Film Review: The Black Dragon’s Revenge (1975)

Also known as: Long zheng hu dou jing wu hun (original Mandarin title), The Death of Bruce Lee (US dubbed version), The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (UK)
Release Date: November, 1975 (US)
Directed by: Chin-Ku Lu (credited as Tommy Loo Chung)
Written by: Norbert Albertson Jr.
Cast: Ron Van Clief, Charles Bonet, Phillip Ko

Yangtze Productions, Howard Mahler Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

Ron Van Clief was a legit martial arts badass that decided to become an action star during the height of kung fu and blaxploitation movies. Unfortunately, he lacks the charisma and charm of Jim Kelly, who was the true champion of black martial artists in this era. Van Clief’s moves are impressive and his skills would translate into being a fight choreographer on 1985’s cult classic The Last Dragon, as well as doing stunts in other pictures.

The film taps into one of the many strange conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Bruce Lee. Here, it is believed that Lee was murdered by greedy film producers. Really, this is just one of dozens of cheap attempts to capitalize on Lee’s popularity, just after his death.

The film starts off being a slight bit interesting but it doesn’t have a lot of steam to begin with and we are just treated to lots of fights. While the choreography and action are decent, this feels more like a cinematic display of martial arts skills, as opposed to feeling like a real movie. Even though I love kung fu flicks, this gets monotonous and boring pretty quickly.

The Black Dragon’s Revenge is also hindered by the quality of the prints available. They haven’t held up well and frankly, I guess it is what it is because no one will probably spend the money on preserving this long lost dud of a blaxploitation/Bruceploitation hybrid.

I have no real choice other than to run this through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.” I guess the trusty Shitometer felt the need to be harsher than I was.

Film Review: The Last Dragon (1985)

Also known as: Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon
Release Date: March 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Michael Schultz
Written by: Louis Venosta
Music by: Bruce Miller, Misha Segal
Cast: Taimak, Julius J. Carry III, Chris Murney, Leo O’Brien, Faith Prince, Glen Eaton, Vanity, Mike Starr, Ernie Reyes Jr., Keshia Knight Pulliam, Jim Moody, Esther Marrow, Chazz Palminteri, William H. Macy, Carl Anthony Payne II, Ron Van Clief (uncredited)

Motown Productions, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna get you, Leroy, because I am the Shogun! I will not rest until everybody knows the Shogun is the master!” – Sho’nuff

The Last Dragon is a weird enigma and frankly, there is nothing else quite like it.

The story is about a boy named Leroy and how he becomes a kung fu master. His friends and students call him Bruce Leroy and there is a good amount of old Bruce Lee movie footage thrown into the picture for good measure. Between this and No Retreat, No Surrender, Bruceploitation was still alive and well more than a decade after the man’s death.

Leroy draws the ire of an evil kung fu badass named Sho’Nuff, who is played by the immensely awesome Julius Carry, who I would become a lifelong fan of after his role on the underappreciated television series, Brisco County, Jr. In fact, regardless of Carry being the badass bad guy, I love this movie mostly because of him and the very young Ernie Reyes Jr.

The two main stars of the picture are Taimak as Bruce Leroy and the ’80s pop star Vanity as Laura, who was essentially like an old school MTV VJ. You also get small roles from William H. Macy, Chazz Palminteri, Mike Starr and two of The Cosby Show‘s kids: Keshia Knight Pulliam and Carl Anthony Payne II. Legit martial arts star Ron Van Clief handled the fight choreography and had a small uncredited role.

While this isn’t a musical, it is a film that is very music heavy. One of the villains is an evil music producer that wants his girlfriend to become a massive star. In fact, I thought her song was pretty good within the context of the movie but Vanity seemed to be completely disinterested in it, which made the villain lash out and become even more villainous. Honestly, the bad song wasn’t really that different than most of the mid-’80s pop that fills the movie. Had she just played the music video, she could have saved herself and her friends a lot of stress.

The thing that makes The Last Dragon so unique is that it is a weird mix of kung fu, ’80s music, teen comedy and is a visual explosion of over the top ’80s style. The film almost feels like a fantasy that takes place in a world similar to ours but much cooler, where everything is accented by neon lights and chrome.

The Last Dragon is a pretty cool experience but it feels pretty dated. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the modern era but for fans of ’80s cheese, it’s a nice cornucopia of ’80s style, music and humor. Plus, it is just a cool movie that’s a whole lot of fun.

Film Review: No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1986
Directed by: Corey Yuen
Written by: Keith W. Strandberg
Music by: Paul Gilreath
Cast: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham, Kent Lipham, Jean-Claude Van Damme

Balcor Film Investors, Seasonal Films, New World Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“L.A. karate… I’m impressed.” – Dean Ramsay

For some reason, I liked this as a kid. I mean, I had a pretty strong cinematic palate, even as a child, but I must have been cracked out on Jolt Cola and Smarties candies because this thing stinks to holy hell.

Sure, Jean-Claude Van Damme is in it but this is a few years before the classics Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Also, he is barely in it. He is in the opening brawl and then doesn’t reappear again until the very end where he takes on all the top fighters in Seattle because Manhattan karate is better even though he is a commie Soviet hired by evil Manhattan businessmen trying to conquer America’s dojos for some bizarre ass reason.

That was a run-on sentence but this is a run-on movie where a bunch of concepts get thrown around for no apparent reason and are supposed to be some sort of coherent story. But let’s talk about that.

Essentially, this film is a mashup of The Karate KidRocky IV and The Last Dragon. All good movies on their own but not when you stuff them into an 84 minute package with even more shit thrown on top of it.

In regards to The Karate Kid portion of the film, we follow a teenage boy, who gets beat up a lot, mostly by bullies of a martial arts school. He has to train and get tough to show those guys, especially the one who has his eyes on the same girl the hero has his eyes on. Except the jerk in this movie isn’t as cool as William Zabka’s Johnny. The bullies also aren’t as cool as the Cobra Kai. One of them is this fat guy that smears food all over himself every time he is on screen. It’s pretty gross, actually.

From Rocky IV it steals the evil commie Soviet bad guy. While Jean-Claude Van Damme would prove his superiority over Dolph Lundgren years later in Universal Soldier, it is pretty clear that Lundgren’s Ivan Drago is a much better villain than Van Damme’s Ivan Kraschinsky. But at least they are both jacked up and oiled up Soviet monsters named Ivan.

What it takes from The Last Dragon is the most blasphemous thing I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time. They take the hero’s love of Bruce Lee and give it to the audience in the most disrespectful way possible. Not only do they film scenes at the legendary martial arts superstar’s grave, they also have some actor appear as Bruce Lee’s ghost to train our hero. So we basically have an American Brucesploitation film of the worst kind.

Also, the hero kid claims he knows everything there is to know about Lee yet he calls him “sensei”. Lee was a “sifu”. “Sensei” is Japanese, “sifu” is Chinese. But then again, the hero is a karate master that is being taught by the ghost of the creator of Jeet Kune Do. Anyone who actually knows anything about martial arts will probably find this confusing. Also, from a competitive standpoint, everyone is doing kickboxing. Granted, karate moves are used in kickboxing but the style allows for a broader range of attacks.

The film also has a lot of homoerotic moments. In fact, this may have more gay innuendo than A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. That is a hard movie to top in that regard but just watch the relationship between our hero and his bestie R.J., especially the workout montage. To be clear, I don’t see this as a negative, I think it’s awesome in the same way I think the gayness of Freddy’s Revenge is awesome.

Other than the fabulous gay innuendo, No Retreat, No Surrender is really a pile of crap. I should definitely run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Aha! The results state that No Retreat, No Surrender is a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).” Well, if you say so, machine! It didn’t pass that easily but maybe it did have a clearer path due to being worn down by the movie’s gayness.