On the outset, Kung Fu Elliot looks like just another funny documentary about a pathetic loser with delusional dreams and a big heart, the kind of guy we alternately laugh at and come to admire.
To an extent, that is the case. Elliot Scott, a Canadian self-proclaimed martial arts master who spends his days making horrible looking action films, has drive and energy to spare. He also has charisma enough to inspire others to fall in with his vision and help him along. You never believe his movies have potential the way we kind of discover our own hopes for American Movie’s Mark Borchardt, but you have to admire a guy who keeps trying so hard anyway.
But there are signs throughout that something is off, and before Kung Fu Elliot ends it becomes a very different kind of documentary than expected. Think about the way Drive looks at the silent, mysterious ass-kicker archetype and introduces the idea that such a man may, in fact, just be mentally handicapped. That’s kind of what Kung Fu Elliot does to the “Lovable Loser” documentary sub genre.
Even if this remained a traditional version of the story, it would still have a lot of value thanks largely to Elliot’s wife, Linda, a Chinese-Canadian (uh, he has a thing for Asian ladies) who must love Elliot as a mother when she’d really much rather love him as a wife. Her impatience and exasperation with Elliot, matched with her obvious affection and devotion, invokes a lot of laughter and genuine emotion throughout the film. Kung Fu Elliot is ultimately her story, so it makes sense that she provides the film’s most entertaining figure.
Most of the film follows crazy Elliot and pragmatic Linda (she does pretty much as much movie work as he does, if not more) as they try to complete their third feature, Blood Feud. I found myself wishing I knew more about Blood Feud’s narrative, but Kung Fu Elliot doesn’t document the making of the film so much as the nature of their relationship with each other. What we do see looks horrible, though, from the acting to Linda’s cinematography, to - yes - Elliot’s lame, pudgy attempts at kung fu.
The film also follows Elliot as he attempts to improve his professional situation by becoming an acupuncturist. This results in a trip to China where Elliot largely abandons his training in favor of pretending to be a movie star and flirting hardcore with Chinese ladies. In probably the best scene I’ve witnessed in one of these films, he also visits a Buddhist monk who eyeballs his kung fu and doesn’t fuck around about telling Elliot how much he sucks.
There is a lot to discuss about Kung Fu Elliot, and I hope to have great conversations about it in the future. But I’m hesitant to go much further for fear of spoilers. The film doesn’t have any Dear Zachary-sized bombshells or anything, but it does take a turn. I do highly recommend it, though, and look forward to watching it again with new eyes.