Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It used to be when I was a kid that white guys making kung fu flicks was two great tastes that just didn’t taste great together. See comedic favorite ‘American Ninja’ or Seventh Chamber of Hell nominee ‘Gymkata’ for proof of this, and if that’s not enough torture for you then enjoy those Three Ninja’s who like to Kick Back. Then came Neo and the Matrix who tossed the concept of white guy Kung Fu flicks on its ear. Of course it helped to have Asian wire-fu master Yuen Woo-ping on loan to choreograph but nonetheless it worked. This brings to ‘The Adventures of Johnny Tao’ which was directed by one Kenn Scott who knows a thing or two about martial arts since he had to pull off a few stunts himself wearing a big turtle suit while playing Raphael in the first two ‘Ninja Mutant Turtle’ movies. And with his fights choreographed by Marcus Young, a gentlemen whose filmography reveals that has done nothing but this kind of stuff since his career began, our hopes were high. We should mention that our hopes were high that ‘The Adventures of Johnny Tao' wouldn’t suck, not necessarily that it would be good, and while it didn’t have near the budget to pull off some of that Neo-type Yuen Woo-ping stuff it still managed to leave the bitter memory of ‘Gymkata’ far behind in the rear-view mirror and ended up being a rather enjoyable, family friendly movie.

Meet Johnny Dow as played by Matthew Twining. Johnny lives in some dusty nowhere town in a trailer with his mentally challenged best friend Eddie (Matt Mullins) where Eddie hunts for UFO’s and Johnny manages a failing gas station and a museum dedicated to his hillbilly rocking father who died in a plane crash many years ago. Things get interesting real fast in this little town when Eddie finds an interesting piece of metal with his handy metal detector that he probably should’ve let lay, because when he pulls it out of the ground he has set some magical mystical evil demon free who wastes no time in possessing the poor young man.

This mystical seismic event alerts a wise old Asian dude, which we realize in movies is redundant, named Sifu (James Hong) who wisely dispatches his super cute student Mika (Chris Yen) who has been training her whole life, which would seem to be all of nineteen years, to take on this beast. I hate to get sidetracked but one day I’d to see an old Asian dude in a movie that’s not all that wise and maybe talks like a normal person. Anyway this demon is bad enough but it has the ability to possess people and turn them into donut scarfing mindless kung fu zombies. Not cool. Two things working in the favor of this town are the fact Johnny also knows Kung Fu via watching a crap load of Kung Fu flicks and the fact that his dads guitar was made from the head of the spear that is needed to send this beast right back to hell. The underlying message of the movie is that you’ve got to believe in yourself, and with kung fu zombies running the land, an invincible eons old demon primed to take over the world and that hot Asian chick we were telling you about earlier taking an extended powder room break, Johnny’s going to need all the belief that he can find if he’s going to save our world.

A good thing about this movie ‘The Adventures of Johnny Tao’ is that even if the kung fu sequences were gawdawful I believe the movie still would’ve been tolerable to watch. It just resonates with a very good heart and displays a lot of the spirit that has obviously gone into producing it and this shows through. Sure its total nonsense but its controlled, well paced nonsense, or at least as controlled as a Rock n’ Roll zombie kung flick can be. So since the movie itself is completely inoffensive to the senses and easy to watch, the fact that the kung fu action as it is presented to us is actually pretty good is a definite plus. The extras on the DVD pointed out to us that Scott and Young was interested in finding actual martial artist to play the roles, and this also shows through since Twining Mullins and Yen are more than athletic enough and seem at ease pulling off the stunts and using the occasional wires. Perhaps they’re not the best actors in the world but this ain’t exactly Shakespeare. Marcus Young choreographs all the action scenes quite well and Scott shoots what Young has choreographed without a hitch.

‘The Adventures of Johnny Tao’ is very much a kids movie since it is bloodless and there’s not a single dirty word to be heard, but this does mean that it does tend lean towards the silly side at times and Kelly Perine’s comical sheriff did start to grate on a nerve after a while, but what grates on my nerves might be high comedy to a ten year old. But if you are looking for a well shot, professionally done kung fu flick that is a lot of fun and won’t make you feel guilty for allowing your children to watch it, say the way I felt after letting my son watch Master of the Flying Guillotine, then ‘The Adventures of Johnny Tao’ fits that bill nicely.

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