It’s official, everyone. I have a new favorite movie. Holy crap.
The jawdropping genius of the 2004 masterwork Karate Dog has been discussed around these parts before, as one of Vince’s “Forgotten Classics.” He hit many of the key points of the film in his examination of its trailer, but allow me to make you this promise: Any time a movie starring Simon Rex climaxes with a 70-year-old Academy Award-winning actor getting in a ninja/breakdance fight with a talking CGI dog, I will cover it with the breathless intensity of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It deserves AT LEAST that amount of respect.
Karate Dog is the tale of Cho Cho, a martial arts expert canine voiced by Chevy Chase. After his master and sensei (Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, obvs) is killed by intruders, Cho Cho teams up with a computer nerd police detective (Simon Rex, obvs) to bring the corrupt businessman responsible for his murder to justice. In the process, Cho Cho helps play matchmaker between Simon Rex and Jaime Pressly, drives a convertible and a SWAT van, and hosts a raging dogs-only party at Rex’s apartment. If that paragraph doesn’t sell you on this movie, you should be disenfranchised.
The only downside I experienced in watching this movie is that I apparently forgot it existed and had been using Ninja Dog: The Dog Who Does Ninja! as my go-to, hilarious fake movie title. I obviously needed to scrap that to avoid looking like a two-bit, derivative hack. Luckily, I was hit with a bolt of inspiration over Thanksgiving and came up with a new one: Stunt Horse: The Horse That Does Stunts! (Sample dialogue: “Dammit Stunt Horse, I don’t care if the President has been kidnapped! I need you on set! WE GOTTA DO THIS STUNT!”)
So, yeah. Disaster averted. TO THE BREAKDOWN!
(A preliminary note before we begin: These screencaps are taken from a combination of two Youtube videos. I’ll alert you when we switch.)
The scene opens up with Jon Voight’s character, Hamilton Cage, attempting to escape a raid on his laboratory by the police and a group of stray dogs, who are led by Cho Cho after Simon Rex sprung them from Animal Control. Hamilton Cage is fabulously evil. A quick rundown of the nefarious things he does in the movie:
– He runs a chemical company of some sort that is rushing a Fountain of Youth style product to market as part of an energy drink, despite somewhat unsettling side effects. Like, for example, it kills you.
– In the testing process for this chemical, called L99, he has been illegally slipping it into the food of the greyhounds at a dog track he also owns (along with his son, Billy Bob from Varsity Blues, pictured above).
– He placed very large bets on the dogs who had received the chemical, profiting off the short-lived health benefits it provided and then leaving the dogs to die.
– He murdered Mr. Miyagi.
– He has been secretly taking L99 in the hopes of becoming superhuman and living forever.
My favorite part about Jon Voight’s character is that apparently no one in town raised an eyebrow when the owner of a chemical company started winning millions of dollars on long shot bets that he placed on dogs he was responsible for feeding at the dog track he also happens to own. You’d think that would have come up at some point. My second favorite part about Jon Voight’s character is that, despite living in San Francisco and being educated in the Far East, he speaks with an Southern accent that Foghorn Leghorn would consider to be a bit much.
We’ll get into what an absolute delight Cho Cho is over the next few slides, but I feel like we should quickly discuss something: this movie makes almost no attempt AT ALL to explain Cho Cho’s ability to speak and do karate. It barely evens comes up. I mean, lots of people do that bug-eyed thing when the dog talks, but then they turn around and accept it REALLY fast. The closest thing we get to an actual explanation is that Mr. Miyagi was a zen master and he just, like, taught him how to do it. This follows the lead of the long line of ridiculous movies that equate “things that are Asian” with “magic.” (See, for example, teenagers dunking and women entering mysterious trances.)
The other notable thing about Cho Cho is that he is voiced by Chevy Chase, who apparently managed to avoid being imprisoned for murdering whatever manager and/or agent allowed him to take a role as the CGI talking dog who knows karate in a movie called Karate Dog.
This is a screenshot of Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight attempting to roundhouse kick a talking dog who knows karate. (This might be my favorite sentence I’ve ever written.)
After about ten seconds of fighting, Jon Voight steps back and points out how fitting it is that Mr. Miyagi’s two best students are there doing battle. To clarify, the dude’s two best students are a cartoonishly evil businessman and his beloved pet dog. Perhaps not the sparkling legacy a “zen master” such as himself would have hoped for.
At this point, Cho Cho the talking karate dog begins breakdancing. Because OF COURSE he would begin breakdancing. What are you, an idiot? Seriously though, I think the most surprising part of this movie is that they somehow showed enough restraint to not have him do a horrible white person rap about karate at some point during the movie. (Sample lyric: “My name is Cho Cho and I’m here to say, I’ve been doing karate in the K-9 way.”) “Less is more,” they probably said, that one time during the filming of the movie and that one time ONLY.
Also, see if you can follow my logic here. Cho Cho was a regular dog who was taught how to speak and do karate. Okay, sure. But he also does things like breakdance, drive cars, and help woo human females. So… that means Mr. Miyagi also taught him to do all those things too, right?
My point is this: I would watch a Karate Dog origin story so hard my DVD player would vaporize when I was done.
HEY SPEAKING OF THINGS THAT ARE OR WOULD BE AWESOME, here is a scene from earlier in the movie where Cho Cho “ruins” Simon Rex’s date with Jaime Pressly by throwing a huge party for dogs in his apartment. Look here, Simon. If you think your girl won’t be cool with an awesome dog party featuring a friggin’ doggie DJ, I got one thing to say to you:
This is a screenshot of Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight having a breakdance battle with a talking dog who knows karate.
Jon Voight’s breakdancing ends with him doing a backflip into a dumpster. It would be better if you just accepted that so we can move on. Once in the dumpster, he produces two ninja stars and hucks them at Cho Cho.
After the ninja stars miss, he grabs a watermelon and fires it. Okay, two things:
1) The transition from ninja stars to 2/3 of a dumpster watermelon is one of the most drastic weaponry downgrades I have ever seen. It’s kind of like… like… well, it’s like going from ninja stars to a dumpster watermelon. I don’t think there is a better analogy.
2) Who the hell threw out 2/3 of a watermelon in the rooftop dumpster of a chemical factory? I hope this is discussed in the prequel I have since begun writing since I mentioned it just three slides ago. (SPOILER ALERT: It is.)
LOOGIT HONEY, THUH DOG’S DOIN’ THE MATRIX THING. LOOGAT ‘IM GO! CUHN YOU EVEN BELIEVE IT???? HOW LUHNG DU YUH THINK IT TOOK EM TO TRAIN ‘IM TO DO THAT??/ WHAT A SMURT POOCH!
Jon Voight then rolls up his sleeve to reveal a bite mark Cho Cho left on his arm while he was murdering Mr. Miyagi earlier in the movie. You see, the intruders all wore masks and whatever, but I want to talk about something else instead.
Despite the movie being titled Karate Dog, the dog does karate only two times in the entire 84 minute runtime — at the beginning during the home invasion, and here at the end. That’s it. I mean, that’s the same number of times he drove a car in the movie too, but that doesn’t mean you should call the movie Car Driving Dog, you know? This was probably the greatest disappointment of the film for me. If you’re gonna call it Karate Dog, come correct with the karate.
(Note: The remaining caps are from the second video.)
As the fight reaches its apex, Jon Voight and Cho Cho do that Matrix/Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon thing where they fly horizontally at each other and lock arms, then they freeze and the camera spins around them. This is a very standard bit of movie magic now (as evidenced by its inclusion in this movie), but if we ever invent a time machine I think it would be hilarious to take Karate Dog back in time and show it to filmmakers in the 1940s. It would BLOW THEIR MINDS. Seriously, it would win like a dozen Oscars for special effects and editing for the CGI dog tricks alone. I want to live in a world where that happened. BADLY.
Oh yeah, so after they lock arms in they air, Cho Cho decides to use his “ultimate weapon,” which is literally just him licking Jon Voight in the face a lot. I fail to see how this is a weapon. I have friends who let their dog lick them in the face and INSIDE THEIR MOUTH, which does no particular harm to anyone except me, as it makes me retch violently just thinking about it. So unless Cho Cho’s goal was to disgust me personally, perhaps he should consider using his razor sharp dog teeth in the future. That’s a freebie, bud.
This is a screenshot of Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight getting repeatedly kicked in the face by a talking dog who knows karate and is doing a handstand.
Cho Cho disposes of our villain via a spinning roundhouse paw to the face. After incapacitating him, Simon Rex and crew make it to the roof to place Jon Voight under arrest. In the process of arresting him, however, Billy Bob from Varsity Blues pulls a gun and tries to shoot Simon Rex, but Cho Cho the talking dog who knows karate jumps in front of him to take the bullet. (I lied — THIS is my favorite sentence I’ve ever written.) Cho Cho is then treated like a hero, reveals his ability to speak to everyone, and the movie ends with a dog and cat bluegrass band playing a song at a party at Simon Rex’s apartment. I am not joking.
I love this goddamn movie.