Little known fact I love documentaries. It’s true. The same guy who spent a weekend watching every single episode of Save By the Bell (including “The College Years” and “The New Class”) also enjoys a good doc (cool guy slang for documentary) every now and then. That’s called range my friends and why I make the big bucks (I’m poor and live in a guy named Gary’s basement… I just wanted you to think I was cool…). A good documentary show an unbiased view on a subject, that most the time, is overlooked as boring or lame, but upon close inspection we find out it is insanely captivating and complex. Kung Fu Elliot is just that and so much more.
Elliot Scott would have you believe that he is Canada’s answer to Jason Statham (or which ever martial arts star you would like to name). Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia Scott and his long time film partner/girlfriend Lynda make low-budget ( ‘low budget’ doesn’t begin to describe the lack of funds) action films. Shot with a digital camera on the video function, Scott is a year deep in the making of his latest movie ‘Blood Fist’, which he promises will be his magnum opus and his ticket to action film stardom. Unemployed and broke Elliot spends his time between shooting going to acupuncture school and scheduling DVD signings (for his previous film “They Killed My Cat”) and martial art demonstrations at local video shops. All the while Lynda is awaiting a long promised marriage proposal, but still tries to be supportive of Elliot’s goals and dreams.
You have to go into Kung Fu Elliot knowing the bare minimum. There is so much I want to talk about, but I know that discussing them will absolutely destroy the impact this film can have. Trust me when I say that myself and fellow podcaster Jay, have not stopped discussing this film since we watched it a week ago. So with all that said be warned that the rest of this review will have ‘Spoilers’. So if you don’t want to know what happens stop reading now and go watch this flick now. If you don’t mind spoilers keep reading, but I do recommend going into this one completely dry. I did and I was left with my jaw on the floor.
For the first third of KFE it’s hard not to find Elliot endearing. Yeah he’s not-self aware and is clearly embellishing facts (Example: His first DVD has sold over 10,000 copies, and has won several awards), but there is a certain kind of charm here and I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog. He tells stories of childhood accidents and an ex-wife who died in an auto accident. It’s hard not to feel for him. His films are laughably bad (shown only in short clips in the doc) but his passion and commitment is addicting. It’s easy to see why the cast and crew have latched on to Elliot. He believes so hard that it makes it easier for those around him to follow right along. All this is good and well as I imagine bullshitting is how most films in Hollywood get made and you can almost forgive Elliot for this until you see how his bullshitting is not that harmless especially when it comes to Lynda. Elliot dangles a wedding proposal over this lady like a carrot over a work mule. You start to get the feeling that Elliot is not as committed as Lynda would believe, but she keeps holding on to hope.
Film makers Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau caught wind of Elliot and his films through local both (they are from Halifix as well) and I imagine they felt they had the next “American Movie” (an excellent documentary about film makers) on their hands when they began filming. And in a sense they did, but somewhere following him around for 2 years Bauckman & Belliveau started to smell the bullshit. During a trip to China with Elliot’s acupuncture class Elliot has a questionable visit with a “massage therapist”. After Elliot is laying in bed in his underwear counting whats left of his money trying to figure out if he has enough to buy Lynda her a ring. This scene is all you need to know about Elliot and what’s coming down the pike.
During the last 30 minutes of the movie I kept asking myself, “How could anyone ever believe this guy?” and it wasn’t till I began writer this review that I realized I was just as guilty of falling for Elliot’s lines as every person featured in the documentary. I just had the luxury of spending only 90 minutes with him not several years. As the movie moves into the third act the movie goes from an underdog story to a more dramatic shift. Elliot is less a harmless bullshitter and more a master manipulator who knows how to pick his targets. Because of this the last act may feel scripted or staged, but what we see is real and for that it’s even more jarring.