Before I start, several people related to this film died from drug-related illnesses, including Vanity. If you or anyone you know has substance abuse problems, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s hotline (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline) at 1-800-662-HELP. Thank you.
Now that I’ve done my due diligence, I’m going to spend the next 30 minutes (for me, 5 for you) thinking about how coked-out of their minds the people behind this film clearly had to be. Does that make me a bad person? Yes, it absolutely does, but I’m doing it anyway. Let’s try to remember that I probably do good things sometimes.
Leroy “Bruce Lee-roy” Green (Taimak) is a martial artist out of Harlem who has recently achieved the final level of martial arts skill under his master (Thomas Ikeda). However, he desires to reach the level of true mastery, which is referred to as “the glow.” His master says nothing more can be taught to him, but advises him to find a Master Sum Dum Goy if he wishes to know more and gives him a medallion which belonged to Bruce Lee. Leroy’s reputation as the best fighter in Harlem antagonizes Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III), a martial-artist and gang leader. He is also the best part of the movie, as you might expect from that description. Leroy refuses to fight Sho’nuff on principle, further angering him. He tries to harass Leroy by attacking his martial arts students and Leroy’s father’s pizzeria.
On the other side of the plot, video game arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) tries to kidnap Laura Charles (Vanity), the host of a popular music video show called Seventh Heaven, in order to get a career in music for his girlfriend, Angela (Faith Prince). His thugs happen to pick a time when Leroy is nearby, resulting in Leroy beating them senseless before he disappears without telling Laura his name. Later, he happens to see Laura when Arkadian’s main henchman, Rock (Mike Starr), kidnaps her. Leroy then follows them, breaks into Arkadian’s building and frees Laura. This time she sees him and falls for him immediately. Arkadian, now consumed by anger at Leroy and Laura, hires Sho’nuff’s gang to defeat Leroy. Leroy and Laura share some awkward romantic moments until Leroy is inspired by a clip of Bruce Lee that Laura shows him and runs off to find Master Sum Dum Goy. Immediately after that, the villains kidnap Laura and Leroy’s younger brother, Richie (Leo O’Brien) and take over Laura’s studio.
Leroy discovers that Master Sum Dum Goy lives in a fortune cookie factory in Harlem, because why not? He attempts many Wile E. Coyote-esque schemes to get past the guards before finally just beating them up. However, the guards show him that Master Sum Dum Goy is actually a computer that randomly generates fortunes. He asks his master to explain, but the master says that Leroy already has all the answers. Arkadian’s girlfriend Angela decides that she doesn’t want people to suffer for her fame, so she leaves Arkadian and tells Leroy’s student to warn him. Leroy heads to the movie studio where he’s ambushed by an army of thugs, but his students show up to help him, including Tai (a young Ernie Reyes, Jr.) and Johnny (Glen Eaton).
Leroy finds Arkadian and Laura, but is attacked by Sho’nuff. Leroy appears to be winning the fight until Sho’nuff reveals that he possesses a limited form of “the glow” which appears as a red aura around his hands. Sho’nuff proceeds to dominate Leroy before asking him “who’s the master, now?” Leroy realizes that his master’s last lesson is that there are no more lessons and he needs to find his own answers, which apparently gives Leroy “the glow” and bathes him in yellow light. He then destroys Sho’nuff, but Arkadian appears and shoots him. Leroy catches the bullet in his teeth, because this movie is amazing, and he and Laura dance on her show as the film ends.
Look, there’s no doubt in my mind that this movie could only be made in the 80s, when cocaine blew through Hollywood like the Santa Ana winds. There were clearly NO bad ideas during the concept phase of this movie. For example:
“What are we going to call the villain who owns an arcade?”
“I know! ARKADIAN. GET IT? ARCADE-IAN?”
“F*CK YEAH, BEST NAME EVER.”
Why is he an arcade mogul? Why do none of the criminals in this movie carry guns until Arkadian shoots Leroy? How does kidnapping Vanity get Arkadian’s girlfriend a spot on the show? Why is there a Shogun of Harlem? Why is the great master a fortune cookie generator? All of these questions were clearly answered with “one sec, I need some blow.”
Do you see how long and insane the summary is? That’s WITHOUT all of the subplots, of which there are many and they’re even more insane than the main plot. There’s a random tank containing some sort of carnivorous fish or monster. Richie (14) tries to seduce Vanity (26) at several points. Johnny tries to develop a fighting style based on yelling loudly while being Asian (yes, that’s what he says). Daddy Green’s Pizza restaurant gets destroyed by Sho’nuff (and has the best slogan: Just direct-a your feets-a to Daddy Green’s Pizza!). There are several sequences that are just music videos as part of Vanity’s show.
That brings me to one of the most surprising parts of the movie: This is the source of the song “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge. I know it’s not the most famous 80s song, but it was the first major song written by 9 time Academy Award nominee Diane Warren. Given that she later wrote “How Do I Live” from Con Air, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin, and “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” from Armageddon, it’s completely understandable that she’d write a song that would end up in The Last Dragon. She’s basically the queen of “great song, insane movie.” There’s also clips from Smokey Robinson’s “First Time on a Ferris Wheel” and Stevie Wonder’s “Upset Stomach.” Vanity herself debuted a song in this film, called “7th Heaven” but it didn’t make much of a splash.
The rest of the music in this film runs from “forgettable” to “distractingly awful.” Notably, the songs “The Last Dragon” and “The Glow” which play during the title sequence and the final fight are so bad that I honestly don’t remember what happens in those scenes as well because my mind fears hearing the sounds again.
Neither Vanity nor Taimak can act, nor were they chosen for their acting ability. Since they’re the people who are onscreen the most during the film, that doesn’t exactly work out well, particularly during their scenes together.
Now, to counter all of that, I will say the following: This movie is so insane and so overloaded that it is never boring. No matter how ridiculous it gets, it always encourages you to suspend your disbelief to the appropriate level and never tries to impose “logic” or “reality.” You’re just supposed to enjoy it. It’s to the film’s credit that, despite how many random plot points there are, it’s pretty easy to follow. Also, there’s Julius Carry’s portrayal of Sho’nuff. He’s not in the movie as much as I would like, but that only makes the scenes that he is in all the more powerful. He’s so over-the-top and awesome that he immediately justifies any other corniness in the film. I would pay an extremely stupid amount of money to see a Sho’nuff origin story.
Is this movie going to change your life? Hell no. But is it a great way to spend 90 minutes, preferably buzzed? Hell yes.
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