W. Kamau Bell, comedian, podcaster, broadcaster, writer, host of the late-lamented Totally Biased, and soon to be co-host of CNN’s United Shades of America, has proven himself a savvy connoisseur of cinema. Aside from the obvious entertainment value of a film, he is a student, and a fan, of the subtext of films that might not otherwise seem to have one. And so it is with Berry Gordy’s THE LAST DRAGON. When we spoke in the lobby of the fabulous Roxie Theater on December 16, 2015, it was to promote his hosting of a 30th-anniversary screening of that film, programmed at the Roxie here in San Francisco by Sam Fragoso, which will also include the film’s star, Taimak, in person. Bell’s take on the film includes the many entry points for appreciating it, from being the last Blaxploitation film of the 1970s (never mind it was made in 1985), to the whole-hearted cheesiness, to the unique space occupied by its hero, a ripped black martial-arts master who stands up for himself. It was that last that spoke so directly to Bell’s 12-year-old self when he first encountered the film as a kid.
Sitting in the sublime glow of the Roxie’s lobby, we went on to talk about that >other< film opening on December 18, and how both it andTHE LAST DRAGON are hero’s journeys in the classic sense, but only one will have its star in attendance at the screening. Bell also explained the unexpected perfection of Motown music paired with Bruce Lee’s fluid form in combat, his attack of fanboy-itis when first meeting Taimak, and why humor works as a way to get people’s attention to the darkness of modern life when nothing else will.