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The Last Dragon

When watching 1985's The Last Dragon — or as it was titled in theaters Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon — one wonders exactly how much of its appeal isn't because it's entertaining, but rather because it feels like a unearthed time capsule. After completing his kung fu training, "Bruce" Leroy Jones (Taimak) opens his own dojo (though is still looking for a greater master to train under), but he is constantly challenged by shogun warrior Sho'nuff (Julius Carry, wearing football pads under a kimono) — even during a screening of Enter the Dragon — as Sho'nuff desperately wants to be Leroy's nemesis. Through inexplicable coincidences, Leroy also becomes entangled with popular VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) after defending her from Eddie Arkadia's goons (including Chazz Palminteri and Mike Starr). Arcadia (Chris Murney) wants his girlfriend's video on Laura's program — thus, when she hires Leroy to protect her (and the two become romantically linked), Arkadia then hires Sho'nuff to fight Leroy. The Last Dragon starts well, with Sho'nuff stealing the show (Carry sinks his teeth into the part), but the rest of the cast is weak (Taimak is an especially awful actor), it sags in the middle, the kung fu is so-so, and — as should be expected from a film produced by Motown founder Berry Gordy — the plot stops dead at certain moments for Motown artists (like '80s phenoms Debarge and Rockwell) to have their music played. All that said, the movie is still fun to watch, as it has an endearing ineptness. Dragon came out in a weird, lean period for black cinema — by 1985 Blaxploitation had run its course and Spike Lee had yet to take hold. As such, it's more playful than either era's films. And, like a lot of low-budget '80s movies, its sheer naiveté makes it oddly palatable. Director Michael Schultz (who made the wonderful Cooley High and the rap-sploitation classics Krush Groove and Disorderlies) keeps this a cartoonish affair. Columbia TriStar's DVD features both an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and pan-and-scan, with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Commentary by Schultz, production notes, filmographies and bonus trailers. Keep-case.

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