Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Last Dragon (1985)

August 25, 2011

The Last Dragon Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

Let’s take another trip down memory-lane! It’s 1985 and my 17 year old self was at a late-night screening in Copenhagen, Denmark. My chosen movie for the evening was The Last Dragon and I remember being more or less awestruck already at the opening credits.

The movie opens on Leroy Greene during a training session where his master shoots arrows at him. He breaks the first two, but catches the third in mid-flight. The arrow has blue markings on it and apparently he was supposed to catch that one. When asked how he knew that was the blue one, Leroy doesn’t know and thinks this displeases his master and begs forgiveness. The master laughs and says this is a good thing and it means Leroy has touched the final level. “The art of knowing, without knowing…” This also means that their journey together has come to an end and that Leroy must go on alone on his final steps to becoming a true master.

Leroy's in training now!

Leroy’s in training now!

Leroy is played by Taimak who hasn’t really done a lot… acting-wise anyway. Dreamers and Book of Swords are two movies he appears in, but I haven’t seen either of them, so I don’t really have any frame of reference when it comes to his acting-skills, but he does ok in The Last Dragon. Leroy is a shy and slightly awkward young man and Taimak does this very well. The acting in this movie varies between average and non-existing, with a few exceptions.

There’s Christopher Murney (Barton Fink, Last Exit to Brooklyn) who plays the video-producer Eddie Arkadian and I friggin’ love this guy. Talk about having delusions of grandeur… He wants his videos played in the worst way and when things don’t go his way he turns nasty and sends his goons to beat up people. Smart? No! Childish? You bet!

The lovely Laura Charles.

The lovely Laura Charles.

The other exception is Julius Carry whom I loved as Lord Bowler in the TV-show The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. starring none other than the great Bruce Campbell. In The Last Dragon Mr. Carry plays a larger than life character called Sho’Nuff who basically wants to beat Leroy to a pulp because, as one of his followers puts it: “He’s the only one standing between Sho and total supremacy”.

Laura Charles is a hot TV host and owner of the popular nightclub 7th Heaven. Her show and place is where you want to be, if you want to be seen and noticed. It’s on her show that Eddie wants his videos played. One of his associates, J.J, more or less begs Laura to play them, but she refuses.

The crazy Mr. Arkadian does an impression of George Costanza doing an impression of Dirty Harry...

The crazy Mr. Arkadian does an impression of George Costanza doing an impression of Dirty Harry…

This, of course, infuriates Eddie and he sends some of his more violent associates to get her. One of those hoodlums and the aforementioned J.J are played by two actors whose careers would later far succeed any of the others from this movie. Their names? J.J is played by William H. Macy (Fargo, Door to Door, Boogie Nights) and the hoodlum is played by Chazz Palminteri (Usual Suspects, Innocent Blood).

During this attempt to kidnap Laura, she first lay eyes on Leroy and is immediately smitten by him. Vanity, who plays Laura, is perhaps not the best actress ever born, but the looks she gives him here are… Well, YUM… for lack of a better word! And when he also saves her from this attempt, well… she fall head over heels for him.

Leroy, on the other hand, is totally oblivious to this. At least right now! Vanity was once one of Prince’s protégés and released a couple of albums and I have to confess to owning some of them. (Three, I think!) I had a big crush on her in my youth. Her acting career includes titles like Tanya’s Island, Action Jackson and Never Too Young to Die which also starred Gene Simmons from the rock-group KISS.

Sho'Nuff!! The Shogun of Harlem.

Sho’Nuff!! The Shogun of Harlem.

Eddie can’t take no for an answer and makes yet another attempt at kidnapping Laura. Once again Leroy arrives to save the day and Eddie, having had enough, hires a bunch of criminal weirdos to reduce Leroy to Chop Suey. Sho’Nuff is also hired, but since he’s been looking for a fight with Leroy for a long time, he’s doing it for free.

He really has been trying hard to pick a fight… Humiliating Leroy in front of his students, trashing his father’s pizza-shop, mocking him at a movie-theater… I mean, it’s not for lack of trying. Eddie and his right-hand man Rock, played by Mike Starr (Dumb and Dumber, Ed Wood) break into 7th Heaven and tie up Laura and also Leroy’s kid-brother, Richie. The trap is set and Leroy arrives. Let the game begin!

I have seen this movie so many times it’s ridiculous, so you would think I’d eventually grow tired of it. That may be, but it hasn’t happened yet. And, yeah, I know the plot is wafer-thin, the acting hokey and the dialogue sometimes less than perfect, but… There’s something about The Last Dragon, that I can’t quite put my finger on, which makes it simply awesome. It also boasts a great soundtrack from the likes of DeBarge, Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder and one song by Vanity (which is actually pretty bad).

In the 1980s, we had pretty bad movie-censorship here in Sweden and especially anything remotely resembling martial arts was promptly cut out. This had the result that scenes often made no sense. In The Last Dragon, this was most noticeable in the movie-theater scene and in the final show-down. This is why I saw a lot of these movies in Denmark, where there were no censorship. Things has thankfully changed since then and we can, of course, enjoy movies they way they were intended to be seen. Censorship is, in this day and age, an obsolete idea, since you now have easy access to movies from all over the world, but back then it wasn’t all that easy. And with that little sidetrack, I’ll leave you for this time.

So, c’mon now! Let me hear it… Who’s the master? SHO’NUFF!!!

Until next time my friends…


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