PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Set in New York City, a teenage martial arts student named Leroy Green (often referred to as “Bruce Leroy”), with dreams of becoming a great martial artist like his idol Bruce Lee, is training with his master (Thomas Ikeda) where he puts to the test to catch a blue arrow. After randomly selecting the blue arrow, the master humorously scolds Leroy only to tell that he reached the highest level of martial arts accomplishment known as “The Final Level”. Martial artists who reach this “Final Level” are said to possess “The Glow”, a mystical energy that can only be attained by a true martial arts master. When a fighter’s hands glow, he is one of the best in the world and when his entire body glows, he is the greatest fighter alive. His master gives him a medal to signify his achievements and releases him to embark on his journey to becoming the “Last Dragon” and wielding the power of “The Glow” if he can discover Master Sum Dum Goy.
At a movie theater showing a Bruce Lee film, Sho’nuff (Julius J. Carry III), the Shogun of Harlem, and his gang interrupt the showing, and order the viewers to leave. Sho’nuff grabs ahold of a child who directs him to Leroy watching the movie, and confronts Leroy over the prophecy that Leroy will defeat Sho’nuff. After an audience member tells Sho’nuff to shut up, Sho’nuff engages in a martial arts battle with several audience members, and victoriously proclaims he will defeat Leroy. Wanting to get a hold of 7th Heaven video host Laura Charles (Vanity), Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) sends his men to kidnap her after a taping of her show only to be rescued by Leroy. Leroy easily defeats the thugs and departs, but loses his medal in the process. Arkadian’s men return to tell him that the plan failed, in which Eddie instructs them to get her in one piece. While Leroy is training pupils at a martial arts school, Sho’nuff and his gang break in, and apprehend Johnny Yu (Glen Eaton) forcing Leroy to bow down before him. After Leroy bows down, Sho’nuff and his gang leave threatening that Leroy will have to face him one day.
At the breakfast table, Leroy’s family sees an advertisement for Laura’s dance competition. Begging his brother Richie (Leo O’Brien) at their father’s pizza restaurant to take him to the competition in order to see Laura, Richie agrees as long as he does not tell anyone there that he is his brother. When they arrive to the dance competition outside, Richie leaves in order to sneak in through the back leaving Leroy alone. While waiting, he sees Laura kidnapped in a Motion Video Production car, and a plate reveals that the men work for Eddie Arkadian Productions. There, Eddie asks Laura to promote his girlfriend Angela Viracco’s (Faith Prince) music video on her program, but Laura declines the offer. Suddenly, Leroy breaks through rescuing Laura in the process, and at her place, Laura returns Leroy’s medal.
At the pizza restaurant, Sho’nuff and his gang threaten the Green family over Leroy’s unwillingness to face him by destroying the restaurant. When Leroy sees the destruction, he trains aggressively at the gym with Johnny until he is interrupted by Laura who wants him to become her bodyguard. Leroy declines the offer feeling he must continue training. Back at Eddie Arkadian Productions, Eddie again promises to make Angela a star as soon as he gets his revenge on Leroy. Wanting not to hurt anyone in the process of achieving stardom, Angela leaves Eddie. At Sho’nuff’s place, Eddie hires Sho’nuff to defeat Leroy. Meanwhile, Angela tells Johnny that Eddie is looking to get back at Leroy.
On a date, Laura takes Leroy to the 7th Heaven studio where she shows him clips of Bruce Lee films, and shortly after, kiss romantically angering Richie, who managed to sneak in from the back. When Leroy leaves Laura to talk to Master Sum Dum Goy from three Asian teenagers, Eddie kidnaps Laura and Richie. There, he discovers that Master Sum Ting Go is actually a computer, and confronts his former master whom indirectly tells him that he is the master. Leroy returns to the gym to prepare himself to face Sho’nuff, and when he returns to the 7th Heaven studio, he is confronted by several fighters whom he all defeats with the help of Johnny, his brother, and Leroy’s pupils. Using Laura as bait, Eddie leads Leroy to an old apartment complex where he faces off against Sho’nuff in a brutal battle. At first, Sho’nuff overcomes Leroy using “The Glow”, and dives Leroy’s head in water several times attempting to force him to proclaim he is the Master. Through several flashbacks, Leroy remembers that he is the Master achieving the Glow, and finally defeats Sho’nuff.
Shortly after, Leroy easily defeats Eddie, and ties him up where he is soon arrested by two police officers. Laura is returned to the studio for another taping of the show where Leroy arrives, and the two romantically kiss. Unashamed by his brother, Richie tells that Leroy is his brother and “the Master”.
Motown is known for being the mecca of R & B music in the 50s and 60s, churning out artists like Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, etc. Sadly, after such hits as Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz, The Last Dragon would be the final film to come out of this studio, before it was shut down or rebranded under a different name. Did it go out with a bang or a whimper?
What is this about?
Produced by Motown music mogul Berry Gordy, this all-purpose pastiche of 1970s and ’80s pop culture follows Bruce Lee wannabe Leroy Green, who must protect pretty video jockey Laura Charles from a gang boss.
What did I like?
Martial arts. As you can guess from the title, this film was inspired, at least partially, by the films of Bruce Lee. Plenty of clips are featured throughout the film, but early on, Enter the Dragon is being shown. Tamiak is not quite Bruce Lee, but who is? He does manage to capture the same spirit and athleticism that Lee brought to his films. Watch him kick ass throughout the entire film, but only when he has to is something that is a pleasure to see.
Music. Some have said the music in this film is cheesy and horrible, and not in a good way, excluding DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night”. However, I find myself tapping my foot everytime these songs randomly pop in my head, which is another redeeming factor of the soundtrack. Nearly 30 years after its initial release, one can still remember the songs fondly. Sure, they are cheesy, but this is an 80s flick, the apex era of cheesy tunes!
Who’s the master? The thing that might be best remembered about this could very well be Sho’Nuff, the shogun of Harlem. The outrageous costumes, visor sunglasses, and over the top personality, it is not very hard to see why. Sure, the guy is about as likable as foot fungus, and is actually a subvillian, but watch this film, then a week later see if you can remember who the primary antagonist is.
What didn’t I like?
Arcade. Antagonists should be effective, memorable, and have at least a halfway decent plan. The problem with our main antagonist, Eddie Arkadian, is that he is none of these things. The only thing he can be considered as is a lookalike Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Otherwise, all he does is try to force his girlfriend’s horrible music down everyone’s throat, even though she doesn’t seem to be as keen on the idea as he is. As I said before, Sho’Nuff is the superior and more interesting antagonist. This guy is just there as the token white guy, if you really think about it.
Bruce Leroy. Have you heard of Taimak? No? Well, don’t feel bad. The guy hasn’t done much in the way of acting, but is a stuntman and martial artist. Watching him act, though, is painful. The guy tries, he really does, but I think he was just cast because he had the look that Berry Gordy seemed to favor and was also big in the mid-80s (look at early episodes of The Cosby Show for examples, specially with Denise and Vanessa’s boyfriends).
Little brother. The little brother in this flick could not get more on my nerves. His bad attitude, loud mouth, and cockiness, not to mention the lack of respect he has for his brother, rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go. Then you throw in that when the family pizza place is attacked he blames Leroy, as if he can be everywhere at once. It got to be so bad that when he was kidnapped, I half wanted him to not be rescued!
While it may not be a quintessential 80s film that everyone knows like The Breakfast Club, The Last Dragon does hold a special place for many. The story is uplifting, the action exciting, and Sho’Nuff is a great character. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly. This is one of the few films around that can be watched by the whole family, which isn’t specifically a family film. Check it out sometime!
4 out of 5 stars