It’s hard to express why I love Berry Gordy’s “The Last Dragon” so much. I have loved it for years ever since I was a small child and used to watch it religiously on network television every time it came on. Perhaps it’s the minority hero, perhaps it’s the Bruce Lee idolatry, who the hell knows? With “The Last Dragon” I stopped asking why I loved it a long time ago and just embraced it as one of my all time favorite action films. Yes, I said it’s one of my all time favorite action films. It’s not just a film but it’s an experience to boot. Taimak’s performance as Bruce Leroy is just so genuine and fun it’s hard to really rag on his presence here.
He’s the embodiment of everyone that loved Bruce Lee in the eighties. Lee caught on in the US in the seventies and eighties, and Taimak is just another of his disciples who takes from his presence and uses it as a means of battling evil. Surely “The Last Dragon” can be written off as a cash grab to take the action genre and use it as a form of promoting music from Gordy’s studio, but who cares? When a movie is this raucous and enthusiastic in its skin, I have a tough time really bashing it. Taimak plays Bruce Leroy, a hardcore Bruce Lee fan who lives in the rough streets of New York City. He’s something of an oddity as he takes on Lee’s teachings and uses it as a way of life. Despite being mocked he’s comfortable with who he is to the point where he uses chopsticks to eat pop corn at the movie theater.
Events spiral out of control when a new gang lord known as the Sho’nuff the Shogun of Harlem begins wreaking havoc on the streets and is hell bent on challenging Leroy for the title of martial arts grand master. Meanwhile a gorgeous music video show host named Laura (Vanity) is being courted by the evil Arkadian to show his girlfriend’s music video on her show. When she refuses he sets off a plot to kidnap Laura, and Leroy comes to rescue when she takes a liking to him. When Sho’Nuff and Arkadian team up, Leroy has to conjure up his skills to save Laura once and for all. “The Last Dragon” is never quite sure what kind of movie it is. Maybe it’s a spoof, maybe blaxploitation, maybe just a slick twist on the action genre.
In its confusion it ends up being a really slick Frankenstein monster of genres stitched together to form one damn good movie. The entire cast seems to have a good time with the material including the late Julius J. Carry III who is brutally over the top as the film’s villain. He’s the guy you love to hate, and once he and Leroy begin battling one another, it unfolds in to a raucous finale. The film is set smack in to the middle of the eighties, so while it’s dated, the charm comes from the painfully out of style clothing and endless references to break dancing. There’s also a wonderful soundtrack comprised of artists like DeBarge and Stevie Wonder. Thankfully, “The Last Dragon” is an off the wall action hybrid that embraces its goofiness and still manages to entertain a great deal. Say what you want about it, but I still love it.