Blerd Film Club: The Last Dragon

Barry Gordy has brought us a lot of entertaining music throughout his life. One thing nobody expected him to bring us was a martial arts film. The Last Dragon is probably one of his least successful ventures doing box office numbers that some would consider mediocre. Despite that it's developed a cult-like following and has been referenced constantly since it's debut in music, movies, television, video games and just about everything else you can think of. While initial success may have been hard to come across the lasting reputation and impression that it has left is undeniable.

Leroy Green is the central character of the film. He studies martial arts with all of his free time while delivering pizza for his father's pizza shop. His mother (never named in the film) believes he's "special," which is an old black person's way of saying you might have a learning disability. His brother Richie, ridicules him for being in his twenties and never having kissed a girl. Leroy's father (also named Leroy, never called Leroy directly but he calls Leroy 'junior' all the time) however believes that his son should follow his dreams and do what makes him happy because it worked for him. Nobody believed a black man could run a successful pizza parlor but he did it and he's very proud of it.

Leroy completes his training and is sent on a wild goose chase by his martial arts master. Meanwhile Sho'nuff, another martial artist has declared himself to be the Shogun of Harlem and dares anyone to challenge him. He's informed by one of the people he's harassing at a movie theater that Bruce Leroy would beat him. Leroy leaves the theater unconcerned and makes his way home. Along the way he saves Laura Charles from some goons who work for Eddie Arkadian. They want to force Laura, a video DJ to play music videos from his latest act.

From there all the pieces are in play and things start to escalate. Sho'nuff attacks Leroy at his dojo and Leroy refuses to fight back in front of his students so rumors spread that he's a coward. Sho'nuff destroys the family pizza parlor. Eddie becomes more and more criminal. Leroy falls in love with Laura much to the disgust of Richie. Eventually Eddie hires Sho'nuff to take out Leroy who has become a sort of body guard for Laura and we head for the final showdown between Leroy and Sho'nuff.

It think it's a great film for what it is. It's a simple story where most characters aren't named and motives behind each character obvious. There's not going to be any shocking plot twists. It's just a fun film with people beating each other up to a pretty good soundtrack. It's actually pretty silly overall when you step back and look at it. Leroy is running a dojo from a Harlem apartment, but he lives at home? Rent has to be crazy. Eddie is a silly villain in every sense, down to his shark tank. It's silly and that's part of the charm. Watching Leroy walk around town in a strawhat and saam is hillarious.

That's not to say there aren't moments of character development. Richie goes from ridiculing his brother, to being let down by hearing that all his martial arts didn't stop Sho'nuff from beating him up in the dojo. Only later does he learn that Leroy didn't fight back so nobody would be hurt and he starts to learn that Leroy is incredible, but only fights as a last resort. Richie starts to look up to Leroy. Leroy grows as a character too. Initially he's focused on nothing but martial arts and finding the next person that can teach him. Laura introduces him to the notion of love and spending time with Richie lets him realize he's neglected his family.

Have I mentioned how incredible the soundtrack is? It's got Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, DeBarge and Vanity, who actually plays Laura. The soundtrack is stacked and most of the music comes from Barry Gordy himself. Smooth R&B doesn't seem like it would fit the film but it does. The two were certainly created side by side as Gordy had moved his office to the film set during the time.

There isn't anything incredible about the cinematography but there are these scene that depict Leroy going about his day in comparison with everyone else in Harlem. It does a great job of making Leroy stand out while simultaneously showing that this is New York and he's not really that different, he can be anybody. I do want to make a special mention of the costumes for Sho'nuff and his gang. They're great and a lot of detail went into those costumes that might be skipped over. All of the costumes integrate the Japanese flag somehow. It may be on a jacket, shoes or even sun glasses, but it's there. Additionally they dress in similar colors and styles but the rule seems to be the more red you wear the higher your rank is in the group. Small details like that show a lot of thought went into making this film.

The fight scenes look great which is understandable because most of the fighters were already trained martial artists and or stunt men and women before the film. A lot of the film focuses on Leroy, Sho'nuff, Laura and Eddie with most other characters not getting a name, there's plenty of equality in the fighting which is cool. It doesn't matter your race or gender, you're out there catching bodies. The final showdown featured some cool special effects that help make Leroy being kicked through walls look believable if we can say that, but it looks great.

I think the rivalry of Sho'nuff and Leroy is great because while they cross paths they never fight until the last showdown. It was great at building tension because by they time they started throwing punches at each other you want to see it because they keep teasing and pulling back. Their fight also did a great job depicting their different styles of martial arts. Sho'nuff was all about power and aggressiveness. Meanwhile Leroy was great at dodging attacks and withstanding damage but had no real ways to hurt Sho'nuff. It was a great fight.

I think this was a great film. At heart Leroy is just a nerd who followed his dreams first and foremost. Everything else just happened as a result oh him being weeb. The humor was really funny to me but I can see how some people would miss it and trailers do depict it as nearly the opposite of what it was so it's easy to see why it missed it's mark at the box office. But, it's also easy to see why it's gathered such a large following. Once you see the movie, it's nearly impossible to dislike it. It doesn't really matter if you're young or old but the film will have something for you. When you get a chance, you should go back and check it out. It's just barely over and hour and a half so it won't take an entire day to watch. Treat yourself to a movie and some moves.

You should buy Darrell's Book, watch him on the Blerds Online YouTube Channel or The CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. 
Blerd Film Club: The Last Dragon Blerd Film Club: The Last Dragon Reviewed by Darrell S. on Monday, July 09, 2018 Rating: 5

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