Thursday, January 29, 2015

Movie Talk - The Last Dragon and No Retreat, No Surrender

Well, I’m in the last week of Martial Arts Month. I have one more post after this and I’ll be done. Today’s post is going to center on a couple of martial arts movies from the 1980’s: The Last Dragon and No Retreat, No Surrender.  I had originally planned this on be a match-up between the two, but I decided against it. I was going to match them up for four reasons: they’re tributes to Bruce Lee, they’re pretty cheesy, they have breakdancing, and they have ridiculous villains. In the end, I realized I couldn’t pair these two up for two reasons: one of them is really bad while the other is somewhat decent. Still, I wanted to talk about them together, so here it is.

I don’t remember when I first saw The Last Dragon, but I know I was pretty young. I remember a lot from it. It just has enough elements that make it a memorable movie. No Retreat, No Surrender is more of a recent watch. I do remember seeing a small bit of it on this video that talked about martial arts actors. In this case, it was talking about Jean-Claude Van Damme and I always wondered what movie those excerpts came from. Internet reviewer Obscurus Lupa (great name) reviewed NRNS a few years ago and that’s how I found out about the movie. I watched this movie a few weeks ago.

No Retreat, No Surrender
No Retreat, No Surrender was released in 1986. It’s about a teenager named Jason who moves to Seattle.  His father closed his dojo because some mobsters were trying to own all of the dojos in the country. While Jason knows some karate, he’s also a Bruce lee fanatic. While he makes friends with R.J. “the blackest, black person ever,” he has some trouble adjusting because of bullies and his dad. One night, after he can’t take it anymore, the spirit of Bruce Lee (yeah, this happens) comes to him and teaches him how to fight better. He has to put his new skills to use when the mobsters come to Seattle to claim another dojo with the help of their enforcer, Ivan the Russian.
I guess when one comes back from the dead, their looks change?

So, I’d be lying to myself in saying that this is a good movie. It’s really bad. There is a reason I didn’t throw it in a face-off. The story itself feels like a rip-off of The Karate Kid with Rocky IV thrown in. You have the bullied kid, the awesome mentor, the bullies, the tournament at the end, and the almost superhuman Russian. The acting is pretty bad on all ends. I don’t’ think anyone makes it out of this movie alive acting-wise especially Jeremy’s dad. While R.J. was a hoot, he was also a walking cliché to the point where all you can say is “Wow.” He rapped, he danced, and he even had a Jerry Curl. 
Hey, a movie where having Van Damme as a supporting character is a *good* thing!

The mobsters are another cliché and their plan makes little sense. So, they want to own all the dojos in America to traffic drugs. That makes no sense. At least they had the bright idea to employ Jean-Claude Van Damme who’s sporting a bad Russian accent. Unfortunately, he’s only in it for a few minutes which sucks. The bullies are really cliché as well. I haven’t even talked about the Spirit of Bruce Lee coming to teach Jason some moves. That was pretty silly. Jason himself was alright but a little too obsessed with Bruce Lee. I mean, going to the man’s grave is one thing but bringing flowers and talking to the invisible Lee is a little weird especially if you don’t know him.
Uh… hmm… what… I got nothing on this. I don’t think they got nothing on it either.

Even though this movie is horrible, something about all of the badness makes it entertaining. I couldn’t help but laugh at the badness of it. It’s also incredibly cheesy and I think that helps the movie go down better.  R.J. and Scott (the main bully) were hilarious in their own way. The fight scenes are actually the only good things about the movie. They’re well choreographed and pretty exciting. Overall, if you like “so bad, it’s good” movies, then you might enjoy this. If you actually hate crappy movies, then you should make this a skip.

The Last Dragon
The Last Dragon was released in 1985. It’s about young man named Leroy Green, a guy who wants to be a martial artist akin to Bruce Lee. He’s reached the end of his training but hasn’t reached the final level of being a master. His mentor sends him on a journey in order to find this master that’ll help him achieve “The Glow.” His journey has him come across Laura, the host of a music video TV show.  They fall for each other and he ends up protecting her from a video arcade tycoon who wants her to play his girlfriend’s videos. Leroy also has to deal with Sho’nuff, another martial artist and the leader of a vicious gang who wants to fight him.
So, the Glow equates to 80's visual effects? Cool, I guess.

This movie was a blast. Yeah, it has its moments of “meh,” but it is a good movie for the most part. I liked the story and a lot of the characters. I liked the journey Leroy went on in the movie. It was one of self-discovery and gaining confidence in oneself. I also liked Laura and not just because she was gorgeous either. I liked the chemistry between those two. There are a lot of funny moments in the movie as well. Unlike NRNS, it only includes some scenes from Lee's movies instead of "The Ghost of Bruce Lee." I'd rather see the real thing instead of something that could have easily come from one of the weirder Brucesploitation movies.

I also like the villains here. Yes, they were cheesy and over the top, but they were that in a good way. Eddie Arcadian was pretty hilarious as the evil business mogul. The guy went through a lot to get a crappy video played, didn’t he? Then, we have Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. He was freakin’ hilarious. Everything he said was comedy gold. His gang literally looked like they came out of The Warriors or something. Seeing his gang go up against the Turnball AC’s or Cyrus’s group would be awesome to see.
So, Leroy's being powered by the morphing grid?

I will say that it’s not all perfect. Some of the acting is mixed. Tamiak (Leroy) does come off as pretty stiff acting-wise. To be fair, it was literally his first role and it kind of works to service his character. Leroy is supposed to be bit of a stiff anyway. There are also some long music numbers in the movie. One of them is Laura’s music number and it’s pretty “meh.” Remember that this movie was produced by Motown, so the music is something you’ll have to deal with. Some of the music in the movie isn’t bad though.

Another weak element is the fight scenes. They’re not that good. They’re pretty tame when you compare them to No Retreat, No Surrender which had some pretty good fight scenes. Now, this doesn’t mean that the fights all suck. The final fight between Leroy and Sho’nuff has enough emotion in it to make it good. You also have some nice stunt work going on with some folk. We even get to see a young Ernie Reyes Jr. doing some nice tricks. Overall, give this movie a watch. It may have a lot of 80’s cheese, but the story is good and the characters are memorable. 


Well, you can probably tell why I didn’t have these movies square off. The Last Dragon would have won in spades. I still do recommend both movies. They’re truly a product of their time and there is fun to be had with them especially NRNS. It's so bad it’s good. Well, I have to find something to finish off this month with. Peace, God Bless, and find out who the master is. I got a few questions for him.

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