I should say, for the point of accuracy, that the actual title of this movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. Berry Gordy, of course, was the legendary record producer, songwriter and founder of Motown records. He is a giant of the music industry.
He was not a giant in the film industry. Mind you, his earlier forays into filmmaking are not lacking in prestige. Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz are solid works. The Last Dragon was, to date, his last time in the movie producer’s chair, and it’s somewhat infamous in its absurdity.
We start with Leroy, a young African-American boy in Harlem who has somehow trained in martial arts from the kind of wizened old master who only exists in kung-fu or Tarantino movies. This is not karate classes at the YMCA. This is an old dude is shooting arrows at Leroy. That’s the kind of martial arts we’re talking about.
So, old dude shoots arrows at Leroy, which he blocks adeptly, until he catches one. The right one. How did he know it was the one? He just knew, in that kung-fu movie way that all martial arts are magic. So the master is like, “Yup, you’re done. Can’t teach you any more.” Which, fair point. Once you’re catching arrows mid-flight, you’ve really moved past “student”.
Despite this, Leroy is convinced he has something to learn, so his teacher begs him off to finding a secret master somewhere in Chinatown who will teach him “the Glow”. And now to the plots!
There are essentially two plots in this movie, and by all rights they should have NOTHING to do with one another. The first involves Leroy seeking this mastter, while his neighborhood and friends are terrorized by a local kung-fu street gang led by “Sho’Nuff”, who is possibly THE GREATEST VILLAIN EVER COMMITTED TO THE MEDIUM OF FILM. He literally walks into a pizza parlor, has his flunkies shout his name, and then breaks shit because NO ONE WILL STOP HIM. Including Leroy for some mumble-mumble-be-peaceful reason. Which makes NO SENSE if you consider that Leroy has no qualms beating people up in the other plot. But Sho’Nuff’s entire goal is “fight Leroy”. That’s all he wants. But Leroy won’t fight him, because reasons.
Other plot involves a pseudo-Soul Train show hosted by Vanity and a two-bit record producer who is trying to get his talentless girlfriend’s video on the show. Vanity refuses because Integrity, and the producer counters her Integrity with Armed Mooks. Because, why react when you can overreact? However, Leroy becomes aware of this and rescues her from the armed mooks by playing Superhero Ninja.
Leroy and Vanity start something resembling a tepid romance, in which she plays him Bruce Lee videos in her studio, and he worries because girls are strange and mysterious creatures. Seriously, his main concern is the fact that, despite being a superhero ninja, he doesn’t have any “moves” for the ladies.
Leroy also seeks out the secret master, but: spoiler: it’s a wild goose chase. He’s literally led to a fortune cookie factory, and some guys try and keep him out, but it’s all just a waste of time. His teacher pretty much tells him: there’s no master, because you don’t need one. Because, seriously: YOU CAN CATCH ARROWS MID-AIR.
Things finally come to a head when the producer and Sho’Nuff decide to team up for evil. How and why this happens is something of a mystery, but it is a good match: the producer wants someone to beat up Leroy, and Sho’Nuff wants to beat up Leroy. How can they lose?
Well, they lose because they’re crazy, and because Leroy’s kung-fu class all shows up to help. But what matters is the Big Fight between Leroy and Sho’Nuff, where first Sho’Nuff taunts Leroy with videos. Then he smacks Leroy around, showing his superior skills and THE GLOW. For reasons never adequately explored, Sho’Nuff actually has THE GLOW. I kind of want the movie that tells us Sho’Nuff’s origin story. Come on, Hollywood Industry: you’re already giving us reboots and prequels of everything else from the 80s.
After playing with his food a bit, Sho’Nuff stuffs Leroy’s face in a convenient water tank and screams “WHO IS THE MASTER?” a few times, and being drowned gives Leroy a chance to reflect on the lessons his old teacher was trying to impart. And with additional help from the soundtrack– because this is a movie from a record producer, so it’s all about the soundtrack– Leroy figures out the answer to Sho’Nuff’s question.
WHO IS THE MASTER?
Yeah, who didn’t see that coming?
So Leroy beats Sho’Nuff, saves the girl, and everything is awesome.
Except he still needs some “moves”.