Now I’m sure there are some that would say The Last Dragon is not a hip hop movie. Technically I would actually agree with that statement. The movie was executive produced by Berry Gordy who is best known for being the founder of Motown. So maybe it is better to call this a “Motown movie.” But The Last Dragon just feels like a hip hop movie – even though there’s no real rap in the movie, the only musician is Vanity and she is definitely not hip hop. While it embraces the lifestyle of the mid-eighties it really doesn’t pick up on the hip hop culture. STILL – I am going to count this as a hip hop movie and included it here. It also helps that the film is directed by Michael Schultz who was well known for directing urban films like Car Wash and Krush Groove (and would move from this film to the Fat Boys classic Disorderlies).

The Last Dragon is about a martial arts student named Leroy Green who is suddenly told by his master that he can no longer teach him. Rather the teacher has taught Leroy all there is to teach. Now there’s still lessons to be learned but Leroy is going to have to go out in the world and complete the final lessons on his own. Leroy is to find a new master, Sum Dum Goy, who will be able to finish his training and ultimately gain the power of “The Glow.” I’m not really sure how to describe The Glow. It is sort of like an energy field that surrounds the body and can be used for more stunning attacks. Kinda like the Force…but you can actually see the Glow. It’s pretty badass.

So Leroy is forced out into the world of New York City to try and achieve The Glow. Now Bruce Leroy is a legend on the streets – everyone knows who he is, that he can kick some ass, and there’s even some legends including he can catch bullets with his teeth. What is fact and what is fiction? No one wants to know more than Sho’nuff (Julius J. Carry III) who calls himself the Shogun of Harlem. Sho’nuff thinks himself to be the biggest and baddest kung fu master on the streets and he doesn’t like feeling threatened by anyone…especially Bruce Leroy. When the two are introduced together we immediately see that Sho’nuff will only be happy by fighting Leroy and taking him down. Bruce Leroy isn’t really interested in fighting Sho’nuff. He’s more concerned about completing his lessons, finding the master, and achieving The Glow.

Leroy’s Pop (Jim Moody) owns a pizza shop called Daddy Green’s Pizza. The family works there including Leroy’s little brother Ritchie (Leo O’Brien) who thinks that Bruce Leroy is nothing but a whack job who walks around the streets in that whacked out kung fu clothing and isn’t interested in dancing or girls. Girls and music is all Ritchie can ever think about.

Ritchie most wants to get into 7th Heaven which is like the #1 spot to go dancing. It’s the home of local DJ/VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) who is just one beautiful woman that really loves her music.

Now Laura has her own problems. There’s a guy named Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) who is a video game arcade mogul (back when arcades were huge). He has this girlfriend/singer named Angela (Faith Prince) that he wants to break into the business. Eddie’s big plan is to get Angela’s song into the hands of Laura so she can play it at 7th Heaven. That’s the plan. Now there’s a couple things wrong with the plan. #1 is that Angela really isn’t that great of a singer. #2 is that Laura recognizes that and, therefore, doesn’t want to play the song. Now the movie sets up Arkadian as this big and powerful mogul. He has a shit ton of money – which I guess you could do if you owned arcades back in 1985. But he has this dream. Get Angela’s song played at 7th Heaven. He won’t take no for an answer. So when Laura actually says, “NO!” he must take action to make sure that the song IS played at 7th Heaven.  This……….is the plot of the film.

Of course who comes to the rescue but Bruce Leroy. He saves Laura from Arkadian and his goons. Laura is damn happy that this good looking guy came to her rescue. He may be a bit odd (after all he walks around New York dressed in a kung-fu outfit) but he can handle himself. Laura has the idea to hire Leroy to be her bodyguard and keep Arkadian at bay. The only thing is Leroy is too busy looking for the master, trying to achieve the final level, and obtain The Glow to worry about all of her problems.

Of course it isn’t over for Arkadian. He wants what he wants and what he wants is for Laura to play this song…no matter what. So his answers is to hire a whole bunch of ugly looking goons to beat up Leroy and force Laura to play the song at 7th Heaven.

Leroy continues his journey which brings him to a building that makes fortune cookies. The Master is said to reside inside but the three guys who run the joint won’t let Leroy anywhere inside to see The Master. But really? The Master makes fortune cookies in New York? Even when I was a kid I thought that the plot point was really stupid.

Sho’nuff continues to rampage New York looking to fight Bruce Leroy. It takes him to Leroy’s pops pizza shop where he just ends up breaking everything, trying to lure Leroy out into a fight. It doesn’t work as Leroy arrives at the pizza parlor right after Sho’nuff and his goons take off. His brother Ritchie calls him out as being a phony because even though he knows all this kung fu shit he never chooses to use it – even when times seem pretty tough.

Arkadian calls his goons out and they all go to 7th Heaven to take on Leroy. By himself it looks like it would be the end of Leroy but luckily all of his students show up to help him.  This includes the one and only Ernie Reyes Jr – known for some amazing roles as Red Sonja, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Surf Ninjas, and his awesome cameo as a badass fighter in The Rundown. He is really little here – I imagine he’s only around 8 or 9 years old – but when it comes to fighting he really kicks ass against these bigger, badder guys that Arkadian hired.

Arkadian isn’t out for the count even though his thugs can’t match Leroy and his students. In a play no one (or everyone) could see Arkadian hired Sho’Nuff to take out Leroy. He offered him a ton of money but Sho’Nuff wasn’t having it. All he wanted is Leroy at the appropriate place at the appropriate time and he would do the rest. Arkadian is able to hold up his end of the bargain and we finally get to the end to see Leroy versus Sho’Nuff.

At the first it just seems like Sho’Nuff is toying with him and even with all of his skills it seems like Leroy may just be a bit outmatched. And then it happens…the moment we’ve been waiting for. We finally see ‘THE GLOW.’ Except it isn’t Bruce Leroy who finds The Glow…it’s Sho’Nuff. Leroy just looks at him astonished. This is what he has been on this long, hard journey and now the man he is facing has the ultimate power. And he has nothing.

The fight winds down pretty quick from there as Sho’Nuff really takes down Leroy. How can he be a match for him? As he is lying there defeated Sho’Nuff gets to fucking with him and nearly drowning the poor man. Sho’Nuff is asking one questions to Leroy, “Who is the master?” He asks him the question over and over. “Who is the master?” Sho’Nuff only wants one answer…to know that HE is the one true master.

But of course we get the moment we all want. Leroy starts to think about the journey his master sent him on and quickly reflects on his long journey trying to reach the final level and The Glow. Suddenly Leroy realizes that he knows exactly who the master is. It’s him. HE IS THE MASTER. And once he realizes it? He finally is able to obtain The Glow.

It’s a great scene – Leroy’s whole body glowing in gold while Sho’Nuff is barely able to get The Glow out of his hands. Sho’Nuff doesn’t understand but that is quite alright. Leroy puts down the true beatdown the man deserves.

Arkadian shows up in the end – still not ready to give up. This time around the man has a gun and he is ready to shoot Leroy Brown. He actually lines up his shot and fires. Leroy goes down. This is the end of the movie. Do we have our main character die in the very end from a gunshot?

Not at all. Suddenly Leroy is very much alive and revealed to have caught the bullet WITH HIS FRIGGIN TEETH. WITH HIS TEETH!!! How fucking amazing is that shit!??!?!?!?! He then quickly takes down Arkadian who is literally too stunned by what just happened to even fight back.

Somehow the movie got made and was a very decent success at the box office. On just a budget of $10 million the film was able to gross on the upwards of $25 million – very good for an urban film that features a shit ton of kung fu.

There’s some great actors who briefly appear in the film. I can’t believe I’m saying this (and that it’s actually true) but William H. Macy is in this film. WILLIAM H. MACY! He only appears for just a moment as what I assume is a producer of sorts at 7th Heaven. Looking at his credits this is only his fourth film so I’m sure the man was just taking whatever he could land. But it blows my mind that the two time Emmy winner and three time Screen Actors Guild Award winner (along with his Academy Award nomination) actually got his start in The Last Dragon. It wouldn’t be too much longer that Woody Allen would cast him in Radio Days and he would continue to bigger and better things from there.

Mike Starr plays Arkadian’s goon Rock. Once again here is a quality actor in a not so quality film. Starr actually has a ton of fun in this role. He has some monster piranha thing he keeps in a tank in Arkadian’s office that eats like whole sides of beef. I never got what the hell that was and they never reveal it. I wonder if they talk about it in the commentary. I’m not much of a commentary man but I imagine listening to this one would be a lot of fun. Starr acted in so many movies after The Last Dragon that if I listed them all it would literally go on for a couple paragraphs. I think, for me, his most notable role is that of the hitman in The Farrelly Brother’s classic Dumb and Dumber. He also got his ass handed to him by Steven Seagal in that massive bomb On Deadly Ground. There’s so many great people in that movie including Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Caine, John C. McGinley, and Joan Chen – but Starr’s scene is one of the most memorable from the piece of garbage.

You would have thought that starring in this film would have brought more starring roles for Taimak. At least a Last Dragon 2 or some other great martial arts picture. They were always looking for a vehicle to put Jackie Chan in back in the eighties so it might have been a great idea to put those two together…it could have been Rush Hour for the 80’s. While Taimak had a few other roles after his debut in The Last Dragon I have never seen him in anything else besides this movie. Here’s an idea – put him in Expendables 4. That would kickass. Him and Kurt Thomas from Gymkata. Okay…maybe I’m just dreaming here.

It was great having Vanity in this film back when she was just so killer sexy and before she went and found God. Then she just gave up everything. She didn’t do that many films after The Last Dragon but she did do some classics like John Stamos’ Never Too Young To Die and Action Jackson with Carl Weathers. All three are some seriously great 80s movies but The Last Dragon truly is the one that rises above the rest of her filmography. It’s way too bad she just quit acting and show business in general. She was truly the whole package: a great singer with a great look who could also act. True in this film she is just the damsel in distress, but it really makes me want to go out and save her.

Jim Moody plays Leroy’s dad. I like Moody though I will always remember him from Who’s The Man first and The Last Dragon second. Jim doesn’t get a ton of screentime here and when he does he is usually telling Leroy to get off his butt and do something other than running around New York doing kung-fu. Remember he’s a self made man who runs his own pizza parlor so he does deserve some respect. How many black guys in the 80s owned their own pizza parlors?

Keisha Knight Pullam plays Leroy’s little sister. She has about zero to do in this movie but I only bring her up because it wasn’t too long after this that she was cast on the monster hit The Cosby Show – making her famous nationwide. She’s a little cutie in this movie. It’s quite easy to see why the producers cast her.

Christopher Murney plays Arkadian and while he has been in a massive amount of other projects I only recognize him from The Last Dragon. It’s an evil role that he really got to sink his teeth into and he definitely chews up the scenery every time he’s onscreen. He’s been such films as the hockey classic Slap Shot, Stephen King’s cult horror film Maximum Overdrive, and the Michael J. Fox comedy The Secret of My Success. But again…I don’t remember him playing a part in any of those films. I guess they truly didn’t give him enough to do and he got lost in the shuffle. But as Eddie Arkadian? The man shines.

Julius Carry was the other baddie playing Sho’Nuff. He was just one mean looking dude.  I was always happy to see Carry pop up in television shows and most famously he played a sidekick of sorts in Bruce Campbell’s The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. That show was really a true classic and I was always pissed that it never found its audience and got cancelled. If you like his performance in this movie I would highly suggest searching Briscoe County, Jr. out. Carry and Bruce Campbell had a great rapport.

The only other quick mentions I can think about this movie is that it very quickly features actor/writer Chazz Palminteri. Here he is listed as Thug #2 and only has just a few short seconds of screen time. Still, and I hate to sound like a broken record here, it is amazing to see someone of his caliber appearing in a movie like The Last Dragon – no matter how brief it is. Last Dragon was literally Palminteri’s second film. Every time I see him I can’t help but think of A Bronx’s Tale or The Usual Suspects.

As for the soundtrack you couldn’t touch it. You still can’t touch it. The Last Dragon Soundtrack was simply amazing and once you hear the songs in the movie you can pretty much sing them all day. The best song by far is Debarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” which truly was a song that you couldn’t escape in the eighties. It was a song that hit multiple charts around the world including #3 on Billboard and #1 for the Billboard Hot Black Singles (which I guess used to be a thing back in the eighties).

Now Vanity is a more than capable singer but her song on the soundtrack is called “7th Heaven.” She sings it in the movie. You wish that she didn’t sing it in the movie. It is an absolutely horrible track and I feel ashamed for whoever wrote it and produced it. I feel horrible for Vanity too. It’s just…bad. Stevie Wonder was on the album as was Smokey Robinson and The Temptations. I guess with Gordy producing it we weren’t going to get any rap even if this entire film screams HIP-HOP FILM!!! But Gordy being the head of Motown it makes more sense to have Stevie Wonder and Debarge singing on the album.

Out of all the hip-hop films from the 80’s The Last Dragon is certainly a weird duck.  There’s no rapping, barely any breakdancing, and no rappers.  But still…somehow…this is a hip-hop movie.  I don’t know why.  I don’t make the rules (OR DO I!?!?!?!) . But there was some weird premises to the hip-hop films.  We saw the start-up of Krush Groove.  We saw the Fat Boys as orderlies.  We saw Run-DMC with guns trying to take down the person who killed their friend.  And then there’s The Last Dragon – a kung-fu film set right in the middle of New York City.

Still it built some great mythology.  The whole The Glow thing is still very remembered to this very day and nearly everyone who grew up in the 80s knows exactly what The Glow is.  That’s pretty powerful for such a niche film.

The best thing?  The flick still holds up.  Quite well.  I can still watch The Last Dragon once a year for the rest of my life and still not have it feel stale.  Chalk it up to a weird-but-decent screenplay, an earnest performance by its main star Taimak, a killer soundtrack, and some other very memorable characters – especially the bad guys.