The Last Dragon (1985)

Rated PG-13

Starring: Taimak, Vanity, Julius J. Carey III and Christopher Murney

Rated: PG-13 Action/Comedy/Drama

Set primarily in Harlem, The Last Dragon is about Leroy Green (Taimak), a young Black martial artist who has dreams of becoming great, like his idol, kung fu master, Bruce Lee.  His dedication to his art and his admiration of Lee has led Leroy to often be called, “Bruce Leroy”.  Because he has risen to “The Last Dragon”, the ultimate level of accomplishment in his martial arts training, Master (Thomas Ikeda) advises him to seek the guidance from Master Sum Dum Goy.  Leroy, feeling comforted by a medal that was said to have been Bruce Lee’s, seeks to undertake this spiritual journey.  With this new master, Leroy hopes to manifest the inner energy, known as “The Glow”, that only a true master would be able to exhibit.

Unbeknownst to Leroy are several obstacles standing in the way of his progressing on his journey.  There is Sho’nuff Shogun (Julius J. Carey III), who views Leroy as the only hindrance to his becoming a true martial arts master.  Video arcade mogul, Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney), whose attempts to force business with 7th Heaven video jockey host, Laura Charles (Vanity), also distracts Leroy.  Another obstacle is the question of loyalty to and protection of loved ones.  Finally, the possibility of love with Laura could sway Leroy from his path.

Can he be what others want of him?  Or is becoming a true master most important? 

A Motown production, The Last Dragon was initially received with mixed reviews but has gained a cult following since its release.  While some felt it was campy, it was exciting for many viewers, especially young African-Americans.  The film plot, featuring as the protagonist a young, disciplined Black martial artist, vastly differed from typical film storylines at that time or even presently.  The vibrancy of fashion and trend-setting, of-the-moment music, Motown staples, shined throughout the film. 

As always to Berry Gordy, the music is important, and the soundtrack proved this.  Featuring songs by younger artists including Vanity, Charlene and Rockwell, Gordy’s son, the soundtrack also contained tracks by Motown legends, Stevie Wonder as well as Smokey Robinson, who sang a duet with Syreeta, Wonder’s ex-wife.  The Last Dragon soundtrack launched the Michigan brothers-sister quintet, DeBarge, who also performed their chart-topping hit, “Rhythm of the Night”, in the film.  It also heralded the return of singer, songwriter and music producer great, Willie Hutch, to Motown.  Hutch composed the track, “The Glow”, and another song, “Inside You”, that featured the legendary musical group, The Temptations.

The Last Dragon catapulted Taimak and Vanity, both new to the big screen, to film stardom.  Carey III will always be remembered for his iconic portrayal of Sho’nuff, to the extent that Busta Rhymes pays homage to Carey’s performance in his music video, “Dangerous”.  Ironically, while Carey III, a trained actor, learned martial arts to perform in The Last Dragon, Taimak, a skilled martial artist, learned acting while on the film set.

Also, of interest are the locations, such as the Harlem Karate Institute and the Victory Theater on 42nd Street, in the film.  The institute, founded by Grandmaster Ernest Hyman, is where the Dojo and training scenes were filmed.  The theater, which showed adult films, is the setting where the scene when Sho’nuff and his minions interrupt the showing of Enter the Dragon, which of course stars Bruce Lee.  Appropriately so, African-American martial artist Ron Van Clief served as the fight choreographer for the film.

In honor of the film, a Blu-ray+DVD HD 30th Anniversary edition of The Last Dragon was released in 2015. The artwork was created by the acclaimed artist Gary Pullin of the Mondo Gallery.

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