“”The Last Dragon,”” Berry Gordy’s kung-fu/R&B hybrid, dared to combine two worlds that rarely mixed to create the story of yet another rarity, a black action hero.
THE MOVIE:Saturday afternoons in our house were spent in front of the television ingesting Godzilla flicks and Bruce Lee features. My desire to be as cool (or at least as fast) as the fleet-footed hero inspired approximately 11 months of karate lessons and a world of bruises. Much to my chagrin, I never did perfect the roundhouse kick, but it didn’t stop me from loving Lee’s films and the knockoffs that followed.By 1985, other kids my age (11 at the time) had already adopted their own hero: “”The Karate Kid”” himself, Daniel Larusso. But strip away his crane technique and affinity for Elisabeth Shue, and you’re still left with Ralph Macchio. Not the typical cloth heroes are cut from. No, I had someone else in mind. Someone who earned the title “”The Master,”” someone who scored with chicks like Vanity, and someone who knew about “”The Glow.”” and that person was Bruce Leroy.””The Last Dragon,”” Berry Gordy’s kung-fu/R&B hybrid, dared to combine two worlds that rarely mixed to create the story of yet another rarity, a black action hero. The film’s star, Taimak, is perfectly cast as “”Bruce”” Leroy Green, a martial arts student from the ghettos of New York City who, according to his instructor, has reached the final level. His last mission, which he must complete on his own, involves finding an unnamed “”master”” and achieving a legendary “”glow.”” Leroy set out, but his heart of filled with anxiety and trepidation.It doesn’t help that Leroy has made an enemy, a bruiser named Sho Nuff who struts his stuff as the self-proclaimed “”Shogun of Harlem.”” Apparently Mr. Nuff can’t swallow the fact that he might not be the “”baddest”” fighter in the borough, and he demands that Leroy fight him to prove his worth. Always the better man, Leroy takes the high road, choosing instead to find the “”master”” and woo the beautiful Laura Charles, a gorgeous video host with her own problems. When Charles’ problems miraculously become Sho Nuff’s problems, Leroy is drawn into a web of deceit, and the only way out for the master and his girl is through the snarling Nuff.Watching “”Last Dragon”” years later, I’m reminded just how musical it is. That should come as no surprise, as it’s produced by R&B legend Berry Gordy. While I focused on the many fight scenes as a kid, the silky smooth soundtrack, peppered with hits by Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and DeBarge, stood out this time through. Very few scenes play out without an R&B accompaniment, and it adds to the film’s flavor.I’m happy to report that, in the age of Jet Li and even Chuck Norris’ “”Walker Texas Ranger,”” the fight scenes hold up. The choreography hilariously includes several breakdancing steps, which seemed so natural at the time. And the special effects, particularly the infamous “”glow”” that surrounds the heroes, still look cool. Cheesy as all hell broke loose? Oh, no doubt. But its also giddy fun, and in some warped way, “”Dragon”” provides a window to an era (the ’80s) while honoring the films of a different decade (the ’70s) that Bruce Lee dominated.Grade: BTHE EXTRAS:We should consider it special that Columbia TriStar released “”The Last Dragon”” on DVD at all. The film itself, digitally enhanced but still a bit grainy, looks fine, and as mentioned, the special effects look decent. What’s most surprising is the director’s commentary, provided by Michael Schultz. I knew Schultz’s body of work included “”Car Wash”” and the Fat Boys’ phat jam “”Disorderlies”” (as turns out, Schultz still does a lot of TV work on David E. Kelley shows like “”Ally McBeal”” and “”Boston Public””), and I found his comments about the film’s history and impact interesting. The DVD also includes bonus trailers for CTHV releases and filmographies that explain what stars like Vanity and Taimak went on to do (which I won’t reveal here!).GRADE: B-OVERALL EXPERIENCE:As a fan, I am very excited that “”Dragon”” is out on DVD. It deserves credit for staying true to so many genres – urban comedy, kung fu kicker, R&B drama – and never losing its sense of humor. Karate fans, and Prince junkies who can’t get enough Vanity, will eat it up.FINAL GRADE: B+