Motown Records has been by far one of the most influential
record labels in music history. Berry Gordy produced more No. 1
hits than many of the most famous groups combined, including Elvis
and the Beatles.
In 1985, Gordy decided to take a short-lived stint in the film
business, creating one influential yet rarely remembered film that
characterizes the emptiness that was the 1980s. “The Last Dragon”
is, in many ways, a reflection of trends and insipidness from a
time that is often looked upon as the most unimportant decade of
the twentieth century.
Directed by prolific television filmmaker Michael Schultz
(“Boston Public” “Ally McBeal”), “The Last Dragon” is an early
precursor to many of today’s emergent rap/karate films. Akin to
recent cinema with crossover pop-singer stars, much of the film
serves as a platform to showcase popular music. Most notably,
slated in the film as Laura Charles, the once cover
girl-turned-church girl Vanity flaunts her comely figure by
performing some of her songs as a momentary escape from the rather
The film takes place in the heart of Harlem, a touching story of
Leroy Green (played un-notably by real Kung Fu master Taimok), a
Kung Fu student hoping to find “the glow.” In order to do so, he
must first find the Master. His journey, however, hardly seems
welcomed by Sho’nuff, the self-proclaimed “meanest, baddest,
low-down round this town” of Harlem. Of course, in order to prove
so, he must defeat Leroy, affectionately donned “Bruce Leroy,” the
only man who stands in his way.
Local arcade guru Eddie Arcadian (Christopher Murney, “Barton
Fink”) and Laura Charles become mixed in the fray as Eddie wants
his girlfriend’s video played on Laura’s show, and he’ll use any
means necessary to have his way.
Good guy Leroy oft finds himself protecting her from the vicious
goons sent to influence her. The natural love triangle ensues
between Laura, Leroy and his brother Ritchie, and the quest for the
Master finds incessant interruption from Sho’nuff.
Certainly this film is no more than B-movie acting with a poorer
than made-for-television plot, but it serves its purpose by
rendering the essence of the era. With break dancing, R & B and
music videos at the film’s core, it centers on the time’s fads
rather than any important character development. “The Last
Dragon’s” seeds can still be unearthed in today’s martial arts
superstar/hip-hop duo films including Steven Seagal’s recent stints
with DMX and Ja Rule.
Regardless of the rather dismal surface quality of the film,
much can be said about the reflection of society and entertaining
fight choreography. For many, the ’80s passed as a transition era
after a turbulent time in society. Wacky subcultures came to
prominence and cult followings in entertainment began to rise
alongside computers and videogames.
Above all else, however, culture seemed to lack a unifying,
overlying direction, and this idea comes full circle in the film.
It’s a facade, a window shopping of numerous popular foci, which
becomes abundantly evident in Eddie Arcadian’s arcade entrepreneur
dominance. His profession rose to a multi-million dollar industry
as the decade progressed.
Social implications aside, viewers must find appreciation in the
sheer ridiculousness of the film. Cheesy dialogue accompanied by
over-the-top characters – including what many consider the
antecedent to Busta Rhymes (or at least his main influence) in the
Sho’nuff character – provide the appropriate mindset for the once
“cool,” now unimpressive fighting. “The Last Dragon” is more of a
throwback than anything for lovers of the What Were They Thinking?
milieu that included Hypercolor and slap bracelets. And, of course,
it was just one badass movie that is too often overlooked in the
staggering number of articles covering the influence of the film