REVIEW: “The Last Dragon”

By Daisy Rosario

This camp classic conjures up memories of NYC in the 1980s.

Taimak stars as Bruce Leroy. Photo: Cenetext/Allstar.

Long before “The Man With The Iron Fists,” there was “The Last Dragon.” I grew up on this campy collision of kung fu and 1980s urban black culture. Having recently re-watched it, I have to say, it holds up. It also offers an interesting glimpse of New York City in 1985.

The movie tells the tale of Bruce Leroy (yeah, that’s right), a wannabe kung fu master from Harlem played by unknown actor Taimak, who doesn’t fit into the world around him. When his sensei tells him there is only one step left to reach the final level, he embarks on a journey to find “the master.”

In the meantime, a crazed arcade owner, appropriately named Eddie Arcadian, is stalking a music video host, played by former Prince protégé Vanity. He wants Vanity to feature his girlfriend’s video on her TV show. Leroy stumbles into defending Vanity while battling his own problem, namely a big bad kung fu master named Sho-nuff, or “The Shogun of Harlem.”

Sound ridiculous? Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The script is surprisingly well put together and the story unravels with funny details at a good pace. The actors are strong too, for the most part. Academy Award nominee William H. Macy has a small part early in the film. Broadway stalwart Faith Prince plays Arcadian’s girlfriend. Lead actor Taimak was inexperienced, but captures the characters awkwardness and naiveté convincingly.

And, oh the music! It’s an integral part of the movie. Motown founder Berry Gordy produced the film. (In fact, it was marketed as “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.”) The movie features original songs, with the exception of a few 80s hits, like DeBarge’s “Rythym of the Night.” The lyrics are a wonderful exercise in being literal as they are seemingly narrating many scenes.

There is a real sincerity to the film. It also plays on stereotypes in fun and smart ways, like when Leroy interacts with a group of Chinese men who want to be rappers. Sure, it can be corny at times, but many enjoyable films from the 80s veer in that direction while still being good.

The movie is available on DVD and on iTunes for purchase and rental.

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