Martial Arts

The Last Dragon

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                For years, people who know how much I love old karate films, especially Bruce Lee’s work, have been after me to see The Last Dragon.  They can’t believe that I had never seen this film.  I vaguely remember the trailers for The Last Dragon when it hit theaters in 1985, but I don’t remember ever really wanting to see the film.  After years of persuasive arguments, I finally watched the film with one of my friends.

                The Last Dragon stars Taimak as “Bruce” Leroy Green, a young man whose love of the martial arts and worship of Bruce Lee has led him to train with a martial arts master.  Leroy has finally reached the last level of his training.  His master (Thomas Ikeda) explains that he can’t teach Leroy anything further.  He encourages his student to go out in search of the illusive final level of martial arts, the mysterious “glow.” 

                Unfortunately, despite the directions and amulet his former master has given him, Leroy has some difficulty finding the master who can take him to this stage.  To make matters worse, he loses the amulet while saving the life of a damsel in distress.  After refusing to air his girlfriend’s (Angela Viracco) music video on her show, television and music star Laura Charles (Vanity) finds herself at war with arcade mogul and all-around bad sport Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney). 

                Realizing that his brother (Leo O’Brien) knows the identity of the woman he rescued, Leroy begs him to help find her so he can get his amulet back.   Leroy and Laura immediately realize that they are attracted to one another, but Leroy is focused on his goal – to complete his mission and attain “the glow.”  He decides to take some inspiration from Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury in an effort to get close to the master he has been looking for.

                Instead of finding a new master, Leroy finds himself embroiled in Eddie Arkadian’s war against Laura Charles, becoming Eddie’s worst enemy.  Even worse, Arkadian hires Leroy’s old nemesis, Sho’nuff, The Shogun of Harlem (Julius Carry), to take care of Leroy for good, a task Sho’nuff is more than happy to undertake.  Will “Bruce” Leroy Green ever find a way to attain the “glow” of the last martial arts level (the last dragon) or will Sho’nuff finally take prove he is the biggest and the baddest in all of Harlem?

                Now that I’ve watched The Last Dragon, I can honestly say that this has to be the campiest film I have ever seen.  The movie is downright silly in some parts and the acting is basically non-existent (the best acting is done in a cameo spot by a very young William H. Macy), although there is some nice charisma between Tamaik and Vanity (ah, the one-name syndrome that plagued the 80s).  That being said, I did find myself laughing often as the movie pokes fun at both the chop-sockey films of the 70s and early 80s and the 1980s pop culture.  The movie features a lot of Bruce Lee footage and the main character (despite having studied quite a few martial arts styles) takes a great deal of his style, including his battle cries, from the legend.  His battle cries and funky speaking style actually add a comedic tone to Leroy Green.  The end fight scene borrows quite a bit from the campier of the old karate films, complete with a “glow” show between the fighting warriors.

                Also hysterical are the 80s pop culture digs, like the verbiage (What it is!) and the dance moves.  I loved how Leroy’s brother used hip-hop dance moves to escape his ropes after being tied up by Arkadian’s thugs.  The clothing and hairstyles were also pretty funny – what were we thinking back then?  Also laughable was Sho’nuff’s Rick James look and his wardrobe, featuring football shoulder pads done up with martial arts symbols in the style of a shogun warrior.

                The movie does have a pretty interesting soundtrack featuring some memorable songs by The Temptations, DeBarge, Rockwell and more.  But, by far, the funniest songs are performed by Faith Prince (Angela Viracco) and I loved the videos that went along with them.  I wondered just why there was so much music in this film until I realized who the executive producer of the film was: Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records.

                Can I say that I loved watching The Last Dragon?  No, I can't honestly say that.  Can I say that I did find an awful lot to laugh at on a day that I could use a laugh?  Absolutely!  If you want to check out a film that pokes fun at the worst of the chop-sockey karate films and the 80s, then The Last Dragon is a film right up your alley.


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