by Anthony Harrison
Documentaries aim to present truth. But what happens when the subject of your documentary presents themselves as a complete fiction?
One might not think such a question of form and cinematic intent would arise while discussing a film named Kung Fu Elliot, but the documentary directed by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau deals with its material so effectively, the viewer leaves surprised, entertained and utterly confounded.
The film follows Elliot Scott, a seemingly ordinary Canadian man, in his quest to produce his third film, Blood Fight. Inspired by Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and Sonny Chiba, he styles himself as a martial artist who makes movies, writing, acting, directing and performing his own stunts in titles like They Killed My Cat and Stalker and the Hero.
“My end goal is to make Canadians go, ‘Wow, we can have an action hero,’” Scott says.
However, Scott makes Ed Wood seem as capable a filmmaker as Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock. He doesn’t make B-movies; even calling Scott’s films Z-movies compliments them. There exists no letter beyond Z to accurately describe how bad Scott’s movies are. They’re shot on digital cameras and feature wooden actors delivering inane dialogue alongside horribly executed effects and fight scenes.
Yet he commands a following. His long-suffering girlfriend, Linda Lum, shoots and helps direct the films in the parks and lakesides of New Brunswick. His bumbling best friend, Blake Zwicker, takes major roles.
No matter how bad the movies are, they’re driven by a nearly childlike sincerity. Scott has ambitious ideas, but he’s crippled by a lack of money — and talent.
“It’s respectable cheese, and people like cheese,” Scott says of his work.
Scott claims to have sold more than 10,000 copies of his first two films.
The mind recoils a bit at this figure. It doesn’t make sense.
That may represent the first time the viewer suspects something is rotten in New Brunswick.
Things really start falling apart after Scott goes to China with his acupuncture class. Scott visits a jewelry shop, ostensibly to find a jade ring for Lum, but fumbles, apparently having trouble finding a size 6.
He visits the Shaolin Temple, even taking a moment to spar with a monk.
But, despite his alleged years of training, Scott demonstrates himself to be as incompetent at martial arts as he is at filmmaking.
He tells strangers he’s filming a movie with Jackie Chan and flirts with seemingly every woman he sees.
“You just trying to meeting all the girls,” Dr. Diana Li, his acupuncture teacher, complains to him.
Throughout the film, we had learned more and more about Scott. He sustained brain trauma in 1987 as a 6-year-old after a felled tree hit him in the head, and he went into two comas. He allegedly has Japanese ancestry somewhere along the line. His first wife was struck and killed by a drunk driver — the tattoo on his inner forearm, reading “Lost Love,” serves as a constant reminder.
“I’m being a superhero for everyone who can’t be a superhero in the movies,” Scott says.
Yet it’s all a ruse, all a tangled web of half-truths or flat-out fiction in a long con from someone who’s deluded himself so profoundly that he becomes a pathological liar.
In its appreciation of a fabrication of a person, Kung Fu Elliot practically straddles the line between documentary and narrative cinema. In a way, Bauckman and Belliveau shoot Blood Fight for Scott; since they’re actually adept filmmakers, the framing of shots vastly improves upon Scott’s work. A soundtrack featuring Vivaldi and Mozart heightens the dramatic intensity of the film and directs the viewer’s emotions as much as anything scored by John Williams.
Funnily enough, what must have started out as a fun project for two filmmakers seeking an interesting profile of an eccentric joke of a man turns out to be one of the most enigmatic documentaries of the year.
“Cinema started with smoke and mirrors, the grand illusion,” Scott says.
And how. For someone so bloody incompetent, Scott pinned that maxim to the mat.
Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema in Greensboro shows Kung Fu Elliot through June 4. Visit geeksboro.com for showtimes.