You know what? We’re not always about blood and Satan up in here. True, I’ve reviewed some harrowing stuff in the past and it seems like blood and gore is always in stock, but it’s nice to get something like Johnny Tao that twists the format. I almost don’t know what to do with myself right now. To review a movie like Johnny Tao, I almost feel like I’ll be doing a great disservice to it and the potential audience for a movie like this by filling it with my usual heaping spoonfuls of shits and fucks.
Johnny Tao wasn’t really made with the Cinema Suicide readership in mind, nor is it your average martial arts flick. It’s meant for kids, really. Cool kids, that is. Parents who show this to their kids will probably one day find their kids digging through their DVDs or whatever the hell we’re watching ten years from now asking questions like, “Dad, who are the Shaw Brothers? What’s the 36th chamber and who is Jackie Chan?” At least, I hope that’s how it goes down and my daughter does not, instead, turn to me and ask, “How the hell could you watch this crap?”
Johnny Dow lives on the edge of Death Valley in a sleepy dust-swept village that looks like the set of any given episode of the A-Team. He gets up real early, powers up his TV and practices kung fu in accordance to his martial arts video tapes. He’s really good, too. When his UFO obsessed roommate recovers a sword possessed by an ancient Chinese demon while looking for space junk, he becomes the demon’s latest vessel and builds an army of kung-fu fightin’ sugar crazed fighters out of everyone he comes across. Johnny, devoted to the memory of his father, a rockabillly legend that never was, must join forces with the bungling town sherriff and Mika, the latest in a line of warriors trained to fight the demon Tai Lo, wherever he rears his head if he plans on saving the town as well as the whole world.
Johnny Tao comes out of nowhere. I had never heard of it and to this day, I’m still trying to figure out how I caught wind of it but I’m glad that I did. Director Kenn Scott knows a thing or two about martial arts and how to entertain kids. After all, he was a fighter in a Foot suit in the first Ninja Turtles movie and was the guy in the Raphael costume in the one with Vanilla Ice. I’ll admit that even though it’s been some time since I’ve seen it, I’m pretty sure that I would still like the first Ninja Turtles movie.
The problem that I have with most children’s programming these days is that it is so heavily focus grouped and even the tiniest details go before test groups, child psychiatrists and marketing companies that specialize in selling shit to kids, so everything has a tendency to look like everything else. Everything for the age group that this movie is directed at has a tendency to look like whatever Disney is schilling at the moment. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody if you’re a boy and Hannah Montana if you’re a girl. Don’t ask me how I know this shit. Johnny Tao isn’t terribly interested in any of that and just goes for the throat. It’s pure fun for all ages and even though it’s a violent movie, it’s not the kind of violence that I would be uncomfortable with showing a 6 year old. It’s mostly just a lot of punching and kicking. There’s not a drop of blood and no one, save for one character in a dramatic plot device, is ever hurt so bad that they don’t get up.
Johnny Tao entertains to the last second. It moves at a brisk pace and never feels cheesy or too silly. The comedy is often very funny, which is a rarity in these cases but most of all, the fighting is top shelf. I’m hard pressed to find a white people kung fu flick these days that doesn’t feel forced or doesn’t concern itself heavily with wushu’s flowery excesses. The people who made this movie are martial artists, co-star Matt Mullins is actually an accomplished competitive fighter along with much of the stunt staff so the fight choreography has a rhythm to it that feels organic and looks like full-contact fighting. There are also many impressive fight scene stunts that blow minds. The sort of thing you only find in Thai action movies.
The story is also a nice hodgepodge of more mature movies such as The Terminator and any zombie movie that you can think of. Nobody is having their guts torn out and eaten and Matt Mullins’ possessed Eddie certainly doesn’t shoot up a police station, but one look and you’ll understand. Eddie’s gang is a crazed mob of fist fighting goons hungry for sugar and short on brains. They make for some fantastic many on one fight scenes. If I really had to draw comparisons, though, it’s like a much less violent version of Big Trouble In Little China, complete with an appearance by James Hong.
The cast has it where it counts, too. A strong, fun story is carried in equal part by a strong cast of able actors and talented martial artists. The Adventures of Johnny Tao is big on charm and the sort of movie that you, dear Cinema Suicide reader, can feel comfortable sharing with your kids.