The highly renowned Fantasia International Film Festival is happening now in Montreal and we’re kicking off our coverage with a woman who’s an absolute legend in martial arts and cult film. In a time of superhero movies where powerful female characters are growing to be more progressive and established in fandom, Cynthia Rothrock would be one of the cinematic matriarchs of every feminine but extremely tough and well-rounded characters we see today.
In Northern California in 1983, Hong Kong-based production company Golden Harvest was searching the United States for the next Bruce Lee. After witnessing her skills in a demonstration, they signed the young Rothrock to a contract which had her appear in several films overseas including Yes, Madam, along with superstar Michelle Yeoh. She stayed in Hong Kong until 1988 and upon her return to the US, starred in a number of cult movies.
She was given her eighth-degree black belt in the mid-2000’s and co-starred in Mercenaries alongside Kristanna Loken, Vivica A. Fox, and Death Proof’s Zoe Bell. Rothrock was also the first woman to be featured on the cover of a martial arts magazine and after a deal gone very bad, which will be detailed in our conversation, she was the inspiration for the Mortal Kombat character Sonya Blade.
A few days ago right before they played Cynthia’s most well known film on the big screen at Fantasia Fest, Blonde Fury, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for all of her contributions to Kung Fu and action movies. It was shortly before this that we got the chance to speak with her about her career, the rise of her superstardom and her feelings about women’s treatment in Hollywood today.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
Cynthia, thank you for spending some time with me. I can’t begin to tell you what a pleasure and honor this is.
Cynthia: The pleasure is all mine.
When you began working in Hong Kong before you made a name how was the transition? Was it instant acceptance or did you have a lot of time between the moment it grew comfortable for you?
Cynthia: Well, being an American woman on my first film was a bit of a transition when I moved. It was a new place and it was a little tough. But they were extremely accommodating and I was seen for my abilities. It was most certainly a change, and there was a familiarity with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, so I felt that I had to work harder to prove myself. Here I was this young woman from the US in what was basically an industry that was a man’s world. But those feelings I had went away pretty quickly.
When you returned to the United States and began doing films, was there ever a feeling of being sidelined by a male counterpart, and if so what would you do to combat that particular situation?
Cynthia: I did have great projects that allowed me to shine as a woman like the China O’Brien series, but yes. There were a few times when I did things when I felt the story required a man to clean up the mess. I would never have to be the victim. but I guess at the time they felt a female couldn’t carry the weight on her own or something. It was definitely a different type of atmosphere than Hong Kong. But, you know, I just persevered and got through it.