brother and I were kids, our parents were out a lot, and our babysitter
would keep us entertained with a variety of movies. Occasionally, we'd see
something we liked, and we'd watch it again. There was one movie, though,
that we wound up watching countless times. I can't remember if it was
because we liked it, or because our babysitter ran out of tapes, but after
seeing it again a decade or so later, I'm leaning toward the former. It's
a quaint little story about a boy and a girl, and an evil record producer,
and a cartoonish martial arts villain... and it's called The Last Dragon.
off simple enough: the audience is treated to some mancandy; our hero,
Leroy Green, is going through some exercises while the Motown-inspired
theme song plays in the background. Rest assured that this isn't the last
time you'll see him without a shirt on. Anyway, the scene soon changes to
young Leroy engaged in a training exercise.
His master fires arrows at him, and
he deftly smacks them in half. Very
useful, if he's ever attacked by the Sioux nation. He mixes up the routine
a little by catching the last arrow, which just happens to have blue
feathers instead of black. How did he know that, him master asks of him?
Was it because it was the third arrow, and his master just works in
patterns? No, he just knew, he explained. Well that tears it. When you can
guess the color of arrow feathers, you have officially moved beyond
receiving colored belts (or dragon patches, in this case). His training is
complete. One thing is still bugging ol' Leroy: when he masters...
whatever martial art he's working on, he's supposed to give off some kind
of glow to signify his mastery, and yet he merely glistens with sweat. His
master tells him that he must make the final part of his journey alone,
and hurls a slew of other vague martial arts clichés at him. Leroy whines
at him some more, and so the master gives him a parting gift:
A medallion of some sort that purportedly belonged to Bruce Lee. All Leroy
has to do is find Sum Dum Goy, the "wisest man in the universe," who
happens to live right there in New York, and give him the medallion. No
sweat. Leroy changes into his best Chinese apparel, excuses himself from
his master's houseboat, and begins his search. However, he can't expect to
finish his life's journey in a single day, so he takes a break to go see a
He doesn't seem to mind that the Bruce Lee film is being enjoyed by some
folks who've just come from a production of Fame. Trouble arises, however,
when the hooting and hollering of the audience is interrupted by a couple
of breakdancers and their boombox. Can't they see that people are trying
to watch the movie? No one is impressed by the way they break it down, and
one Asian fellow decides to mimic Bruce Lee.
This was back when all Asian people knew kung fu. The crowd is
understandably impressed, and for a moment, their cheering is directed at
the radio-stomping vigilante. However, his title of "toughest guy in
theater" will soon come into question:
The movie stops, the lights flicker for a moment, and a bunch of extras
from Beyond Thunderdome enter the theater to herald the arrival of a new
threat. It... he enters, and launches into a well-practiced routine with
"Am I the meanest?"
"Am I the prettiest?"
"Am I the baddest mo'fo lowdown around this town?"
"Well who am I?"
"Who am I?"
"I can't hear you."
"The Shogun of Harlem!"
How could anyone not be intimidated by that? A kid in the audience,
however, knows of someone tough enough to beat Sho'nuff. The Shogun
demands to know who.
You see what the writers did there? Anyway, it is explained by one of the
thugs (I believe his name was "Exposition") that Leroy is the only thing
standing between Sho'nuff and "total supremacy". Of what, the movie
theater? It seems Leroy is also one of the many people that stand between
Sho and his self esteem, because he stomps over and does his best to goad
him into a fight.
Something about Leroy just pisses Sho off, possibly the way he doesn't
flinch in the face of Sho's punches, or the way he eats popcorn with
chopsticks. Sho scoffs at Leroy, dismissing the rumors that he can catch
bullets with his teeth as just that: rumors. Leroy only aggravates the
problem when he attempts to quiet Sho down with some Confucianisms. The
whole thing is getting pretty sad for Sho when members of the audience
start telling him to shut up.
Especially when those audience members include a heavyset man wearing a
pink sports bra. And so, Sho extends an open invitation to everyone who
wants him to shut up. First up is radio-stomping Asian guy.
Sho handily defeats him with a tae kwon do move called "slam his face into
the ground". He then rips out a chunk of his hair and blows it out toward
the audience. Man, things were really looking up for that guy, too. One
minute he's the hero of the theater, and the next he's getting stomped by
an overacting martial artist while being taunted by a drag queen. Sho then
dispatches the two big guys from the balcony and a pair of guys who at
least scream like they know kung fu (Hiya!). No Leroy, though.
He's content to let a bunch of innocent people get thrashed by Sho and his
gang. The Shogun thinks him a coward, as do many people, I'm sure. He vows
to one day defeat Leroy, but he gets kicked in the chest, mid-vow, by
another martial arts-type person. Bad move, guy. Sho flips back up, knocks
the guy down, and gives the offending foot what for.
His unorthodox methods are what make him so good.
But that's just one of the villains. Every blaxploitation film needs an
evil white guy to be behind everything, and it's time to meet our token
Meet sleazy, conniving record producer, Eddie Arkadian, and his ditzy
girlfriend/"singer" Angela Viracco. As for her outfit, it was the 80s.
These things happen. Eddie is going to make Angela a star. The only
problem is that she has a high, nasally voice and can't sing for crap.
Normally, lack of talent on the part of the artist is no problem for a
record producer, but movies aren't always 100% real.
Also with those two is Arkadian's head stooge, Rock, who also goes by the
name "Rock E." (The "E" stands for "Exposition"). We learn from a short
argument between Eddie and Rock that Rock used to be a prize fighter who
worked for Eddie, but since he couldn't fight for crap, he was demoted
from prize fighter to exotic fish-feeder.
It could be a piranha, or just a cluster of extremely violent spa jets.
It's hard to say.
Anyway, Eddie has determined that in order for his girlfriend to have any
hope for success in the biz, she must have her music video featured on
Laura's Hotpix, a Soul train-esque show that features dancing and music
videos hand-picked by hostess Laura Charles. The white folks put their
scheming on hold to watch one of the videos:
At this point, I should explain, for those of you who don't already know,
that Berry Gordy was the founder of the Motown record label, and as such, he
used this movie as a vehicle for his artists, in the soundtrack and more
overtly with music videos. Getting back to the story, Eddie insists that
Angie is top shelf, but he seems to be at least subconsciously aware that
it will take quite a bit of convincing to get her stuff on the air. Rock
offers to rough Laura up, but no. Eddie explains that "she may be a rock
video queen but I, Eddie Arkadian, am the video game king." This doesn't
really come up very often in the film, but still, my hat's off to him for
excelling in a worthwhile field. He calls Laura's manager, JJ, about
getting the video on the air, and JJ tries to convince Laura:
Jesus H. Christ, it's William H. Macy! What the hell is he doing in this
movie? And what's with that hair? And who dressed him? I've got to wear
earplugs to look at that jacket. Oh, right, 80s. Nevermind. JJ outlines
the situation for Laura: play the video or there will be trouble for him.
Laura is surprisingly unsympathetic, but that might be because she's about
to start her big music number.
She comes down from the ceiling, dances like a spaz for a bit, and then
announces a contest wherein the winner will go on a date with her before
bidding adieu to her viewers. Needless to say, Eddie is miffed...