Sho’nuff: When I say “Who’s da master?” you say “Sho’nuff.” Who’s da master?!?
Bruce Leroy: I am.
– Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (1985)
In 1985 (37 years ago today), my favorite cousin, who was obsessed with all things martial arts-related, took me to see Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, the fantastical, cheesy, racially tone-deaf story of an African-American Kung Fu “master” living in Harlem. I was 8 and already quite accustomed to his addiction as we spent many a Saturday morning watching dubbed black-and-white movies about ninja and samurai trying to live honorably, and beating the crap out of those who refused to let them. Although I occasionally complained that I was missing The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo, and various other cartoons during these times, I, too, was taken with these movies. My idolization of my older cousin made liking them possible.
At age 20, my cousin was a practically an adult, one who owned and properly used nunchucks, knew how to center his Chi, and could administer a roundhouse kick to the head. Going to the movies with him was an honor and a privilege, and knowing that he’d chosen me, his chunky, introspective, prepubertal cousin, for such an expedition was the best feeling in the world. Looking back on it now, I can clearly see that he probably had no other options. (True fanboys rarely did back in those days. And he was a Black fanboy from the ‘hood who wore Mandarin shirts and karate shoes with white socks. Options? Fugetaboutit.)
Honestly, I don’t remember a thing about sitting in that darkened theater with my favorite cousin. I draw a complete blank on that day, but when The Last Dragon finally made its HBO debut, I was hooked. I taped the movie on Betamax and spent the entire summer indoors, watching it at least once a day while my mother was at work. When Bruce Leroy rescued VJ vixen Laura Charles from the bridge-and-tunnel thugs who worked for evil arcade game mogul Eddie Arcadian, I gasped. When he saved her again from said thugs and they almost kiss as a result, I blushed. When he saved her a final time, catching a bullet in the teeth for his beloved, I was in full-on swoon mode. I knew every line, move, and song by heart by the time school started up again.
Maybe I did it all for posterity. In the months after the movie had hit the big screen, my cousin had a kid on the way, a little girl who instantly became the center of his world. Nunchucks and throwing stars were replaced with diapers and bottles, our Saturday morning retreats to the world of Kung Fu and karate movies long gone. Maybe watching The Last Dragon ad nauseam reminded me of how things were before my cousin had gotten “cool” and dropped his old obsession for a new and improved one. Then again, maybe it was just that, in my girlie little mind, Bruce Leroy was hotter than the sun.