Who’s the Master?
Last Dragon (1985)
Last Dragon by director Michael Schultz is a martial arts comedy released
in 1985 that is a spoof of one of the most famous karate movies ever: Enter the Dragon. This movie was filmed
as a comedic re-launch of the Bruce Lee film that was released in 1973. Berry
Gordy, who is the film’s executive producer along with Schultz, have managed to
incorporate comedy, drama, and karate romance all into one. Despite that it did
not look very modern when it opened, this martial arts musical is still a
memorable 80s classic that included this three things: “the guy always does the
impossible to get the girl, the good guy wins the big fight at the end, and
finally the main point of the story is just simply an everyday lesson” (Kruse)
The film focuses on Bruce Leroy (Taimak) in Harlem. He is told by his
Miyagi that he needs to find the Master in order to obtain a glow or a type of
higher spiritual plane. Being at peace is part of his training, so he chooses
not to fight his arch- rival Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. However, Leroy
also finds himself distracted by Laura Charles (Vanity), a disco queen whom he rescues from thugs sent by a
wanna-be mobster Eddie Arkadian (Chris
Murray). “Leroy finds that the non-violent path is not an easy one to walk
and sooner or later he must face his destiny” (Yousef).
Schultz (dir.) “with the backing of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, the film’s
mid-1980s dance and up-tempo tunes are appealing but the story and characters
make it mediocre” (Donalson 89). The tone of the film unfolds in a goofy, fun
vibe. The movie is not meant to be taken seriously, The Last Dragon sends its message in a more light-hearted manner.
Schultz (dir.) mentions in the DVD
commentary that he wanted the film to be ‘cartoony’, “through the use of either
of bright, pastel colors or flat-looking dance performance numbers set on
soundstages” (Donalson 89).
Last Dragon “further suffers from pointless dialogue and kooky characters
that alternate between fantasy and stupidity. In one part of the dialogue Leroy
is speaking in a simplistic, broken English to highlight his adaptation of
Chinese manners. Leroy’s expression of mystical ideas and thoughts is
frequently described by his rival as ‘mumbo jumbo'” (Donalson 89). In general, the other characters in
the film remain animated and bland, disappointing an audience to care about
them in any degree.
Finally, Melvin Donalson stated “one
would expect back then this film as an expensive, high-tech production”. But,
this does not make up for its weaknesses with the action sequences. Even though
Schultz (dir.) does a decent job
directing these moments, nothing stands out in performance or intensity. “In
some ways, the scheme of showing actual Bruce Lee footage works against The Last Dragon” (Donalson 90). Despite
that the story calls for the character, Leroy, “to mimic the physical moves of
his idol Bruce Lee, the fight sequences of The
Last Dragon remain only a shallow copy of action seen elsewhere” (Donalson 90).
I would give the rating a 3 out 5 since
this is a classic I grew up on in terms of music and comedy but the special
effects and story line could have been better. For the overall message of the
film Schultz (dir.) hoped that
“presenting a young black heroic character who had values and had positive
training, being seen as a corn ball character by other people but ultimately
believing in his own power, could overcome evil, would be a thing that would
resonate with youthful audiences”, and it did (Axmaker, para. 9). Being someone
living in a generation where movies have to make sense, a typical person would
simply ask these two questions: Is it just a 80s ninja flick? Is it just a long
music video? Overall, I would recommend it if you want a laugh but do not try
to figure out the actual point of this cult classic.
Axmaker, Sean. “The Last Dragon.” Turner Classic
Donalson, Melvin. “Michael Schultz: The Crossover
King.” Black Directors in Hollywood, Univ. of Texas Press, 2003,
Gonzalez, Francisco. “The Last Dragon
(1985).” The Film Connoisseur, 22 May
Kruse, Jarrett. “Looking Back at The Last Dragon.” Den
of Geek, 2 June 2013,
Schultz, Michael, director. The Last Dragon.
TriStar Pictures, 1985. Film.
Youseph, Ramon. “The Last Dragon (1985).” Kung-Fu
Kingdom, 13 Mar. 2015, kungfukingdom.com/the-last-dragon-movie-review/.