A surreal portrait of Elliot Scott – B-grade director, producer and actor who pledges to be Canada’s first action hero – Kung Fu Elliot is a bizarre and engaging documentary. The first feature for directors, writers and cinematographers Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, Kung Fu Elliot follows Scott during the shooting of his third film Blood Fight, watching the deluded subject fall apart as the legitimacy of his skills and life story are called into question.
Bauckman and Belliveau are afforded an intimate look into Scott’s relationship with partner Linda Lum, the flailing nature of which provides most of the drama for the film. Lum is wry, bitter and deadpan – a brilliant foil to the unabashed, Golden Retriever energy that Scott exudes. Lum is trying to nail down a commitment (and ring) from the flighty Scott, while begrudgingly shooting and editing Blood Fight alongside him. Their brilliant bickering ramps up as Scott prepares to take a class trip to China through an acupuncturist course that Lum has pushed him into, desperate for him to prove his viability as a provider.
Kung Fu Elliot’s scenes in China are so cringe-worthy, but the attention the directors lavish on Scott’s reactions ends up most compelling. In one scene, Scott convinces his teacher to take him to an ancient temple, where monks are classically trained in martial arts for decades. Scott proceeds to make a complete idiot of himself in front of a monk, who laughs in disbelief when he hears that Scott has trained for twenty years. The easy footage here is certainly watching Scott flail in front of a master, but the constant presence of the camera capturing his wounded ego afterwards means that Scott isn’t necessarily made a spectacle of in Kung Fu Elliot. There are times when this is unavoidable – like the way that Scott consumes Asian culture with reckless abandon, laying out the traditional garments he purchased for himself like an excited child – but largely, he and his tendency towards escapism is respected and empathised with.
The scenes between Lum and Scott are almost too good, harkening to the somewhat-scripted potential of Kung Fu Elliot. Scott lays out his ideals in brilliant snippets that seem too unaware to even be written. In a sense, it almost doesn’t matter – one-of-a-kind documentary or sly mockumentary, the film has a brilliant and fascinating essence. Things fall apart for Scott swiftly in the third act – almost too conveniently – but the sequence of events is extremely compelling and not unimaginable, given all the time we’ve had to get to know Scott.
The desire to escape reality and construct a personal narrative more uplifting is near-tangible in Kung Fu Elliot. Pensive shots of Nova Scotia suburbia are juxtaposed with glorious wide-angles of Chinese temples and The Great Wall, wonderfully framing the at-odds mental space that Scott occupies as an untalented white dork determined to be a martial arts hero. Kung Fu Elliot manages to capture the rampant idealism of Scott without seeming to laugh at him too hard. Instead – conscious of how cheap it would be to laugh at somebody that unaware – the film becomes an ode to brazen sincerity; a love-letter to dissatisfied Canadians who exist under a massive shadow of stars and stripes and want some glory for themselves.