Reviews — 20 June 2014 » Written by
<i>Kung Fu Elliot</i> review

KungFuElliot-poster-smallKung Fu Elliot, directed by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, is an engaging and unsettling documentary. The first three quarters of the film allow you to get a good feel for the title star, Elliot Scott, who is filming his newest epic Blood Fight in hopes of becoming Canada’s next big action hero on par with Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He explains how he has been practicing kung fu for over twenty years, and how in that time he’s received countless medals and awards. What strikes an immediate chord of confusion is the lack of skill portrayed by Elliot. In some of the best moments of the doc, we see archival footage from his past filmic endeavors, most notably They Killed My Cat (2009). The footage is hilarious in that perfect not-sure-if-this-is-supposed-to-be-funny kind of way. However, just a smidge worse than the acting and overall production is Scott’s actual martial arts abilities. At one point as Scott is visiting China a monk actually laughs at his clear inability to do kung fu. But that is pretty much made secondary by Scott’s overwhelming passion and personality.

Just listening to Scott’s lofty hopes and dreams of being the next Chuck Norris makes you smile in the same way you would if a three year-old were to talk about wanting to be president. His attitude is reminiscent of Timothy Treadwell in that way, and it’s completely evident that this guy has more dedication to his art in his one pinky than most people have towards pretty much anything. You can’t help but get sucked into his story for that reason, and it helps that his longtime girlfriend/partner Linda is on the same page as him, but in a comically stoic way. She is constantly alerting him to when he suggests crazy things like lighting himself on fire, but then balks at the idea that he would want to put more money into their special effects, lest Blood Fight strays away from their previously independent films and becomes too mainstream.

The apex of the film is ostensibly the extreme difficulties Linda and Scott face in not only their painfully low-budget filming, but in their relationship as well. They lose tons of footage, kids are screaming on a beach during their shoot, and a few people suffer some slight injuries during fight scenes. Meanwhile Linda explains right next to the clueless Scott how upset she is that he hasn’t proposed yet. Some of the bickering and interactions between the two come off as slightly forced, making it hard to tell if they’re hamming it up for the camera or just really, really quirky.

Then the doc takes a weird twist. Blood Fight production gets put on hold indefinitely for somewhat unclear reasons. Linda mentions that Scott would love to do porn if he had the opportunity, which he modestly refutes, much to Linda’s chagrin. Clearly they have had this discussion many times. Just as you begin to forget about the porn non-sequitur Scott and his longtime buddy are in a room with two women, implied to be prostitutes, and Scott is feverishly making out with them and filming them. Why? It’s not completely clear. According to Scott’s friend, he is now interested in pursuing porn parodies and exploitation films, completely unbeknownst to Linda. Cutting from the unsettling kinky scenes, we begin to learn more hard facts about Scott. Kickboxing champ? Nope. Previous wife died in a car accident? Nah. Suffered a concussion after a tree fell on him as a kid? No dice. Looks like Scott pulled a Catfish on us all.

KungFuElliot-postThe film ends with him throwing a fit at Linda and the two filmmakers, making us again unaware of whether what we’re seeing is fact or fiction. Regardless, the doc leaves you feeling compassionate, disgusted, and ultimately confusion towards Elliot Scott. He’s the perfect subject, and the filmmakers capture the balance between his questionable idiosyncrasies and admirable spirit quite well. The film could have benefited from being more consistent in its use of reenactments, and perhaps more time could have been spent on the final twist of the story. Ultimately, however, this bizarre tale of a childish man with impossible dreams shines and leaves you with a ton of weird questions. Mostly, why was he filming a huge naked woman whipping a chick who had wax poured all over her?

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Catherine Haas

Catherine Haas is Philly born and raised, and is currently pursuing her masters in film history at Columbia University. When she's not organizing her Criterion DVDs by spine number, she can usually be found ostensibly reading a pretentious poetry anthology in the park while introducing herself to all the dogs.

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