When I was a kid and The Last Dragon (1985) started showing up on cable, I would always avoid it. I started to watch it once, thinking it was going to be a breakdance movie (don’t ask why), but when I discovered it wasn’t I changed the channel.
It wasn’t until probably three or four years after the film’s release that I finally watched it.
I hated it.
Cut to about four years ago. My love for all things Prince reached a ridiculous height and I started listening to, watching, reading, and collecting anything and everything I could about the Purple One and everyone associated with him. I knew Vanity was in The Last Dragon, so I thought, “I should give it another shot. Maybe it’s better than I remember.” But I never did. Until now.
I recently came into possession of the movie’s out-of-print soundtrack album and, figuring it would make a good choice for Soundtrack Saturday, decided to give the movie itself another go. I’m so glad I did.
It’d been so long since I’d seen The Last Dragon that I honestly didn’t remember any of it. I felt like I was watching it again for the first time. And while I still don’t think it’s cinematic genius (I can’t believe they’re going to remake it — oh wait, yes I can), I did have a lot of fun watching it. It’s so ridiculous and over-the-top that I can see why it’s become a cult classic, and I’m sad I wasn’t on board with it long ago.
As I’ve been doing lately — and I’ll probably be doing from now on — I’m skipping the plot synopsis and directing you to the film’s trailer:
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When I’m watching something I’m going to write about later, I tend to write down (and sometimes tweet) my reactions as I go. Then I’ll turn the notes into something coherent or, if what I’ve written makes me laugh hard enough, just go with the notes as is. Since I laughed pretty hard at some of the ones I read over this morning, I figured I’d go that route for The Last Dragon. Here they are, raw and (mostly) unedited:
- Why in the hell did Berry Gordy think this movie was a good idea?
- The scene in the movie theater is hilarious. Julius Carry (Sho’nuff) is over-the-top in the best way. I can only dream of having a movie interrupted by something like that. Samuel L. Jackson needs to play it much the same and not go too serious in the remake.
- Why does Sho’nuff always want to know if he’s the prettiest? That doesn’t seem very badass kung fu to me.
- How the hell did Leroy (played by Taimak) get away with walking around Harlem in that getup? Oh yeah, he could kick anyone’s ass who said anything about it.
- I love the set of Vanity’s video show, the 7th Heaven club. I want to go there now.
- Eddie Arcadian and his crew remind me of a bad version of Lex Luthor and his crew from Superman II.
- OH MY GOD. William H. Macy is in this? And Chazz Palminteri? Was everyone hard up for work in ’85?
- LOOK! It’s Rudy Huxtable!
- I clearly have no memory of watching this movie, because I think I would’ve remembered some of this.
- Sho’nuff’s wardrobe is the best thing about this movie. I mean, he basically wears revamped football uniforms and a LEOPARD-SKIN BELT.
- The dude who plays Eddie, Christopher Murney, has a Clint Howard vibe about him. In fact I think it would’ve been amazing if Clint Howard had played the role.
- What the fuck is this, some kind of kung fu Running Man?
- Did anyone ever think to do a skit combining Soul Glo from Coming to America with “the Glow” from this movie and call it “The Soul Glow: Reaching the Final Level”? If not, I call dibs.
- Whoever decided Sho’nuff should wear hi-top Converse is a genius.
- Taimak was the martial arts coordinator for Madonna’s “Drowned World” tour. He was also on Singled Out — not as the martial arts coordinator, I’m guessing.
- I love the world these people live in, where getting some crazypants woman’s music video on TV is reason enough to kill people.
- I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Vanity’s acting isn’t so bad in this. Her “singing” is a different story.
- I love this random chunky white kid who’s always dressed like a pimp.
Despite how bad The Last Dragon is, it’s got some pretty funny dialogue, with Sho’nuff getting most of the best lines. My favorites:
- “Kiss my Converse!” (Sho’nuff)
- “String-bean, Rick James-lookin’ fool!” (Johnny Yu, played by Glen Eaton)
- “I got somethin’ real fo’ yo’ ass in these hands.” (Sho’nuff)
- “Maybe you can get a rise out of this limp wimp.” (Sho’nuff)
- “I’m gonna slap that sucker silly for alienation of affection! If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t know who it was! Chocolate-covered yellow peril!” (Richie, played by Leo O’Brien)
- “You just get that sucker to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass — for dismemberment!” (Sho’nuff)
Let’s talk about the soundtrack, because there’s a lot to talk about.
First, let’s discuss DeBarge. Their song, “Rhythm of the Night,” is played during the first scene at 7th Heaven as one of Laura’s (Vanity) big video picks. The video is played on these huge screens that take up several walls of the club, and dancers clad in brightly colored, very mid-’80s garb are shown grooving on the dance floor to the song.
“Rhythm of the Night” was a huge hit for the group, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Hot Black Singles chart, as the R&B/Hip-Hop category was known at the time. I actually like the song — I even have the extended version, which I’m providing below — but after reading up on it, I’m starting to second-guess my feelings. Why? Because apparently it’s the song that launched the career of my nemesis, Diane Warren. Curses!
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But I guess if the song had never happened, El DeBarge might never have made an appearance on The Facts of Life.
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The rest of the songs on the soundtrack are hit-or-miss. On the “hit” side we have Stevie Wonder’s “Upset Stomach,” “Star” by Alfie, and “Peeping Tom” by Rockwell, and among the “misses” are Willie Hutch’s “The Glow,” “Inside You” by Hutch and the Temptations, and the mildly creepy “First Time on a Ferris Wheel” by Smokey Robinson and Syreeta.
But in a category all its own, so bad it might actually be good, is Vanity’s “7th Heaven.” Please to enjoy her “performing” it on The Merv Griffin Show, where she tries to re-create her performance from the movie right down to the dress. Oh, Vanity.
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As I was doing my research, I found out that the video for Busta Rhymes’s “Dangerous” (1997) features a pretty fantastic homage to The Last Dragon and its best character, Sho’nuff. Check it:
As I mentioned briefly above, a remake of The Last Dragon is currently in the works with Samuel L. Jackson slated for the role of Sho’nuff and Rihanna rumored to play Laura. It’s being coproduced by Kerry Gordy, Berry’s son, and written by Dallas Jackson (the Master P vehicle Uncle P). All I can say is please oh please do not turn this shit into The Matrix — “The Glow” is best left untouched. Sho’nuff.
Below is the complete official soundtrack album, along with some of the tracks that didn’t make the final cut (warning: some are vinyl rips of questionable sound quality) and, as I mentioned, the bonus extended version of “Rhythm of the Night.” Enjoy, suckas!
Dwight David – The Last Dragon
Alfie – Star
Charlene – Fire
Vanity – 7th Heaven
DeBarge – Rhythm of the Night
Rockwell – Peeping Tom
Alfie – I Want You Baby
Rockwell – We Live in a Jungle
Willie Hutch – The Glow
Smokey Robinson and Syreeta – First Time on a Ferris Wheel
Stevie Wonder – Upset Stomach
Alfie – Give Me Your Love
Willie Hutch with the Temptations – Inside You
The Temptations – Treat Her Like a Lady
DeBarge – Rhythm of the Night [Long Version]