While Brian G. Hutton ended up as the final director, originally, High Road to China was helmed by John Huston, before being replaced by Sidney J. Furie. The musical score was composed by John Barry. It was the 27th highest-grossing film of 1983, bringing in $28,445,927 at the domestic box office.
Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) is a society heiress and flapper living the high-life in 1920s Istanbul. She needs to find her father, Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley), before he is officially declared dead or risk losing her inheritance to his scheming business partner, Bentik (Robert Morley). She only has 12 days. Eve hires World War I ace pilot Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck) and his aircraft. O'Malley is eager to take the job as he needs to leave town rather urgently himself. Eve, also an accomplished pilot, however, is determined to accompany him in his other aircraft, which causes the first of many arguments on the way from Istanbul and China.
Their journey in two biplanes (named "Dorothy" and "Lillian" after the famous Gish silent film star sisters) through six countries leads them to finally find the eccentric Bradley Tozer in China, where he is helping a small village defend itself against a local warlord. O'Malley and Eve help them win the final battle, but their one remaining aircraft is damaged in the process, leaving her seemingly unable to meet her deadline.
High Road to China is regarded as one of the better imitators that populated movie theaters in the years following Raiders of the Lost Ark. Rumor has it that it was "given" to Selleck as a sort of consolation prize for having to pass on Raiders of the Lost Ark due to scheduling conflicts with Magnum, P.I.
In early development, the film was slated to star Roger Moore and Jacqueline Bisset under the direction of John Huston.
Filming for High Road to China took place in Yugoslavia with a crew of 231 (145 Yugoslavs, 60 British, 15 Italians, 10 Americans, and one Frenchman). They also added 50 Yugoslav actors to the speaking cast and hired 4,000 extras. Headquarters for the film company was in the small Adriatic coastal town of Opatija, Croatia, located on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Rijeka at the foot of Mt. Ucka. It was filmed in Opatija and Istria, Croatia. Scenes set in Afghanistan were shot at Kamenjak near Rijeka, while scenes set in Turkey were filmed at Volosko, and the final battle in China was shot in Boljun.
Originally, Bristol F2B replicas were built by Vernon Homert of Ypsilanti, Michigan. This aircraft type was in the novel, but after construction, the replicas were thought to be dangerous to fly at high altitude and were replaced by two Stampe SV-4 biplanes, (G-AZGC and G-AZGE), provided by Bianchi Aviation Film Services.
High Road to China was the only new wide release on the March 18–20 weekend, and debuted atop the box office with $6,156,049. It eventually grossed over $28 million domestically.
Tom Selleck later recalled:
Patrick O’Malley I’m very fond of... There were actors at that point who had left a series and started a feature career, but there was no one at that point who was trying to do both at the same time. So that was unique. It also made the jury rather tough, because a lot of people didn’t see it that way, so I was walking into an arena where that wasn’t accepted. But it’s a good movie. It holds up.
Aerofiles, a historical aviation website, considered the film as "Strictly mediocre, with substandard action scenes and the flattest dialogue this side of the Great Wall." Aviation film historian Christian Santoir described the film thusly: "Arriving two years after 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 'Raiders of the End of the World' was in the same vein, despite certain missing qualities. This, however, could have been the start of another 'Indiana Jones'–type franchise." Film historian Stephen Pendo found High Road to China "... notable mainly for its aviation sequences, for it lacks character and plot development."
High Road to China was nominated for the 1984 Saturn Award as Best Fantasy Film, while Bess Armstrong was nominated as Best Actress at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Festival.
High Road to China was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in February 2012. In February 2013, Umbrella Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray.