I loved this film as a child.
|Can you taste the 80s? CAN YOU?!|
What's it about?
Tonight's nostalgia pic is "The Last Dragon" (Sony/Tristar, 1985). Leroy Green (Taimak) is your typical Harlem youth… Who has spent his life training with a martial arts master (Thomas Ikeda) to learn inner peace -- and butt-kicking.
|Pure of heart, bereft of style.|
When his master informs him that he has nothing left to teach, Leroy begins his journey to locate the next master in his training so that he can unlock the "glow" (a superhuman mystical power). Returning to the neighborhood dressed in Chinese garb from the 1800s for some reason, he is immediately dubbed "Bruce Leroy" by the locals which catches the ire of local ganglord Sho'nuff, the self-proclaimed "Shogun of Harlem" (played by Julius Carry III).
|Pictured: Memorable villain.|
Meanwhile, video arcade owner and entrepreneur Eddie Arkadian (Christoper Murney) is seeking to get his girlfriend Angela (Faith Prince) onto the hottest television dance program in New York, "7th Heaven," which is hosted by the beautiful Laura Charles (former Prince protégé Vanity).
|I bet you can't tell what decade this is just by this picture.|
Eddie's heavy tactics and the goofy nature of Angela's music videos causes Laura to outright reject his business proposition, which leads to Eddie becoming increasingly antagonistic, culminating in him sending goons to assault Laura.
|The real villain is always a rich white man. That's not me being sarcastic: THE REAL VILLAINS ARE RICH WHITE MEN.|
|I honestly don't know what Laura's problem is: THESE ARE GREAT.|
Leroy happens upon this confrontation and saves her, resulting in a romantic bond between the two. As Eddie becomes more unhinged, his thirst for vengeance against Leroy leads to a team up with Sho'nuff to take down the emerging hero. Can Leroy save the people he loves and put an end to the villains' reign of terror?
I know that description is a little wordy, but there's a lot (and somehow not much) to unpack with this film. This is an oddly out of time mash-up of 70s "blacksploitation" films and kung-fu movies, with very little detail played to either. You'll notice in the introduction that I mentioned that Leroy studies the "martial arts" and not a specific martial art, because the movie makes absolutely no distinction between them; Leroy is trained by a clearly Japanese man but dresses like a stereotypical Chinese railroad worker (unless he's dressed as a ninja and using Japanese weapons).
|Pictured: Ikeda, an American man of Japanese descent playing a Japanese man training an American man who thinks he is a Chinese man in Chinese Kung-Fu. Got it? Right.|
Sho'nuff borrows his aesthetic heavily from Japanese samurai culture, but his moves are mostly kung-fu inspired. It's almost like the American producers loved watching kung-fu movies but couldn't bother doing the minimum of research on the cultures that inspired them.
|Still, he is committed.|
Cross-platform integration -- now with more synergy!
This is a Motown Productions picture, so there are a lot (and I mean, A LOT) of music videos and music awkwardly shoehorned into the runtime. Most memorable is El DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night," where DeBarge is totally there… in his video… being played in the background… not interacting with the rest of the cast…
|LIVE! (in video form)|
"The Last Dragon" has its own 80s rock theme song, which honestly makes the climax of the film even better. There are also multiple clips of various Bruce Lee movies shamelessly placed throughout the film during the downtime, possibly to distract from the fact that the body of the film doesn't really have much in the way of martial arts action.
|DEAD! (but live... in video form)|
My opinion: Recommended.
Having said that, let me just say in no uncertain terms that I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Is it a great film? No, but it is the BEST kind of bad movie: It's campy, extremely well-acted (outside of its two romantic leads), and best of all, it's NOT BORING. It's one of the rare instances where I loved the film as a kid and can love it now for completely different reasons. Everyone who saw this as a child (me included) was utterly terrified of Sho'nuff, but as an adult I can appreciate the way Julius Carry absolutely devours the scenery; every single time Sho'nuff and his gang of unrepentant weirdos are onscreen is a delight, a gift from the gods of cheesy goodness.
|Pictured: Entertainment in its purest form.|
While most of the film lacks action, and Taimak and Vanity for all their beauty can only give passable performances, the supporting cast is so great (Leroy's family is fantastic, especially Leo O'Brien as his brother, Richie -- the kid gives a fantastic performance, easily one of the best in the film) that it more than evens out.
|Love interest, but not that interesting.|
|Oddly enough, Vanity's hotness is inversely affected by the size of her hair.|
|I'm serious: This kid is fantastic and should have had a long career.|
There are even a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos by a few familiar faces (Keshia Knight Pulliam from "The Cosby Show" and Chazz Palminteri to name a couple).
|Hm... Can't seem to place him... William H. who?|
|His character was later murdered by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.|
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Seriously.|
The final fight of the film pits Leroy against various street fighters in a samurai showdown to find out who is the true king of the fighters. Even the animated special effects at the end are a delight, even if they don't really hold up to today's standards.
|Insert coins to continue.|
Rating and concerns.
While there is no real body count or swearing in this film, it is rated PG-13 for lots of extreme fighting, implied violence, and the occasional use of the "N" word, so just be aware of this if you're watching with young children or just adult idiots who think that it's okay to use.
|I know that cultural appropriation is a more sensitive topic nowadays, but these guys were always a little bit offensive.|
Where can you find it?
I watched it on DVD, but "The Last Dragon" is currently streaming on HBO Max, and is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video and VUDU.