While the idea of strong leading women has been a hot topic of discussion lately, Cynthia Rothrock was representing this ideal for decades. For over 30 years, Cynthia has been portraying strong female lead roles in movies made and produced internationally, from Hong Kong to the US. With over 60 acting credits to her name, Cynthia has also achieved plenty as a martial artist before she ever hit the big screen, being a multiple time world champion in kickboxing, karate and various forms of weaponry. It is a great honor to spend some time with the “Lady Dragon” herself, Cynthia Rothrock!
First of all, let me start out by saying I’ve been a fan of yours since the 1980s and growing up watching many of your films. Thank you very much for your time; it is a great personal honor.
How did it come about that you were offered film roles? Was there any particular point where you knew this was something you wanted to stick with and continue doing for so long?
I was on the West Coast Demo team, and the leader Ernie Reyes got a call from Paul Maslak, editor of Inside Kung Fu magazine, telling him Cory Yuen was casting for a male to be the next Bruce Lee. He said should I bring the girls too, and they said yes but they were looking for a guy. I went , auditioned and Cory Yuen picked me out of everyone auditioning. After my first film, Yes Madam, was a box office success, I received many film offers. I then knew that this was the direction my career was going to go.
Early in your career, you starred in several Hong Kong features alongside some other female action stars, such as Michelle Yeoh. What was it like starting out in such an environment? That had to be very demanding!
Michelle and I became great friends and comforted each other on our pain and bruises. We kept each other going and laughed at who was given the harder stunts. They were all hard and very dangerous. It was my first film and I believe her second. We were fearless.
Your roles and presence in the action genre bring a great deal more physicality than your typical movie roles. How have you adjusted for the many injuries suffered through the course of your career, and is there anything that slowed you down to the point where you reconsidered your options?
You have to realize if you want to be an action star you have to work hard, do all the stunts asked, and you will get hurt. It is not an easy job. I thought about quitting after filming a movie where my face was almost burned in a flame. If the actor didn’t push my head out of the way my face would have been disfigured. The back of my hair was burnt. I was in a daze for three days thinking I could have been disfigured for life. But instead of quitting I just became more cautious of doing stunts.
After you became an established talent in Hong Kong, you ended up having several of your own feature films made for Western audiences. Was this a natural transition for you? How differently did you have to approach things than before?
It was much easier to do Western films than the Hong Kong ones. The action was not as extreme, and I had a script to study something I never had in Hong Kong.
Speaking of transitions, in The Martial Arts Kid, you are suddenly shifted into a mentor and guardian role. Was this a difficult adjustment for you to have to make as an actor? Did you approach the action scenes any differently as a result?
As far as the Martial Arts Kid goes…the character Cindy was typically me in real life. I’m a mother, my daughter was the same age, and I am a martial art teacher so it was an easy role for me to get into. The action scenes are always approached the same for me…you fight hard and do your best..the difference is who you are fighting, some people are better than others, the time you have to work on it, and the choreography which depends on how long you have to shoot.
Another point of note in The Martial Arts Kid is once again getting to work alongside Don “The Dragon” Wilson, with whom you often display great chemistry. Did this play a factor in accepting and taking on the mentor role?
Don and I are great friends and really enjoy working together. I took the role because producer James Wilson said I want to make a family film with a good message but with action. This is the first time I was offered the part and since I was a mom I enjoyed doing family films.
The Martial Arts Kid was a crowdfunded effort that seemed to work very well, not only in terms of fan interest, but as an overall production that people seemed to enjoy being a part of. Is there anything about The Martial Arts Kid that you are most proud of, now that it is all said and done?
I am proud of all the children this movie helped. Either to not tolerate bullies or to get involved in a martial art school.
Some announcements have been made for a sequel to The Martial Arts Kid. What can we expect out of you next time around?
The sequel will be a bit more darker and tougher action. It it will deal with the Chuck Zito character who comes back for revenge.
Something we’re seeing in today’s big budget mainstream blockbusters is the increased focus on female protagonists as a selling point and hot topic. Many long time action fans have brought your name up as someone who was delivering strong female roles, particularly for Western audiences, long before what we’re seeing now. How proud are you of the fact that your movies were doing this decades prior to today, essentially putting you at the forefront of such a movement?
I am very proud to be one of the first action actors that was a past undefeated champion. My wish is to still today get in an A listed movie or work with Cory Yuen again on another production.
Is there any particular movie or role that you have taken on that you consider to be the “quintessential” Cynthia Rothrock movie? If people are new to your movies, what one feature do you think defines your career best?
I think for the action they should watch any of my Hong Kong films, the fights are great. My favorites are Righting Wrongs or Blonde Fury (Lady Reporter) or Yes Madam. As far as English speaking ones, The Martial Art Kid, Sworn to Justice and No Retreat No Surrender.
Thank you very much once again for your valuable time. It has been an absolute privilege to spend it with one of the pioneers of powerful women in film.