The Last Dragon (1985)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/21/09
Cast: Taimak, Vanity, Julius Carry III, Leo O'Brien, Glen Eaton, Ernie Reyes Jr, cameo by William H. Macy

What the hell?!? This is not the 80's that I remember. Or perhaps it's the 80's that I chose to forget... This bizarre attempt to recapture of the glory of 1970's kung fu and blaxploitation by marrying it with humor and pop music sensibilities is nothing short of a train wreck. When one of the film's major set pieces is a music video by DeBarge, you know you're in trouble. It would be completely unwatchable if not for the sincerity and charm of its two leads, Taimak and Vanity. Leroy Green (Taimak) is a martial artist on a quest to find "the glow," which is the ultimate in kung fu mastery. He's also a huge fan of Bruce Lee, which means that he owns an embarrassing yellow track suit. Trouble begins for Leroy when the Shogun Of Harlem, Sho'nuff (intense Julius Carry III), returns and wants to crush all who defy his authority. On top of that, Leroy ends up rescuing video celebrity Laura Charles (stunning Vanity) from a kidnapping, which lands him in hot water with a violently psychotic show-biz promoter named Edward Arkadian. Pretty soon everyone is out to get the kind-hearted and naïve Leroy, and he must find within him the strength and courage to save himself and the ones he loves. This, of course, results in beating the living daylights out of everyone that crosses his path.

Unfortunately, the entire production is played tongue-in-cheek and no one (apart from Taimak and Vanity) takes the material seriously. The tone and execution are appalling, which is unfortunate because Taimak and several other stunt players have a lot of talent to show off. While the fight choreography and execution is a bit restrained and sluggish, Taimak clearly knows his stuff and his moves are swift and graceful. Glen Eaton plays his role for laughs, but looks like the most skilled fighter of the bunch in the final reel. And then there's a very young Ernie Reyes Jr, being groomed as a child action star. I wonder what he's doing these days? Apart from Taimak, the only other actor who plays it straight is the impossibly charming Vanity. Her beauty and presence command attention and she is simply breathtaking. Had the film lost the humor, the music video mentality, and the cotton candy veneer, it could have been a serious comeback for black action cinema, but instead it comes across as a forgettable kung fu parody with a truly dreadful soundtrack.