Fantastic Fest 2014: KUNG FU ELLIOT – The Review
KUNG FU ELLIOT is not what it first sets out to become. In fact, by the end, you’ll find out — once more — that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. From the very beginning of the film, it takes every fiber of your being to resist the inclination of writing it off as another mockumentary. Oh, this is just another take on what they started with This is Spinal Tap some three decades ago. Wrong. What you are about to watch is actually a documentary, and perhaps, one of the most compelling, honest and revealing of the year… even though, ironically, the film is so heavily rooted in deception.
Filmmakers Matthew Baukman and Jaret Belliveau set out to document the life of a somewhat peculiar but fascinating character they discovered by chance. Elliot “White Lightning” Scott, the self-proclaimed “first action star of Canada” is an amateur low-budget filmmaker from the neighbor up north. He is beginning production on his third film, titled BLOOD FIGHT, when the filmmakers begin their journey with Elliot and his girlfriend Linda, who also produces Elliot’s films, and his best friend who also acts in his films. What they discover over the course of filming, a revelation that is slowly riveting as it is hilarious, is that things are not as they appear in Elliot’s life.
KUNG FU ELLIOT is as much, if not arguably more of a comedy than a drama, despite its non-fiction origins. Audiences will certainly empathize with Linda, Elliot’s unbelievably patient and tolerable partner, as she puts up with his day dreams of fame and complete lack of financial and practical worth as a member of society. On top of paying all the bills, providing food, clothes and shelter for Elliot, Linda also bankrolls his films and literally every other aspect of his life. She even forks out for him to attend acupuncture school and travel to China with his class to study abroad, where we learn that his narcissistic ego knows no borders.
Whether disbelief replaces disgust with mockery and laughter, or you just plain develop a seething hatred of the film’s central character, one thing is for sure about KUNG FU ELLIOT… you’re not going to like him very much. After watching the film with my wife, the first words out of her mouth upon recovering from the shock, were to say “I f*cking hate this guy!” Strong words from someone who has never met him in person, but it perfectly conveys my point. Elliot does not carry himself as someone who purposely goes out of his way to be a douche bag, he just is and fails to realize the truth of his existence in the world.
What is truly heartbreaking about the film, you know, in the solemn moments between rolling in laughter on the floor and shaking your head, wondering if what you just saw really, actually happened in real life, what’s truly heartbreaking is that everyone else in the film, all the others in his life — at least the few he has in his life — are counting on him to make good on these pipe dreams of which he seems truly, honestly convinced will come true. Elliot plays these decent, albeit eccentric, human beings in a way that they buy into it hook, line and sinker, perhaps because Elliot himself has taken his own bait, or so it seems.
KUNG FU ELLIOT is a film that’s easy to get lost within the surface qualities, making the unexpected conclusion of the film even more shocking. Not only has he played his partner and friends, but he’s player the filmmakers and the audience as well. If you recall the documentary CATFISH (2010) then you understand the underlying deceptive quality of the story, minus the technology of the internet. The primary difference here is that KUNG FU ELLIOT oozes with authenticity, whereas CATFISH always had this sense of integral doubt of authenticity that lurked around every corner of the film. KUNG FU ELLIOT wears its deception on its sleeve, we just don’t realize it until Elliot rolls down his sleeves.
KUNG FU ELLIOT is making appearances at Film Festivals worldwide.