One of the biggest childhood favorites that I gladly admit to loving is “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.”
Many film buffs based in knowing cult classics or bad films in general just know what film I’m talking about and they just can’t help talk about and bask in all its pure horrid presence. To this day I fondly remember my mom asking “You actually like that movie?” every time I decided to watch it.
Back when the CW was simply WPIX Channel 11 in New York, their rotating limited library of films were cyclical to the point where I knew what would be on before it came on. I recall always reading TV Guide and cutting out the small pictures advertising certain films appearing within the week. About five minutes before our ten o’clock bed time my mom would turn on the light to our room and begin fumbling through the drawers for clothes for school the next day. This was also a subtle hint to turn off my TV. Every time Bruce Leroy was about to master “the glow” against the Shogun of Harlem, I still see the light turning on signaling my bed time.
Memories like these are just special to me, and often times it’s why movies like “The Last Dragon,” no matter how completely unwatchable they may be, hold a special place in my heart. The music is fun, the tribute to Bruce Lee is admirable, and the movie just has an originality to it that you have to appreciate.
“The Last Dragon” is a bad movie, but sadly it’s a good memory of my childhood. To a young boy like me, this was the action genre at its finest, with amazing performances, and a climactic battle that rivaled Luke and Darth. You can stop laughing now. Also, no matter what you think of the performances, pop star Vanity as DJ Laura Charles wasn’t bad to look at. She was definitely a logical love interest for Bruce Leroy.
Anyway, “The Last Dragon” is the worst kind of Bruce Lee homage. Imagine a kung fu film built in the same vein “The Wiz” was. A young man named Bruce Leroy (Taimak, whose acting is on par with Hayden Christensen) who is genuinely a martial arts buff and appears at low rent theaters dressed in traditional garb of kung fu masters eating popcorn with chopsticks finds himself at the mercy of a local shogun.
This Shogun is named “Sho’ Nuff the Shogun of Harlem” who also walks around in Samurai garb and the traditional hairdo. He finds himself hating Leroy, and plans to kill him, while Leroy battles an evil music promoter, and searches for an ultimate power known as “The Glow.” This power known as “The Glow” is a deus ex machina without much of an explanation. It’s never confirmed if “The Glow” is some sort of power by Bruce Lee, turns you in to Bruce Lee, or reveals in the finale that Bruce Leroy is the African American re-incarnation of the actual Bruce Lee. In either case, the finale is entertaining if immensely moronic.
This leaves the film open for a lot of music blaring over the dialogue nine times out of ten (obviously all music owned by Berry Gordy of Motown), wildly neon set pieces that know no definition of the word downbeat, and a ridiculous montage of Bruce Lee scenes playing while Leroy goes orgasmic and kisses his love interest who happens to be the local popular VJ.
I was never sure if “The Last Dragon” was honestly intended as a film aimed for the African American demographic a la “The Wiz,” or if it was an honest spoof of martial arts films that marketed on the pop of the eighties in the process, because if you watch this you know the film is laughably bad, but you can’t help but wonder if the actors know this. I do know that Berry Gordy had a ton of music artists to shill to young crowds, and he’s never shy throwing their music out there at every single second the film airs. You have to love “Rhythm of the Night,” at least. And Dwight David’s Theme song to the movie is very catchy, to say the least.
Suffice it to say, “The Last Dragon” is swill, but the dialogue is often times so catchy, and the scenes so memorable, you’ll find yourself recollecting it whether you realize it or not. Watching Leroy eating popcorn with chopsticks while the audience behind him in the theater mimics the martial arts movie playing, or the Shogun of Harlem.
Later spoofed in a Busta Rhymes music video, “Sho’ Nuff” the Shogun is probably the most memorable aspect of this film for all the wrong reasons. With long hair, a bright red outfit, and teeth he flashes like a dog, the late Julius Carry utterly defines the term over the top with a villain that’s too cartoon to be threatening.
“The Last Dragon” is not particularly a bad film to me, but more a bad film that I can’t help think of with fond memories, because I’ve seen it repeatedly, and couldn’t help gush over it, especially in the climax where Leroy catches a bullet with his teeth, and proceeds to mimic Bruce Lee’s signature Kung-Fu arm wave in a multi-colored sequence.
Why I ever loved this film, I’ll never know. But you have to respect it for being so bad without apology. “The Last Dragon” shows that obsessions with Bruce Lee can lead to awful results.
Oh yes, word has it Taimak is trying to fuel a sequel to this. ‘Sho Nuff.