Film Reviews

REVIEW: Kung Fu Elliot

Hot Docs 2014

Kung Fu Elliot
Canada, 88 min.
Written and directed by Matthew Bauckman, Jaret Belliveau
Feat. Eliot Scott, Linda Lum
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (Canadian Premiere)

“Canada’s never had an action hero,” says self-proclaimed martial arts expert Elliot Scott in the unbridled documentary Kung Fu Elliot. Elliot gives audiences a glimpse into the world and the markedly eccentric mind of a man hoping to make a splash on the Canadian film scene. Elliot, a Halifax-based amateur filmmaker, offers a behind-the-scenes invitation into the production of his third feature Blood Fight. Kung Fu Elliot, which comes to Hot Docs after a win for Best Documentary Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival, gives an entertainingly ironic example for why the Canadian film scene has yet to find its own Chuck Norris (and probably never will).

Elliot is less a Chuck Norris of the Maritimes and more a regular Corky St. Claire with his quirky ambition for amateur production and affable delusions of grandeur. He prides himself on his karate skills and his one-fifth Japanese heritage, and his relationship with his Chinese-Canadian girlfriend Linda hints that an element of cultural fascination (if not fetishism) underlies his escapist quest to be Canada’s first martial artist of the movies.

Archival footage of their first film, They Killed My Cat, offers some hilarious insight into the farfetchedness of Elliot’s dream of making it big. He makes schlock. The movies are B-level pics at a modest appraisal or hokey diversions that make the Harry Knuckles films look like John Woo. They’re films that please fans of Saturday night cinema, so anyone with a taste for grungy alternative film will love the behind-the-scenes madness of Kung Fu Elliot.

What Elliot lacks in talent, though, he multiplies in spirit. His stab at making Blood Flight makes Kung Fu Elliot an admirable snapshot of the spirit of do-it-yourself independent filmmaking that’s bringing a wave of ambitious micro-budget features to the Canadian film scene. Elliot, however, is no Ingrid Veninger—maybe she should do the next Maplecore butt-kicking extravaganza—and his idiosyncratic approach to making movies is at best a scattershot process. Kung Fu Elliot offers scenes of Elliot and Linda shooting some unintentionally funny footage on cheap home movie camcorders. A grand pyrotechnic shot, for example, sees Elliot light a bunch of fireworks on a ground-level windowsill and jump out the window onto a mattress. Linda, who is shooting the scene, simply grumbles that Elliot is an idiot and that his snazzy effects are burning her plants.

Elliot and Linda make the movies together, although she takes a decidedly non-nonsense approach to both their personal and working relationships. Elliot might be the artist, but Linda’s the one with all the pragmatic business sense. The movies clearly take their toll on the couple’s relationship. Kung Fu Elliot chronicles two years in the lives of these passionate filmmakers and their eccentric collaborators, yet nothing seems to progress in their personal relationship.

Linda wants a marriage proposal, but Elliot dances around commitment. She plays the role of the breadwinner while Elliot runs around making crappy movies all day. It’s a parent-child relationship more than it is a romantic one, and Kung Fu Elliot might be most fascinating for how it inadvertently it captures the elusive dream of succeeding as an independent filmmaker in Canada. A consistent income and practical dimensions—both of which are Linda’s ideas and are facts of the business that elude Elliot—could viably lead to some respectable productions.

Filmmakers Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau (who also shot and edited the film) follow Elliot during his rocky production of Blood Fight, but they find that the greater fiction is Elliot’s own life. The lies he tells himself are more interesting and they are staged far more convincingly than his hokey martial arts flicks. A powerful confessional moment in which Linda examines Elliot’s life for the camera unearths all sorts of elaborate lies that Elliot uses to blanket his life and create a star persona. The problem, however, is that Elliot only really convinces himself. He essentially plays a role for the camera and invents the persona of Elliot Scott to give himself the starring role he fails to realize in Blood Fight. It’s a striking performance that reveals the fictions people invent when they’re placed before a camera and made subjects of non-fiction films.

Screenings:
Scotiabank Theatre 3
Wed, Apr 30 6:30 PM

Scotiabank Theatre 4
Thu, May 1 3:30 PM

Scotiabank Theatre 7
Fri, May 2 9:30 PM

Visit POV’s Hot Docs Hub for more reviews and features on the 2014 festival.