Sorry to Bother You is already a wild, trippy movie about code-switching and horse-people slaves. But in one of its most bewildering scenes, Tessa Thompson’s Detroit strips down to a bikini made of gloves for a piece of performance art. She recites lines from some random movie while the audience pelts her with cell phones, bullet casings, and balloons filled with sheep’s blood.
That random movie, The Last Dragon, is finally on Netflix, and it’s the perfect ridiculous late-night watch that just so happens to finally provide closure on one of Sorry to Bother You’s more puzzling scenes.
A pastiche of the ‘70s and ‘80s kung fu cinema dominated by Bruce Lee, The Last Dragon follows martial artist Leroy Green through New York City as he rescues TV personality Laura Charles from a ruthless mob boss. They fall in love (of course), and to keep her safe, Leroy has to defeat Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem.
For some reason, Detroit quotes a scene from The Last Dragon in which the mob boss’ girlfriend realizes her self-worth and dumps him for the decrepit gremlin her is.
“And in the end Eddie, you know what? You’re nothing but a misguided midget asshole with dreams of ruling the world … yeah also from Kew Gardens … and also getting by on my tits!”
Why does Detroit quote this?
Sorry to Bother You writer-director Boots Riley told Pop Matters that it had everything to do with an artistic exercise examining meaning.
“The Last Dragon is one of my favorite movies,” Riley said. “Part of that has to do with the circumstances of my first seeing it. In high school, I saw it in a theater that is a less exaggerated version of the theater that’s in the movie, where Detroit performs. The idea is that we can take anything and put meaning into it. The context is the meaning.”
In Sorry to Bother You, Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius “Cash” Green as he attempts to survive in a sinister alternate reality where capitalism has just about ruined the world. His girlfriend Detroit is an activist, revolutionary, and artist whose absurdist fashion and art serve as a jarring wake-up call for a society that’s totally numb.
So it’s all too fitting that when Cassius sells out and uses a magical “white voice” to thrive as a telemarketer — essentially selling slaves — Detroit dumps him and throws a totally insane art show, imbuing an essentially meaningless quote with meaning through art.
Does that mean Boots Riley thinks The Last Dragon is meaningless, even though it’s his favorite movie? Maybe, but for any hardcore fan of Sorry to Bother You, we might as well consider it essential viewing.
Sorry to Bother You is available to rent or own wherever you find your movies.