An eighties fusion of martial arts, urban action, and music truly makes this one of the greatest American martial arts films of the 1980’s.
Leroy Green is a young martial artist who after passing a major test has revealed that he is ready for the final level, in which he will become a true master. However, to attain the glow that will signify the makings of a master, he must take one final test. It is not going to be easy as he must hold on to a medallion and find a place known as “Sum Dum Goy” to find the master to attain the glow. His life is turned upside down when he is constantly challenged by the Shogun of Harlem, Sho’Nuff, who proclaims himself as the true master.
Meanwhile, Eddie Arkadian, a video game entrepreneur plans to give his girlfriend a career in music. To do this, he plots to have music show host Laura Charles taken and forced to watch his girlfriend’s music video. On two occasions, Leroy unexpectedly finds himself saving Laura. As the two eventually start a relationship, Eddie has learned that Sho’Nuff wants to challenge Leroy to a fight and knows Laura is the key to getting Leroy to fight. Meanwhile, as Leroy discovers the truth about Sum Dum Goy, he must rescue Laura and come face-to-face with Sho’Nuff to determine who is in the real master.
This is truly one of the quintessential American martial arts films of the eighties, thanks to its infusion of combining martial arts, the music of its time, and homage to the urban action films of the seventies known as Blaxploitation. Louis Venosta’s script is a smooth thought-out story that has our hero Leroy trying to pass his final test as well as finding himself involved with a music show host all while finding his arch-enemy constantly challenging him as Leroy is more passive aggressive until he finds himself having no other choice but to fight.
The martial art of choice for our hero is Chinese Goju, which makes sense due to the fact that lead actor Taimak Guariello (credited as simply Taimak) is the protégé of Chinese Goju founder Ron Van Clief, known as The Black Dragon. Taimak couldn’t have made a better film debut performance as Leroy, who is so immersed in martial arts that he even walks around sporting outfits normally seen in kung fu films and goes as far as bowing to his parents and siblings much to the chagrin of his hip brother Richie, played by the late Leo O’Brien.
Vanity’s Laura Charles is seen as a damsel in distress who finds her confidence in her music and her show. As a singer, she does have a musical number in the film, but the film is more of a chance to showcase herself as an actress and she does pretty well. The other major role everyone has quoted is that of Julius J. Carry III’s lead villain Sho’Nuff. Sho’Nuff can be considered a quintessential villain with his look, foremanner, and proclamation of himself as the master. One of his famous lines involve making Leroy bow by telling him to “kiss his Converse”. Sho’Nuff even gets a proper intro fight scene taking on members of an audience trying to watch Enter the Dragon in a theater.
The comic relief comes in the form of Johnny Yu, Leroy’s student who is played by Glen Eaton. Johnny is a Bruce Lee-obsessed fanatic who tries to scare off people with his Bruce Lee-inspired yell but cannot fight, that is until in an unexpected move, he finally gains the confidence. The film also makes good use of Ernie Reyes Jr., who doesn’t appear until the third act and makes one heck of an impact as he shows off his martial arts skills as well. The fight choreography for the film was done by Torrence Mathis, Ron Van Clief, and Ernie Reyes Sr., who invited three of his West Coast Demo Team members to play thugs in the film. Also, look for early appearances by William H. Macy and Chazz Palminteri in small roles in the film.
The Last Dragon is truly one of the most renowned 80’s American martial arts films with its infusion of music and action genres, great performances from the cast, and some nicely shot fight scenes.
WFG RATING: A
Tri-Star Pictures presents a Motown Productions film. Director: Michael Schultz. Producer: Rupert Hitzig. Writer: Louis Venosta. Cinematography: James A. Contner. Editing: Christopher Holmes.
Cast: Taimak Guariello, Vanity, Julius J. Carry III, Christopher Murney, Faith Prince, Leo O’Brien, Mike Starr, Jim Moody, Glen Eaton, Ernie Reyes Jr., Thomas Ikeda.