What can a gwei por do? Cynthia Rothrock’s Hong Kong career
Abstract Cynthia Rothrock is a martial arts performance legend of the 1980s who began acting in Hong Kong cinema in the late 1980s and became a transnational video star in the 1990s. At the height of her fame she was mobbed by fans from Germany to Indonesia and she made a stadium erupt in the U.S.A, where her thirty-odd films were not shown in cinemas; the subject of hundreds of media articles world-wide, she has been the object of adoring fan web-sites and “shrines” and features today in lovingly curated YouTube galleries of her best fight scenes. Yet in academic studies her work in Hong Kong is praised but rarely discussed, while her career is often framed as one of failure to become a “real” star—that is, to get a big screen role in Hollywood. This article explores some of the reasons for the difficulty we have in accounting for an American performer’s contribution to Asian popular culture, asking how critical questions might be reframed to take better account of Rothrock’s Asian work.
Keywords: Cynthia Rothrock; Law Fu Lok; 1980s Hong Kong cinema; foreigners in Hong Kong cinema; history of martial arts; martial arts films; female action stars.
Meaghan Morris is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. Her books include Too Soon, Too Late: History in Popular Culture (1998); Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema (co-ed. 2005); Identity Anecdotes: Translation and Media Culture (2006) and Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies (co-ed. 2012). A former Chair of the international Association for Cultural Studies, Prof. Morris is currently Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society.