Set in New York City, the movie follows a martial artist named Leroy Green (also known as "Bruce Leroy"), who has dreams of becoming a great martial artist like his idol Bruce Lee. His master (Thomas Ikeda) explains that he has reached the final level of martial arts accomplishment known as "The Last Dragon". Martial artists who reach this final level are said to be able to concentrate such mystical energy into their hands that they begin to glow. Only a true martial arts master would be able to exhibit "The Glow" over his entire body. Leroy doesn't fully understand and, in possession of a medal supposedly belonging to Bruce Lee, Leroy embarks upon a journey to find Master Sum Dum Goy, whom his master claims can help Leroy unlock the power of "The Glow".
Another martial artist, Sho'nuff (Julius J. Carry III) (also known as "The Shogun of Harlem") sees Leroy as the only obstacle to being acknowledged as the true master of martial arts. Leroy refuses to fight him and a furious Sho'nuff vows that he will defeat Leroy. Sho'nuff and his gang later break in and assault one of the students at Leroy's martial arts school, Johnny Yu (Glen Eaton), demanding that Leroy bow before Sho'nuff. Finally, Sho'nuff and his gang attempt to send a message to Leroy by destroying the Green family pizza restaurant.
Meanwhile, video arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) sends his men to kidnap 7th Heaven video host Laura Charles (Vanity) in the hopes of getting his girlfriend Angela Viracco's (Faith Prince) new music video featured on her show. The kidnap attempt is thwarted by Leroy who easily fends off the thugs. He loses his medal during the struggle, which Laura recovers. Later, Leroy witnesses Laura being kidnapped by Arkadian's brutish henchman Rock (Mike Starr). A clue left behind reveals that the kidnappers work for Eddie Arkadian Productions.
Laura refuses to promote Angela Viracco's video on her program, but as Arkadian's men prepare to coerce her by force, Leroy suddenly bursts into the room and rescues Laura once again. Back at her apartment, Laura gratefully returns Leroy's medal. Consumed with vengeance, Arkadian hires Sho'nuff to defeat Leroy and takes control of the 7th Heaven studio, capturing Laura and Leroy's younger brother, Richie, who has snuck in hoping to woo Laura.
Posing as a pizza delivery man, Leroy manages to infiltrate the assumed lair of Master Sum Dum Goy within a fortune cookie factory, but is shocked to discover that the "Master" is only a computer churning out cookie fortunes. Leroy consults his former master for answers, but his master suggests that Leroy has known the answers all along.
Not wanting anyone to get hurt in the process of achieving her stardom, Angela leaves Arkadian and asks Johnny to warn Leroy about his plan. As Leroy returns to 7th Heaven, he is ambushed by an army of violent thugs hired by Arkadian. Leroy's students, led by Johnny, charge into the studio to even the odds. Using Laura as bait, Eddie lures Leroy to a dilapidated building where he finally faces off against Sho'nuff. Sho'nuff reveals his ability to use "The Glow", his hands pulsating with a red aura, and beats Leroy viciously before attempting to force him to acknowledge Sho'nuff as "The Master". As recent events flash before Leroy's eyes, he realizes that his former Master was correct and that everything he needed to achieve the "Final Level" was within him all along. His entire body bathed in the sublime golden light of "The Glow", Leroy uses his newfound power to defeat Sho'nuff.
Arkadian appears and fires a single bullet which Leroy catches between his teeth before detaining Arkadian for the police. Laura and Leroy are reunited at the studio where the two kiss.Taimak as Leroy Green
Vanity as Laura Charles
Julius J. Carry III as Sho'nuff / The Shogun of Harlem
Chris Murney as Eddie Arkadian
Leo O'Brien as Richie Green
Faith Prince as Angela Viracco
Glen Eaton as Johnny Yu
Jim Moody as Daddy Green
Mike Starr as Rock
Lisa Loving as Sho's Woman #3
Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Tai
Esther Marrow as Mama Green
Keshia Knight Pulliam as Sophia Green
Jamal Mason as Roy
B.J. Barie as Jackie
Chazz Palminteri as Hood #2
William H. Macy as J.J.
Carl Anthony Payne II as Kid in pizza shop
London Reyes as Dancer
Jeffrey Dawson as Security Guard
This was the first acting role for Taimak, a then-19-year-old black belt who learned to act on the set of this picture. Leroy and Richie's younger sister Sophie is portrayed by Cosby Show actress Keshia Knight Pulliam. Ernie Reyes, Jr., martial artist and actor, made his film debut at the age of twelve in this film. Leo O'Brien, the actor portraying Bruce Leroy's younger brother Richie, is the younger brother of Guy O'Brien, better known as "Master Gee" from the hip-hop group The Sugarhill Gang, as well as television host London Reyes a.k.a. "B-Boy London" of the New York City Breakers.
Veteran actor William H. Macy makes a brief appearance as "JJ", and Chazz Palminteri makes a brief appearance as "Hood #2". Carl Anthony Payne II, who appears in a small role as a kid in the family-owned pizza shop, went on to co-star in The Cosby Show and Martin.
Julius J. Carry III, in the role of Sho'nuff, trained in martial arts for the film, and later appeared in numerous television roles.The film began production on exclusive New York City locations on April 16, 1984.
The Dojo and workout scenes were filmed at the Harlem Karate Institute of Grandmaster Ernest Hyman, Japanese Goju-Ryu, in Harlem, New York City.
The Victory Theater on 42nd Street which was used for the scene where Sho'nuff interrupts the viewing of Enter The Dragon was an adult movie theater. Ron Van Clief choreographed the fight for this scene in which Julius J. Carry III performed his own stunts.
Bernstein's-on-Essex, a kosher Chinese restaurant used in the film with its decor intact.
Village East Pizza restaurant between 11th and 12th street on Ave C in lower Manhattan. (Daddy Green's)
A Chinese warehouse on Walker Street in Manhattan (the Sum Dum Goy fortune cookie factory).
Super Amusements in Flushing in the Queens Borough of New York City (Eddie's Video Emporium).
An abandoned wire factory and warehouse at East 118 Street and East Side Highway in Manhattan which was used for the climatic fight between Leroy and Sho'Nuff.
Peter Larkin's spectacular Seventh Heaven club video set was built on Camera Mart stages at 54th and 10th Avenue, a set so impressive that Diana Ross, visiting one day, promptly asked if she could buy it for her next tour.
Berry Gordy was frequently on the set and had many of his Motown artists visit. Producer Suzanne de Passe was very hands on with the project.
The film is known for its soundtrack of the same name, featuring a bevvy of talent with references to martial arts from the East. The music was supervised by executive producer Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. Featured in this film is a DeBarge song, "Rhythm of the Night", written by Diane Warren. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. The film's Richard Perry-produced title theme was nominated for Worst "Original" Song at the 1985 Golden Raspberry Awards, as was Vanity's song "7th Heaven". A song that was not featured but still benefited from critical acclaim was "Upset Stomach", written and performed by Stevie Wonder. It also marked the return of Willie Hutch to Motown with the song "The Glow". Charlene, known for her one-hit-wonder "I've Never Been to Me", performed the song "Fire" for the soundtrack, though it never charted.
The score was composed by Misha Segal. The love theme song called First Time on a Ferris Wheel was also composed by Misha Segal and performed by Smokey Robinson and Syreeta.
In 1997, rapper Busta Rhymes released the song "Dangerous". In the music video he dressed as Sho'Nuff for one scene, repeating lines from the film.
LMFAO's 2011 single "Sexy and I Know It" references the film with the lyric "And like Bruce Leroy I got The Glow".
Trinity McCray credits this film as the inspiration for her Glow gimmick that she uses on WWE Television.
The film received a mixed response from critics.
Film historian Leonard Maltin gave the movie 2 (out of a possible 4) stars, calling it "...Juvenile, campy and heavy-handed...Strictly kid-stuff, except for one gag: the name of the Chinatown warehouse."
In 2002 a paper in the Journal of Asian American Studies applauded the strong character development of the black hero, who reverses the stereotype of the typical Asian in an action film. The hero, while learning from an Asian Zen master, learns to use his internal strength and aura to overcome obstacles.