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  Last Dragon, The Emphasis On The Beat
Year: 1985
Director: Michael Schultz
Stars: Taimak, Vanity, Christopher Murney, Julius Carry, Faith Prince, Leo O'Brien, Mike Starr, Jim Moody, Glen Eaton, Ernie Reyes Jr, Roger Campbell, Esther Marrow, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Jamal Mason, B.J. Barie, Chazz Palminteri, William H. Macy, Lia Chiang
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, Martial Arts, Adventure, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Leroy Green (Taimak) has reached the limits of his training in the martial arts, being able to pluck arrows from the air, but he is not sure about what his master thinks. The old man tells him that there is one step he can take to attain a supreme status, which will offer him a golden glow when he performs his moves, and that is to meet another master who is living in seclusion somewhere in New York City, and gives him a special medallion to offer the mystery man. But Leroy will find his prowess attracts the wrong kind of attention when the toughest guy in Harlem wants to beat him...

That tough guy being Sho' Nuff, or Mr Nuff as the other baddie calls him at one point, played by Julius Carry in the movie that everyone remembered him for. Looking a lot like a very tall Busta Rhymes decked out with huge shoulder pads and a flashy outfit, it was hard to argue he was not the most memorable aspect of The Last Dragon, which was a Berry Gordy production for Motown, their first big screen enterprise since The Wiz flopped. This did rather better, mainly thanks to its all too obvious attempt to court as many lucrative entertainment genres as they could, so what we had here was a mishmash of music, comedy, and kung fu action.

That this is fondly recalled by many was not exactly a testament to its overall quality, and more due to the fact that you could chalk this up to the power of eighties nostalgia along with the likes of Breakin', which if you swapped martial arts for breakdancing would not be entirely dissimilar. Certainly as far as the combat went there were a hell of a lot more accomplished movies you could be watching, almost all of them hailing from the Far East which this was so patently influenced by, but that's not to say Taimak was a slouch in his chosen field: think of him as a Jim Kelly for the eighties and you would not be far off the mark, especially as they court those comparisons by having Leroy attend a screening of Enter the Dragon for Bruce Lee associations.

There was another star involved, best classed as a damsel in distress considering she spent most of her screen time getting kidnapped by gangsters, and she was Prince's protégé Vanity, here playing Laura Charles who has her own Soul Train style show on TV. Conniving mobster Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney) wants her to play the not very good video of his aspiring pop star girlfriend Angela (helium voiced Faith Prince), making this something of a The Girl Can't Help It imitation thirty years too late, but Laura is having none of it and refuses, hence the amount of times she is kidnapped. Fortunately her hero is Leroy who keeps saving her, displaying the only fighting in the movie until the finale.

Leroy is reluctant to show off his skills, you see, thinking it better to play it stoic and serious and not simply flaunt whatever flair he has to anybody who asks - or demands, in the case of Sho' Nuff. The baddie wants to prove himself by beating Leroy fair and square, and if he doesn't agree then he'll start conducting a campaign of intimidation until he does, so while the villains in this are cartoonish and played for laughs in the main, Sho' Nuff does grow meaner as the story progresses, even smashing up Leroy's parents' diner. Naturally, all this looks pretty goofy nowadays, and probably did back then as well, but it's not unenjoyable and offers a combination of eighties Motown - with Rhythm of the Night by DeBarge featuring prominently as the movie's most famous hit single - and a certain pandering to the preference of African American pop culture to gravitate towards kung fu flicks that is amusing, if not quite enough to eliminate the cynical feeling it engenders. Music by Bruce Miller and Misha Segal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Schultz  (1938 - )

American director, from the theatre, of largely disposable entertainment, including Cooley High, Car Wash, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Greased Lightning, Scavenger Hunt, Krush Groove, The Last Dragon and Disorderlies. Notable as one of the first black mainstream directors, after some TV in the seventies (The Rockford Files, Starsky and Hutch) he concentrated on television full time from the late eighties onwards.

 
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