The Last Dragon (1985): Awfully Good

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

So I’m watching RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON and this happens…

Raya The Last Dragon Glow Clearly this $100 million Disney movie was just an excuse to introduce younger audiences to the real LAST DRAGON…

The Last Dragon (1985)

Director: Michael Schultz
Stars: Taimak, Vanity, Julius Carry


On his quest to possess the mystical power of The Glow, a young kung fu master must contend with the self-appointed Shogun of Harlem and a wannabe gangster trying to break in to the music industry.

The first time I watched THE LAST DRAGON I was left absolutely awestruck. I needed to know how such a movie could exist. One that mixed kung fu, blaxpoitation funk culture, and nonstop R&B music. A piece of art that combined cultural/racial stereotypes and expectations in ways that were both offensive and occasionally profound. A movie where martial artists turn in to neon glowsticks when they believe in themselves.

A fashion icon.

THE LAST DRAGON shonuff glow
And a great night light.

And then I found the reason: THE LAST DRAGON was produced by Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. It explained so much—the plot, which revolved around the ins and outs of music industry; characters that stand around to sing and dance in public for no reason; and the unending supply of horrible songs that dominates the movie (including showing an entire DeBarge music video). Although I will forever defend the Razzie-nominated title song as being awesome.

If you assume that Gordy’s main concern with this film was promoting his artists and selling records, with everything else playing second fiddle, some of the bizarre choices and lapses in quality almost make sense. And given the musical nature and the fact that people occasionally glow, in some ways THE LAST DRAGON plays like XANADU with occasional punching and kicking.

Sadly, nobody wanted to make a LOGAN-style movie about old Zangief.

Black belt martial artist Taimak stars as Leroy Green aka Bruce Leeroy, a young black man obsessed with Asian culture, including walking around New York City at night wearing a rice paddy hat, eating popcorn with chopsticks, and speaking in fortune cookie sayings like The Sphinx from MYSTERY MEN (even when a girl is trying to wax on-wax off in to his pants). Leroy is also a martial arts master, something shown to us at the beginning when his sensei quite rudely starts firing arrows at him unannounced while he trains. When Leroy catches all of the arrows, his master announces that he has attained the final level of his training and become The Last Dragon. All that’s left for him to do is take his Bruce Lee medallion and go on a journey to unlock The Glow, a mystical but very literal radiance that flows through your body and lets you wield ultimate power. So it’s like the Force, if the Jedi turned in to lightsabers.

Leroy has to be one of the most confounding characters in all of cinema. He’s written as a complete fish out of water, like he’s been in a foreign country for years training and is now just returning to the U.S. But that’s not the case—he’s just a weird guy that’s lived his entire life in New York City and is really in to kung fu. The script portrays him as a child unfamiliar with how anything works, like a martial arts savant with a learning disability. He doesn’t know basic slang, common pop culture, or any knowledge about girls, but he lives with his family who seem like normal people. (There’s a running joke that his 12 year old brother has to constantly teach him how sex works.) That makes his romance with former Prince muse and NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE star Vanity even weirder, almost like she’s babysitting the guy.

It also doesn’t help that Taimak was clearly not a trained actor, which shows in every scene. It’s even worse when you consider that (allegedly) a young Wesley Snipes, Laurence Fishburne and even Denzel Washington were all up for the lead role at one point.

Remember the days when this was the way you listened to music on the go? No? GET OFF MY LAWN.

However, the real villain/star of THE LAST DRAGON is Sho’Nuff, another martial arts master who keeps telling everyone he’s the Shogun of Harlem, as if that’s supposed to mean something. He’s really just the leader of a gang who terrorizes the community and Leroy in particular, over who is the best kung fu fighter in town. Sho’Nuff is obsessed with making Leroy kneel before him, kiss his shoes, and call him “Master” in a manner that, combined with his overall fashion choices, definitely seems sexual and kinky.

Kudos to the late Julius Carry for making such an outrageous character work. Sho’Nuff is an Awfully Good all-star, constantly overacting via sneers, dressing like a flamboyant disco samurai, and party to an unending catalog of hilarious one-liners. (“You just get that sucker to the designated place at the designated time, and I will gladly designate his ass… for dismemberment!”) He’s so dynamic and fun to watch that I actively find myself rooting for Sho’Nuff every time I watch this movie.

THE LAST DRAGON william h macy
“This. This is the face that generations are going to associate with pure sex.”

There are just so many other elements in THE LAST DRAGON that make it perfect for this column.

  • You can make a fun drinking game solely out of the number of random cameos you spot, including William H. Macy, Chaz Palminteri, Rudy from The Cosby Show, and SURF NINJAS and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA II star Ernie Reyes Jr.
  • The fights and action scenes, which should be the film’s main selling point, range from okay to laughable. Taimak is a solid fighter, although being good in real martial arts doesn’t always make you good at fighting stuntmen on camera. Others, like Sho’Nuff’s Julius Carry, clearly had no experience and were quickly trained for the film.

It takes a real man to wear a midriff. MANDRIFF!

  • The costumes are staggering. Shogun’s henchmen, blessed with names like Crunch, Beast and Cyclone, dress in what can only be described as “urban kamikaze pilot couture.” The bad guy’s girlfriend has outfits that are so painfully 80s it looks like the decade became sentient and threw up all over her. And my absolute favorite—a giant tough guy who challenges Sho’Nuff offscreen, stands up menacingly, and is revealed to be wearing a tiny pink midriff.
  • And I’m sure someone smarter than me could write a thinkpiece on the dynamics of racial politics and code switching in THE LAST DRAGON. There’s Chinese people pretending to talk jive to fit in to their neighborhood, even making fun of Leroy for speaking too white. Leroy also has to constantly put on stereotypical fake personas just to fit in with his family and go undercover in his own neighborhood. (The scene where he has to practice saying “Hey, my man, what it look like?” over and over is just mindboggling.) And, of course, there’s the white record producer trying to insert himself into black pop culture, who, when he gets arrested at the end for shooting a black youth, falsely claims he was being mugged and feared for his life. All of which definitely doesn’t seem at all relevant.

THE LAST DRAGON headlights
It’s not sexist if I make a “headlights” joke when they’re literally headlights.

At least everything ends on a high note. The bad guy gathers the most fearsome murderers in the city for a final brawl at a cheesy discotheque. Because he’s not a very good fighter, Leroy immediately needs to be rescued by the children-in-training from his dojo, leading to him getting completely shown up by a 12 year old Ernie Reyes Jr. Even at such a young age, little Keno was a better fighter than anyone else in this movie.

Eventually, Leroy also has his Sho’down down with Sho’nuff, who, much to his chagrin, has already achieved The Glow. The entire movie, Leroy’s been searching for an elusive Chinese man called “The Master” to help him possess the power of The Glow, only to discover The Master is the nickname of fortune cookie machine. After an unnecessary montage, Leroy discovers that The Master was inside him all along (ew) and believing in himself was the true way to unlock The Glow. In case it wasn’t obvious, the climactic fight THE LAST DRAGON has been building to for the entire film features both hero and villain glowing with the most mediocre special effects 1985 could buy.

This movie is sheer lunacy and I love every second.

SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 2 john goodman walter
“This is what you get, Larry, when you find a stranger in the Alps!”

Sadly, we do not get to see if everything glows.

THE LAST DRAGON scoreBuy the Movie Watch the Movie

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Cultural appropriation happens
  • Someone says the word “master”
  • Someone gives a thumbs up
  • Someone uses breakdancing strategically
  • There’s a cameo by a recognizable actor
  • Leroy’s little brother refers to him by an Asian slur

Double shot if:

  • A Bruce Lee movie is shown


Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.


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