In the geek-show school of documentary, strange pockets of humanity are uncovered so we can laugh at the foibles of people who are not us. Either you feel bad for laughing, or you reject that sort of condescending approach altogether. (Or you feel superior to other people, I guess.) Kung Fu Elliot invites audience mirth at the expense of its collection of Nova Scotia oddballs, but you might not feel so guilty about your laughter by the time the movie reaches its bizarre, late-hatching revelations. There’s some creepy stuff going on in Halifax, folks.
At first the movie comes on like the Canadian answer to American Movie, that portrait of a hopelessly incompetent indie filmmaker (a geek-show doc par excellence). Our central figure is Elliot Scott, an out-of-condition martial-arts practitioner. He lives with (or off) his girlfriend, Linda Lum, who exists in a mode of deadpan exasperation and is also a producer, photographer, and driver (“because I have a car”) for Elliot’s moviemaking exploits. He seeks to be the Jean-Claude Van Damme of Canada, though thus far his two self-made features are being sold outside video stores. The documentary tracks the progress of Blood Fight, Elliot’s newest kung fu flick. Incredibly, he actually shoots some footage in China, when his acupuncture class visits there. Elliot’s feeble martial-arts demonstration in front of an actual Shaolin monk is one of the movie’s indicators that Elliot’s bravado might not be founded in reality.
In short, Elliot starts looking less like a self-deluded dreamer and more like a sociopath. Directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau play the audience quite skillfully here, as the story gradually goes down a disturbing road. It’s like watching the career of Ed Wood unfold in time-lapse quickness: from gung-ho promoter to ham-handed moviemaker to sleazy purveyor of soft-core (and possibly hard-core) porn. It’s a strange game for a documentary to play, and it leaves behind a faintly sour taste; you feel especially bad for the people sucked into Elliot’s high-kicking vortex. (One Blood Fight actor, hung out to dry by Elliot and the doc filmmakers alike, seems to have sprung from the Waiting for Guffman ensemble cast.) I’m mostly sure Kung Fu Elliot is for real; if not, somebody went to a lot of trouble to create the trailers for Elliot Scott’s past DVD efforts, such as They Killed My Cat. Search that one online, and revel in the campy realm of human absurdity.
KUNG FU ELLIOT Opens Fri., March 13 at SIFF Film Center. Not rated. 88 minutes.