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China O'Brien II

China O'Brien II

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This time China O’Brien has trouble with a dealer who puts a prize on her head because she had spoiled an important drug deal of his. But all the world’s criminals will not be enough to catch up with China, one of the masters of the martial arts.

STARS: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Keith Cooke

92 min | Action, Crime, Drama | 1990 | Color


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Overt & very entertaining martial arts fun
I genuinely love the first 'China O'Brien.' It bears all those same hallmarks that characterize the best of star Cynthia Rothrock's oeuvre - blunt, over the top silliness, but with great, exciting action scenes generally, and martial arts specifically. It's easy to get on board with pictures that have no higher aim than highfalutin fun, and "fun" is definitely a key word that far too many modern blockbusters, for all their wit and grandeur, fail to keep in focus. As an added bonus, Rothrock and fellow cast members Richard Norton and Keith Cooke return for this from the first movie, as well as reputed filmmaker Robert Clouse. Sequels are always a dicey prospect, but I admit I had high expectations as I sat down. I'm pleased to say 'China O'Brien II' handily meets those expectations - once again, this is a lot of fun!
I'm truly delighted that the sense of continuity extends beyond the cast and crew. The first film was a preposterous romp that was emphatically ham-handed in the storytelling, and in which each successive story beat was mostly an excuse to set up the next action scene under whatever circumstances it could get away with. That cheeky sensibility remains intact here, with slight variation. If anything, there's even more gaucheness in the scenes that precipitate action, and at the same time a marginal dose of more sobriety in the narrative. A small shade of playfulness is traded in for a smidgen more seriousness and earnest thrills - though the set-up for the big showdown definitely leans hard into the utmost bluster. With all this said, make no mistake that the fight scenes and stunts are outstanding. From her fruitful, young career as a martial artist, leading into her first features made in Hong Kong, through to the China O'Brien flicks and beyond, Rothrock's is a name that can be relied upon for fantastic, finely choreographed action, and that staple is one of the great strengths in this instance. Why, the third act is almost nothing but!
Composers David Wheatley and Paul Antonelli also return from this film's predecessor, and their score carries much the same flavors. At times the music feels overly restrained, or a tad simplified, yet themes are dependably enjoyable nonetheless and help to build a touch of ambience in any given moment. Acting isn't the most important quality in flicks like this, but everyone in front of the camera performs very suitably to realize their characters and propel the story. Plot is light and fairly uncomplicated, though that's to be expected and is forgivable in light of what 'China O'Brien II' wanted to be. And from a technical standpoint, this is solid - unexceptional in its craft, perhaps, but perfectly competent.
This movie is many things, but it's not abjectly thrilling, or visceral; it takes itself (ever so slightly) more seriously, but "more seriously" and "serious" don't mean the same thing; it's the zenith of neither martial arts finesse, nor storytelling judiciousness, nor film-making mastery. It's none of these things, because it doesn't want or need to be: the only intent was mildly overcooked entertainment centering martial arts, and in that intent I think it is very successful. Sometimes a frivolous slice of amusement is all a movie needs to be, but that doesn't mean it can't excel in that space. 'China O'Brien II' won't meet the personal preferences of every viewer, but for those receptive to whatever wild, wonderful enjoyment the action genre has to offer, this is a blast!

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