Profile: Cynthia Rothrock

Posted in Profiles by - May 14, 2012
Profile: Cynthia Rothrock

Full name: Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock

Date of birth: 8 March, 1957 (Wilmington, Delaware)

Chinese name: Law Fu-lok

Occupation: Actor, producer, martial arts instructor

Style: Tang Soo Do, taekwondo, Eagle Claw kung fu, wushu, Northern Shaolin, Pai Lum kung fu, tai chi.

Biography: Regarded as the ‘Queen of Martial Arts Movies’, Rothrock has starred in over 50 films. She is a martial arts instructor, five-time undefeated World Karate Champion in forms and weapons (between 1981 to 1985) and owner of six black belts.

Rothrock began her martial arts training at the age of 13, learning the Korean style of Tang Soo Do in Scranton, Pennsylvania, before learning Eagle Claw kung fu with Master Shum Leong in New York City. After opening two schools in Pennsylvania, she relocated to California to open her own school and raise her own profile.

Her first acting appearance was in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial in 1983. In the same year, while training as part of Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Demonstration Team, Rothrock auditioned for the Hong Kong production company, Seasonal Films, who were in California looking for a ‘new Bruce Lee’ to star in an upcoming project. The martial arts filmmaker Corey Yuen Kwai was leading the audition, and once they saw Rothrock’s capabilities, they signed her to Seasonal Films.

However, it was not Seasonal Films who would eventually give Cynthia her big break in Hong Kong – it was Sammo Hung, who cast her as a cop from England in his film, Yes, Madam! (1985), alongside Michelle Yeoh, who was also making her starring-role debut. Rothrock – who sustained an injury to her ear during the film’s climactic fight scene with Dick Wei – was praised by the Hong Kong filmmakers for her power on screen and ability to perform her own stunts. Following the success of Yes, Madam!, she signed a three-picture deal with the studio, Golden Harvest. She would go on to live in Hong Kong for three years, appearing in seven films and adopting a Chinese stage name, ‘Law Fu-lok’, selected for how closely it sounded like ‘Rothrock’.

She appeared in Sammo Hung’s all-star martial arts western, Millionaire’s Express (1986), which marked the first of nine films she would make with Australian fighter, Richard Norton. They worked together so often that a British magazine called them the ‘Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of martial arts films’. She was cast as a villain in Jackie Chan‘s Armour of God (1986), until filming was postponed due to Chan sustaining a head injury during production. She was instead cast alongside Yuen Biao in the action crime classic, Righting Wrongs (1986), followed by a leading role in The Blonde Fury (1989), which made her the first western star of a Hong Kong movie.

In 1988, she made her first film for Seasonal Film, the English-language No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder. She made her American starring-role debut in the China O’Brien films, produced by Golden Harvest and directed by Enter the Dragon’s Robert Clouse. Both China O’Brien films were made simultaneously over the course of six weeks. During the production, Rothrock signed on to co-star with Sylvester Stallone in an action film to be called The Executioner, directed by William Friedkin. She signed with a new Hollywood agent who advised her to stop working in Hong Kong. When plans to make The Executioner fell through after Friedkin had issues with the script, Rothrock’s career as a mainstream star stalled.

With the extraordinary success of China O’Brien on video, Rothrock became a huge name in the low-budget, straight-to-video action market. She also appeared on hit television shows, including ‘Hercules’ and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. In 2004, Rothrock stepped away from the film industry to concentrate on teaching martial arts and raising her daughter, Skylar Sophia Rothrock. She continues to work in action films, and in 2015, she worked as a co-producer and leading actor on the family film, The Martial Arts Kid, alongside fellow straight-to-video action star, Don “The Dragon” Wilson. She lives in California.

Speech! With Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast, 2021: “I am honoured that I paved the way for a lot of women. I get a lot of women that are in stunts or starting out in martial arts movies who say, ‘because of you, you opened the doors’… One of the things that I’m really proud of – and something that I see as a legacy of my life – is that I think through my movies I have brought a lot of people into the martial arts to study it. I get a lot of people – men and women – who say, ‘I have seen your movies, and I started studying martial arts’. I think that’s a great thing, because I truly believe that everyone should know some sort of martial arts for self-defence; to protect yourselves, or protect a loved one. Also, to me, its one of the best forms of exercise, but at the same time, you’re learning how to protect yourself.”

Click here to listen to KFMG Podcast S06 Episode 72 with Cynthia Rothrock.

Click here to read our 2011 interview with Cynthia Rothrock.

Filmography (as actor): 1985 24 Hours to Midnight; Yes, Madam!; 1986 Millionaire’s Express; Righting WrongsMagic Crystal; 1988 The Inspector Wears Skirts; No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder; 1989 City Cops; The Blonde Fury1990 Prince of the Sun; China O’BrienMartial Law; Free Fighter; Fast Getaway; Lady Dragon; 1991 Martial Law II: UndercoverChina O’Brien II; 1992 Tiger Claws; Rage and Honor; Rage and Honor II: Hostile Takeover; 1993 Angel of Fury; Guardian Angel; Honor and Glory (+ pro); Irresistible Force; 1994 Undefeatable; Fast Getaway 2; Eye for an Eye; 1996 Tiger Claws II; Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (TV); Sworn to Justice; Checkmate; Night Vision; 1997 The Hostage; The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! (TV); American Tigers; 1999 Tiger Claws III; 2000 Manhattan Chase; 2001 Redemption; 2002 Outside the Law; 2003 Bala Perdida; 2004 Sci-Fighter; 2007 Lost Bullet; 2012 Santa’s Summer House; 2013 Badass Showdown; 2014 Mercenaries; 2015 The Martial Arts Kid; 2016 Showdown in Manila; Beyond the Game; Asian Ghost Story; Mr and Mrs Smit (TV); 2017 Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine; A Doggone Hollywood; Death Fighter; 2018 Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece; Cool Cat Kids Superhero.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.


  • Eric Hargrove

    small correction:
    She learned Pai Lum with her husband.
    She learned “Ying Jow Pai/Eagle Claw Kung Fu” under Shum Leung

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