Review: The Last Dragon (1985)
Starring Taimak, Vanity, Julius Carry III
Fight Choreography by Torrance Mathis
Directed by Michael Schultz
There have been many ripoffs of Bruce Lee films, and very few of them paid the master any real homage, which is still the case to this day (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story notwithstanding), but one of the best came from a place no one would have thought: Motown Productions under the production of the famous Berry Gordy.
Not that you wouldn’t have noticed. The film opens with a cool song-well this is Motown, so if nothing else you would think the movie would have some kickass music-and at least for me, it does. If you don’t like Debarge, then I can’t help you. Go watch Rapid Fire or something. The song plays over Taimak doing different martial arts moves, just to show you his skill level. I had never heard of him before this film, and I wondered to this day why he never did much else movie-wise. In this film he plays a guy named “Bruce” Leroy Green, and in another nod to Bruce, comes across as the country bumpkin. As stated many times, those guys are badasses, one and all. After his demo is over, his master takes a shot at him with an arrow to test his skills. Since he shot the arrow to the side of him I assume he was testing his ability to keep the arrow from hitting someone else. What a douche. Why not train Leroy to keep the arrow from hitting him? Wait, catching bullets in his teeth would be much safer, and more practical since city folk usually don’t attack with bows and arrows. So I take that back.
After the arrow scene, his master tells him that he’s reached the final level, where you can attain The Glow ™ , some light that makes your hands glow like light sabers, and can create sparks when you hit someone else who can do it. That’s so cool I expect my teacher to teach me that. Really. I believe in that shit. Soon Leroy’s master sends him out to find some old Chinese guy who can help him find it.
Feeling a bit lost, Leroy does what many of us do in the same position; go to the local movie theater and watch Enter the Dragon. This entire sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film, and you either go with it or not. This scene is classic, starting with a guy copying Bruce when he politely steps on Bob Wall’s face by doing the same to a boom box that some knuckleheads break dancing in the aisles brought with them, in a move that in real life would have gotten their asses kicked. Then we enter the villain Shonuff, played with gusto and charisma by the late Julius Carry III, and every line that escapes his mouth is pure gold. This guy hates Leroy, who seems to be unaware that, at least to one of Sho’s men, he stands between Shonuff and total supremacy. Of what I wasn’t sure, but it must have been important, ’cause Shonuff wants to fight Leroy however he can. This leads to a fight in the theater when a bunch of guys who think they can take Shonuff try to do so. I don’t know if Julius Carry knew any martial arts before the film, but his acting sells every single move, no matter how simple. (Keanu Reeves, take note.) In retrospect the fight was typical 80’s American style, but it’s all about Shonuff. And it works.
We then meet the secondary villain, Eddie Arcadian, basically a poor man’s Danny Devito, a promoter and gangster who is trying to get his girlfriend’s music video on a popular dance show hosted by the beautiful Laura Charles (Vanity). We then are show scenes at the show, and are treated to an Debarge song. Eddie really must love that annoying-ass girlfriend of his, as he’ll murder, kidnap, and assault people all in her name. Leroy soon meets Laura on the streets after an attempted kidnapping by Eddie’s men, all of whom look like guys who have had their asses kicked in Steven Seagal films. A decent (for the 80’s) fight scene that shows off Taimak’s skills. During the save Leroy drops the token his master gave him.
Oh yeah, before I forget, look for William H. Macy (Fargo) as Laura’s producer.
Soon Eddie does capture Laura and subjects her to the music, which is akin to waterboarding. Soon Leroy shows up to save her, a bit late since he had to run home to get his ninja outfit, but whatever. Once again he beats up the bad guys and saves Laura. Little does he know that Shonuff has gone to his family’s pizza place, and like many old school films, trashes the place looking him. Of course this scene is there for Leroy to doubt his personal vow not to fight since he is a man of peace, nevermind the asses he just kicked-twice. Ungrateful bastard put a piece of ass in front of saving his Dad’s place. Well, it was Vanity, so he scores a man pass for that one.
Since Eddie has been “pwnd” twice by Leroy he decides to hire Shonuff, and every bad guy lackey that William Sadler, Alan Rickman and Henry Silva passed on. While this is happening Laura takes Leroy to the studio where she shows him a music video she put together of Bruce Lee movies, and scores a kiss from a very awkward Leroy. Soon Laura is kidnapped again, and Leroy has to go save her again, and fights leftovers from the Road Warrior. Soon he’s joined by his students, which include then-child martial arts phenom Ernie Reyes Jr, who may have been about seven or eight, and gets to show off his stuff in a scene that is probably the best martial arts shown in the film.
The final battle battle between Leroy and Shonuff is filled with cool music and while not a great fight scene, the actors sell the face off well (Anyone in the Matrix films not named Colin Chou, take note). You’ll be humming the music here for days. Leroy gets the girl, the bad guys get beaten, and all is well in the world again, at least until the remake with Samuel L Jackson as Shonuff comes out. Argh.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) Typical 80’s American fight choreography, not very impressive, but not outright horrible.
STUNTS: (3) Not much to speak of here. Passable, but nothing to write home about.
DIRECTION: (7) Not bad. The camera doesn’t do any quick cut editing, and in some frames look very much like a Bruce Lee flick. The music puts this over the top.
STAR POWER: (8) As much as Taimak was the star of the film, this movie rests on the acting of Julius Carry, who creates one of the most memorable martial arts villains since Mr. Han. Every single line from his mouth is quotable gold.
FINAL GRADE: (9) Why a nine? Because this film isn’t one you watch for great fight scenes. You watch for the film itself, with the great music, a memorable villlain, and a film that epitomizes the 80’s.