'Kung Fu Elliot'
Some documentary profiles exist because their subjects have done something extraordinary that deserves to be shown to the world. Others exist because the subject is a delusional narcissistic idiot convinced that he’s done something extraordinary that deserves to be shown to the world. ‘Kung Fu Elliot’ is one of the latter, and it’s friggin’ hilarious until it’s decidedly not.
When directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau first point their cameras at Elliot Scott, the self-proclaimed Canadian kung-fu writer, director and star is hawking his latest DVDs outside a low-rent video store. He rattles on endlessly about his amazing talents and incredible films, while the directors cut to shots of the hilariously amateurish and awful movies that he really made. From the opening moments of ‘Kung Fu Elliot’, it becomes clear that the subject of the film is a dolt, but at least an endearingly funny dolt. It feels like Bauckman and Belliveau have made a variation on ‘American Movie’ with chopsocky substituted for horror. It’s cute and funny and maybe a little mean, but certainly an entertaining enough quirky character doc. Then as the filmmakers keep following Elliot, a far darker character portrait begins to emerge, and the movie becomes far more interesting for it.
You see, Elliot Scott isn’t some eccentric dreamer with more passion than talent like Mark Borchardt in ‘American Movie’. Nope, he’s a delusional narcissist and possible sociopath who just happens to have dedicated his life to recreating crappy Chuck Norris flicks. He claims to be a kung-fu master, but watching him fight for more than a few seconds reveals that he’s maybe only had a few lessons of training beyond watching himself in the mirror while playing ‘Bloodsport’ on repeat. He’s not lovably passionate about his art like Borchardt, either. He’s just a doofus who somehow made enough amateur kung-fu movies for a couple of documentary directors to want to make their own movie about him. His supportive friends are sad and can’t see who Elliot really is, but at least they have some grasp on reality. His tortured girlfriend might help with Elliot’s movies and feed his delusions, but she calls him on his nonsense and has some sort of hope for the future. Elliot on the other hand lives in the regressed 12-year-old fantasy of his head, which is fun to watch… for a while.
Since ‘Kung Fu Elliot’ exists almost purely to make fun of its subject for the first hour, you might start to feel uncomfortable and wonder if Bauckman and Belliveau have taken advantage of Elliot and made a mockery of him without telling this sad guy. Stick with it. You see, the longer the filmmakers stay with Elliot, the more dangerous his delusions become. He has dirty secrets, takes advantage of the few people in the world who are nice to him, and is even a little dangerous. The movie gradually transforms from a goofy character study into a dark chronicle of a sociopath right before your eyes, and it makes for a damn fascinating watch. The only reason the movie ends is because Elliot’s relationship with the filmmakers deteriorates beyond repair in somewhat frightening ways.
‘Kung Fu Elliot’ is a goofy, silly, moving, creepy and always fascinating little documentary that deserves as wide an audience as can stomach it. As with any great documentary, the film catches lightning in a bottle and the filmmakers were lucky to be there, but also smart and talented enough to know how to shape hours of strange material into one damn entertaining character study. You’ve never seen a movie quite like ‘Kung Fu Elliot’ before, and hopefully you won’t ever see one like it again. With a little luck, there’s only one Elliot Scott out there.