire length of the frame.

When New Line Cinema picked up the film in North America, it was renamed The Street Fighter from its original title, which translated into the infinitely cooler sounding, Clash, Killer Fist! It earned an X rating for the gory violence and the studio re-edited the film significantly, cutting out 16 minutes in order to get an R rating. The Street Fighter was an international hit spawning two sequels, Return of The Street Fighter (1974) and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (1974) as well as a spin-off film, Sister Street Fighter (1974). None of them hold a candle to the one that started it all – a cult film that dispenses with niceties like political correctness and restraint for an unbridled romp through the criminal underworld led by Chiba’s unrepentant mercenary. For fans of down ‘n’ dirty martial arts movies, this one is pure catnip and a potent reminder of how good a decade the ‘70s was for the genre where you could have a mainstream masterpiece like Enter the Dragon along with no-holds barred carnage on display in The Street Fighter.