The Last Dragon is often referred to as a cult classic that is loved by fans but hated by critics. One of the first lines on The Last Dragon’s Wikipedia entry says “The film was a critical disappointment but a financial success, and is now considered a cult classic.”
It’s score on Rotten Tomatoes is another great example. Just look at the discrepancy between the “experts” rating (33% liked it) and the audience score (86% liked it)
When The Last Dragon first came out back in the 80’s the consensus seems to be that most critics weren’t impressed but over the years the film was elevated to cult status. Let’s look back to 1985 to shed some more light on this and see if critics really hated The Last Dragon when it came out.
Here are a few Throwback reviews that tell a different story.
1985 Review of The Last Dragon
Here’s a picture from a magazine of a review of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon just after its March 1985 theatrical release. I’m not sure which magazine this is but the reviewer is movie & music critic Ian Cranna and he clearly loved The Last Dragon.
Highlights from The Review:
- “Happily the dragon in question here is not the fire-breathing monster variety but instead the final stage in Kung Fu mastery. And if a martial arts movie made the head of slick Motown Records (Berry Gordy) sounds even worse than the mythical kind, then you’d actually be completely wrong The Last Dragon is in fact HUGELY enjoyable.”
- “It could all be horribly corny were it not for the fact that it’s done with a wit and general smartness entirely lacking in brainless youth exploitation movies like Footloose“
- “Apart from the revolutionary concept that all main characters are convincing, there are loads of good laughs, clever send-ups and role reversals throughout– like the innocent Leroy begging his streetwise kid brother Richie (brilliantly acted by Leo O’Brien) for advice on girls, or the 3 jive-talking, break-dancing Chinese guys, meeting up with the Oriental mannered black hero.”
- “The spectacular fight scenes are pretty ace – (even though the reviewer is admittedly not a fan of Kung-Fu fighting) and the final fandango builds into real audience participate time with everyone whooping or wincing with the action.”
- “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to fall for it.”
- “The Last Dragon is ace – charming, funny, genuinely cheering and not to be missed.”
Siskel & Eberts’ 1985 review of The Last Dragon
Remember At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert? No? Well when I was a kid they were THE movie critics. The late great iconic Gene Siskel gave The Last Dragon a thumbs up! They both talk about how much fun the movie is, love Julius Carry as Sho’nuff, rave about his movie theatre entrance and the chemistry between Bruce Leroy and Laura Charles. That being said, Robert Ebert, in a close call couldn’t give it a thumbs up due to not liking the Eddie Arkadian – Angela Viracco – Gangster sub-plot:
“The Last Dragon turns into a funny, high-energy combination of karate, romance, rock music and sensational special effects. It’s so entertaining that I could almost recommend it – if it weren’t for an idiotic subplot about a gangster and his girlfriend…” ~Roger Ebert
Listen to the great things he had to say about Taimak as Leroy:
“The hero is played by Taimak, a 20-year-old karate student who has not acted before, but who has a natural screen presence…”
Vanity (Denise Matthews) as Laura:
“Vanity, let it be said that she has the sort of rapport with the camera that makes us like her instantly; she has a sunny smile, and what can only be described as a sort of inner happiness, and in the middle of this plot about gangsters and night clubs and bloody fights, she floats serenely, a joy to behold.”
“There’s another engaging actor in the movie, a man named Julius J. Carry III, who describes himself as the Shogun of Harlem, and who presides over a hilarious early scene where he marches into a movie theater full of Bruce Lee fans and threatens to fight everyone in the house.”
Check out the original review for yourself its starts at the 10:19 mark:
video courtesy of http://siskelandebert.org
TV Guide’s 1985 Review of The Last Dragon
The TV Guide had these kind words to say about The Last Dragon:
“THE LAST DRAGON has a certain sweetness about it that is engaging. Leroy is a truly humble, quietly heroic character who possesses an admirable spirituality. The film stresses family values, friendship, self-respect, discipline, and romantic love, while presenting it all in a wholly entertaining format with little foul language or sadistic violence.”
What’s the Consensus Critic’s Opinion on The Last Dragon?
Expert reviews for The Last Dragon will always be mixed, not everybody gets it like its cult following, but clearly there are some critics who get it like we do.
Craig Sutton | @thelastglow
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