Passage of time and enough nostalgia can make cult films out of anything, even the films that were originally built on nostalgia. Something like that happened to The Last Dragon, 1985 martial arts comedy directed by Michael Schultz, a film which is unmistakably 1980s despite having its plot and character heavily influenced by certain elements of 1970s pop culture.
Protagonist, played by Taimak, is Leroy Green, young African American martial artist whose lifelong dream is to learn the ways of his idol Bruce Lee. He dresses like him, talks like him, behaves like him but ultimately his master (played by Thomas Ikeda) informs him that he has reached the final level and the ultimate secret of becoming master must find within himself and unleash the mystical power of "Glow". Master that can apparently help him lives somewhere in New York and Leroy begins spiritual journey during which he will encounter Sho’nuff a.k.a. "Shogun of Harlem" (played by Julius Carry), flamboyant martial artist who sees Leroy and as the only obstacle to his own total supremacy. Sho’nuff and his cohorts challenge Leroy, but he initially tries to live by noble ideals and refuses to fight. In the meantime, Laura Charles (played by Vanity), owner of rock club "7th Heaven" and host of popular TV show, is approached by Eddie Arkadian (played by Christopher Murney), shady music producer obsessed with the idea of making his talentless girlfriend Angela Virraco (played by Faith Prince) into star. When she rejects her demand to have Angela in her show, Arkadian decides to her kidnap in order to change her mind. By fortunate set of circumstances, Leroy appears,. defeats Arkadian’s goons and rescues Laura.
Produced by Berry Gordy, legendary music producer and founder of Motown Records, The Last Dragon was obviously made in order to promote some of that label’s talents. That aim was only partially achieved, because "Rhytm of the Night" by DeBarge is the only piece of soundtrack that actually reached music charts. "7th Heaven", performed by Vanity, on the other hand, is dreadful and deservingly received Razzie nomination. Thankfully, the cast did much better job. Tiamak, despite receiving his first acting lessons on the set, is more than adequate in his role, displaying not only undisputed martial arts skills but also certain talent for comedy. Vanity, despite her good looks, is bland, which is definitely couldn’t be said of Christopher Murney as over-the-top villain or Faith Prince who delivers very entertaining Cyndi Lauper impersonation. But all the actors of this film are shadowed by Julius Carey who is simply formidable as the protagonist’s egotistical, flamboyant and charismatic nemesis. Carey’s performance alone compensates for many flaws in this film, ranging from some problems with pacing in the beginning, varying quality of humour and mostly annoying 1980s music. On the other hand, The Last Dragon, despite being savaged by critics, was quite popular and is still fondly remembered by those who have seen it in 1980s. Character actors like Mike Starr, Chazz Palminteri and William H. Macy who appeared here don’t have reasons to be embarrassed. The Last Dragon is silly but entertaining film that could be recommended even to the viewers who aren’t to nostalgic towards 1980s or 1970s kung fu films.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
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