The Last Dragon might be the best martial arts spoof film of the last century. It might be the most balanced examination of race relations. It might be the most sincere look at the drive required to forge a leading martial artist.
It might be all of those things. I wonder what it actually thinks it is.
Bruce Leroy is a sensitive martial arts prodigy (he kinda looks and talks like Pharrell) training under his elderly Asian master. Leroy is searching for the elusive ‘glow’, an aura that envelops the holder, indicating such mastery of his craft that all around must only stand about and wait for their uppance to inevitably come.
Given that the master can shoot arrows from short distance at Leroy as he trains, you would hope that this time is almost nigh.
Ok hold your breath for this bit; Eddie Arkadian wants to promote his podgy-Cyndi Lauper like singer wife, so he demands that local karate gang leader Sho-Nuff (who looks exactly like the writer / bit performer soon Cole from the Conan show) and his minions kidnap Laura the gorgeous VJ / atrocious singer so that he can convince / force her to cast the spotlight on her videos, thereby almost certainly skyrocketing her to stardom and them to fame / fortune.
That’s a lot of slashes, and an even busier plot. But thankfully the plot means little. This film is all about the rich characters and the hunt for da glow. There are at least two songs extolling the virtues of the glow, and a handful of funky or cringeworthy pop songs from the era. A DeBarge song played on the music video show is extremely tragic in hindsight.
Despite having a guy who runs a video arcade named Arkadian. Despite having a black martial artist called Bruce Leroy. Despite having a crazy lunatic called Sho-Nuff chewing the scenery left and right: The Last Dragon often underplays the silliness and lunacy.
It especially underplays the race card. To its credit there are scenes where black guys Kung fu fight while Asian guys look on oblivious. There are scenes where the same Asian guys talk hip-hop slang while black guys look on and don’t cringe. And the film never bothers addressing the fact that Bruce Leroy uses chopsticks and practices martial arts with incredible devotion while his younger brother just wants to chase hot chicks. It’s admirable that in 1985 a film could mix cultures so effortlessly without parody or judgment. It just is.
Ultimately, da glow just is also. I don’t know if it is awesomely awful or awfully awesome, I just know that if you liked Undercover Brother or Black Dynamite (and let’s face it you should) The Last Dragon deserves watching at least once in your life.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Funny, weird and strangely compelling, The Last Dragon might not achieve da glow, but it possesses some kind of pleasing aura.