All the movies we've seen Vanity in have been amazing in a bad way and The Last Dragon was no exception. In fact, this movie would have moved to the top of the “Amazing Vanity Movie List” if it hadn't been for one blazingly awkward main character...
The plot unfolds something like this: Leroy Green (our hero) is sent into the world by his martial arts master to take the next step towards becoming a master himself. On his quest he instantly, though unwittingly, makes some powerful enemies. Will Leroy become the master he wishes to be? Will he be able to keep Laura safe? Will Angela Viracco get her music video played on TV?
Let me explain. There are a number of subplots trying to horn their way into plot position, here's how they unfold:
1) Leroy Green (our hero) is on a quest to reach the next step in his marital arts training. His master has sent him out into the world to find his next master, who happens to makes fortune cookies on the side. Will Leroy find this new master? Will the fortune cookie warehouse workers let Leroy in to see this master if he does?
2) Leroy runs afoul The Shogun of Harlem while in attendance of a Bruce Lee movie marathon. The Shogun demands a face off with the “legendary” Leroy Green to decide once and for all who the martial arts master of Harlem really is. Leroy humbly declines the invitation and continues watching the film. Will he regret denying the Shogun his showdown? Will the Shogun stop at nothing to get his showdown?
3) Local heavy weight thug/boss/villain Eddie Arkadian want's his lady-candy Angela Viracco's music career to take off. He plans to convince popular VJ Laura to play Angela's video on her show. When Laura turns him down, his tactics get dirtier. Will Laura submit to his strong arming or will Leroy be able to him at bay?
Got it? That doesn't even cover the sub-subplots: abusive boyfriend getting kicked to the curb, the “blossoming” love between Leroy and Laura, Leroy's 9 year old brother's unrequited love for Laura, and the Green family's restaurant business woes.
Things to watch for: A pretty epic takedown of an abusive boyfriend by the girlfriend herself. A musical performance by DeBarge. The Shogun of Harlem's amazingly bad costumes. Glowing martial arts effects...
Things to cringe at: Cultural appropriation of all things Asian by Harlem, and of all things Harlem by Little Tokyo.
The Big Cringe: At the start of the film Leroy Green seems to be an Asian immigrant unexpectedly thrust into the bustling world of 1980s NYC. He wears traditional Chinese garb, he speaks English as though it's his second language, and he doesn't pick up on basic cultural cues. When we are introduced to the rest of the Green family they are definitely NYC natives and they treat Leroy like their biological son. So, except for the fact that he acts and talks like he was just dropped from the sky in to their kitchen, the movie seems to tell us he was born into a typical Harlem family. It's the weirdest thing. And, unless Leroy was supposed to be autistic and that wasn't clear enough to the audience, it's completely horrible. That tone def character makes many of the other parts of the movie hard to swallow, like Vanity falling for him or his friends standing so steadfast by his side. And it's a real shame, because without that, the movie is epically great-bad.
And why do they look familiar...: Because they're Ernie Reyes Jr., the lead from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and Julius Carry, the second lead in the short lived Brisco County Jr.
Additional crazy things about this film: Berry Gordie, the kingpin of Motown, produced this movie. The man responsible for so many amazing musicians reaching national and international acclaim* produced a movie this epically bad.
What we learned from this movie: Characters have to have motivations that are clear to the audience, unless you want them to come off like alien creatures...
(*Berry Gordie also wrote and co-wrote all of the songs we linked there.)