Going a bit retro with this mini-review. A cult-classic film in African-American cinema, as well as in the American Martial Arts film genre, this film starred TAIMAK, as Leroy Green Jr., a young martial artist living in Harlem. Although he’s Black, Leroy acts, speaks, and dresses like a stereotypical character from an old Chinese Martial Arts film. He even uses chopsticks to eat popcorn when he’s at the movies. This all leads to him being known by friends and family by the nickname “Bruce Leroy.”
Having reached the end of his training with his sensei, Leroy is told that there is one final level he must learn, one in which he will become the ultimate martial artist, so skilled that his whole body will glow. To do so he must seek out and find the ultimate martial arts master known only as The Master.
Meanwhile, a man known as Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem has returned to town after an unspecified absence, and his primary goal is fighting Leroy, to prove that he, Sho’nuff, is the better martial artist. He challenges Leroy publicly several times, but Leroy always backs down because he has no interest in fighting him.
The film costars Vanity as Laura Charles, the host of an American Bandstand-style TV show. She finds herself getting harassed by a local crime boss named Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney) who wants Laura to play his girlfriend Angela’s music video on her show. Laura won’t do it, because the video sucks, and Eddie is apparently ready to kill over it.
Leroy happens to be around when Arkadian’s goons first attempt to kidnap Laura and he saves her, which is what brings their stories together. Needing to get Leroy out of the way, Arkadian then hires Sho’nuff, setting up a trap for Leroy in which Leroy faces dozens of martial arts fighters before having his big showdown with Sho’nuff, in which Leroy finally realizes who The Master really is.
The film is…not exactly Shakespear, but I was a kid when it came out and I LOVED it! It’s good because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s like a modern-day Blaxploitation film. Julius Carry (R.I.P.) really stands out as Sho’nuff, a classic 80’s action movie villain, with his over-the-top slogans and his appropriately multi-ethnic gang of male and female fighters.
I would have loved to have seen him go up against Sensei Kreese from The Karate Kid.
This film was Vanity’s first major acting role after she’d broken up with Prince and was cut out of Purple Rain, and she proved herself to be a great leading lady, with undeniable sex appeal.
The film also featured early small appearances by Keisha Knight-Pulliam, as Leroy’s little sister, and William H. Macy as Laura’s producer, with Leo O’Brien (R.I.P.) in a bigger role as Leroy’s brother Richie (that same year he starred in the film RAPPIN). But of course, the real star was TAIMAK.
Just 19 years old, with no previous acting experience, Taimak nonetheless rose to the occasion and delivered a solid performance which carried the majority of the film. His role was interesting in that he was a mix between a nerd and a badass, and he played it well.
A few months ago I wrote a post on the film ACTION JACKSON, and I spoke of how that should have been the launch of Carl Weathers’ career as an A-list action movie star, in the vein of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Likewise, I like to think that there’s an alternate timeline in which this film launched a Taimak into the A-list of action movie heroes. He should have been dominating the big screen in martial arts films right alongside the likes of Stevan Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, both of whom made their film debuts a few years after this film.The man could act, could legitimately perform martial arts, and had those pop-idol good looks. He was practically made to be a star!
And, again, like Action Jackson, this film itself could have easily launched a franchise, but it never even got one sequel. I mean, same way Stallone just got done with his fifth Rambo film and Schwarzeneggar starred in a 6th Terminator film, we should be seeing Taimak in a 4th or 5th Last Dragon sequel by now. Or perhaps some kind of spin-off, like Cobra Kai TV show which continues the Karate Kid film franchise.
At the very least, Taimak should have been able to successfully go the route of low-budget B-movies and direct-to-video fare, which were all the rage in those days of the VCR home video explosion. Men like Michael Dudikoff and Don “The Dragon” Wilson were making a good living in the DTV genre. That could have been Taimak. But if you look at his IMDB page, his credits in the 3 decades since this first film are rather light. And that’s a darn shame.
Taimak has written an autobiography and has given interviews, including on on VladTV where he talks about why a sequel didn’t happen at the time, as well as why he didn’t have any major roles following this release (he was locked into a bad contract with Berry Gordy, something many iconic Motown singers can undoubtably relate to). And then, on top of that, he faced the same issues as Weathers, he was a Black man. So Hollywood studios and the folks who made films just didn’t naturally see him as a leading man.
Well, The Last Dragon will always been a classic film in my eyes, and Taimak will always be a star!