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April Fools Week: The Unexpected Brilliance of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon

Written by: Joey Esposito, Special to CC2K

ImageWhoever assigned this movie to me, I am forever within your debt. I am a sucker for all of the great 80s camp movies, but I had somehow missed out on Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon. To make up for lost time, I'm vowing right here, right now, to watch this movie at least once a month for the rest of my life. This a movie that blurs the line smoothly between purposeful kung-fu camp, pop-culture product placement, a Bruce Lee tribute, 80s satire, and just god awful (yet awesome) racial stereotypes. Where to begin?

The movie follows Leroy Green (or, Bruce Leeroy) on his quest to find the "Master" and achieve the "glow", the mythical ultra-embodiment of kung-fu that allows one to become at one with the universe. Or something. Think of it like using the Force, an all powerful force field that guides one's actions. Along the way, he falls in love with who is essentially the Downtown Julie Brown of the film's universe, an on-air VJ personality who determines what videos are hot and not. Remember, this is 1985, after all. Oh, Leroy also eats his popcorn with chopsticks.

I've gotta say, I still haven't decided what portions of this movie are purposely campy, and which parts are just so bad that they are awesome. I'm going to assume that the excessive use of racial stereotypes was an accidental side effect of terrible writing. My favorite moment in particular comes mid-movie when our hero bursts into the apartment of the over the top gangster criminal psychotic bad guy to rescue the fake Jule Brown (who just so happens to resemble Vince Noir of the Mighty Boosh), doing crazy kung-fu moves and just generally kicking ass, ninja style. The gangster then yells "WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY? WE DIDN'T ORDER OUT!"

And subsequently, I died laughing. I kind of feel bad, because in my movie selection for someone else to watch, I chose something that was not enjoyable in the least. Not in a so-bad-it's-good way, not in a campy way, nothing. So whoever got that horrid piece of shit, I sincerely apologize. Because, seemingly, I was rewarded for my evil selection with one of the most glorious cinematic crapfests every capture on celluloid. Anyways, other such racial gems, that may or may not make any sense, include excessive use of the terms "yellow", "spook", "coolie", and a significant amount of chopstick-related insults.

We are also treated to a brief William H. Macy cameo in the beginning of the film, sporting bleached blond hair and a totally rad neon blue wind jacket. I'm sure he's proud.

Another favorite character would have to be the "Shogun of Harlem", Sho 'Nuff (think Busta Rhymes in the "Dangerous" video). The main oozes stereotypical juices, and provides a girth of the movie's best one-liners. For example: "Let's see if one of you ladies can get a rise out of this limp whimp" and "Kiss my Converse!".

Of course, while the movie is full of camp/awful acting, there actually is a decent amount to actually take away from it. The film's subplot involves the aforementioned gangster trying to get his girlfriend's music video played on the leading lady's television program – yes, I'm still talking about the same movie. The wanna-be pop star clearly is inspired by Cyndi Lauper in her visual presentation, if not also her high pitched, shrill voice. The irony is the movie, produced by Motown's Barry Gordy, is used as a showcase for numerous musical acts, including Prince's protege-of-the-time Vanity, who plays our lead actress, and DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night", which if I'm not mistaken, was produced for this film. In fact, it was nominated for a Golden Globe at the 1986 awards for Best Original Song, pitting against the way more awesome "The Power of Love" from Back to the Future and "A View to a Kill" from A View to a Kill. None of them won.

Back to my point, the fact that this film is used as a launching/promotional tool for so many acts is undermined by its willingness to pull a satire out if it's ass when dealing with the Cyndi Lauper character, by pinning her down with obviously ridiculous song, costumes, and music videos. The reason it's ironic is because the kind of pop music that the filmmakers are commenting on is the same kind that's actually promoted through the whole fucking movie. It's this kind of thing that blurs the line between if this was all done on purpose, or if it's just a  terrible filmmaking job that turned out to be a miracle in disguise.

The Last Dragon is also, in a weird way, a nice Bruce Lee tribute. The main character idolizes Lee, clearly, from his viewing of his films, to his replication of Lee's moves, to the numerous references to him scattered throughout the movie (wearing the yellow jumpsuit, for instance). There's even a god damn montage of Bruce Lee clips set to some awful 80's music about "The Glow". It's actually really tubular.

Reading about this movie does not do it justice, it's an experience that has to be had by all of you. Oh, and Roger Ebert gave it three stars in 1985, declaring "'The Last Dragon' will be a big box-office hit, maybe on the order of 'Flashdance,' which also had a great rapport between its drama and its music." Oh yeah, Rodge? Well actually, the film did alright, making about $25 million on a $10 million budget. Not a runaway success I wouldn't think, but still profitable. Profitable for the studio anyway, maybe not the actors involved. Except Macy. He turned out okay.