When the DVD arrived to replace the VHS in the home cinema market, one of the ways that distributors marketed the new format was by including ‘extras’ that would be includable due to the increased memory of the disc. One of the most obvious features to include (and still is) was unseen footage and behind-the-scenes shorts to give people more of an insight into their favourite films. This in turn then made a whole generation of viewers more interested in filmmaking and the technical process.
Films about films (or meta-documentaries if you will) are hardly new (look at Heart of Darkness, the film about Apocalypse Now), yet now in the age of cheap and high quality digital, it would be crazy not to collect footage alongside a feature to share with your audience so it is not just classics that get documented. Quite often, non-fiction films that give an insight into the process and characters can be more interesting that the actual feature being made.
This is where Kung Fu Elliot comes in.
Elliot Scott is an amateur filmmaker from Nova Scotia that dreams of being Canada’s answer to Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. He knows a little bit of Karate, can’t write or direct and only owns a crappy camcorder, and yet he is charming enough to convince the people around him to help him make his films – no-one more so than his long suffering Chinese/American girlfriend Linda, who is arguably the real hero of Matthew Bauckman & Jaret Belliveau’s film.
KFE is in the same vein as American Movie – a documentary about 9mm horror director Mark Borchardt – or Worst Best Movie – a film about the resurrection of Troll 2. All of these examples are of great films, which are made about rubbish films.
Elliot’s best friend, and trusty actor, is Blake Zwicker - A man who doesn’t want to compare himself to Brando, but with the right training thinks that he ‘can be just as good’ – is a lot like Mike in American Movie: terrible actors but brilliant at telling stories. Blake get’s the most touching moment in the film when he is genuinely talking about his late wife, and yet I imagine the irony might be lost on him if you said that this was his best ‘performance’.
Because of Linda’s Chinese heritage, and because of Elliot’s obsession with Martial Arts, in the centre of the film they go to China in order to shoot some footage and meet with some Monks (who actually know Kung Fu). My favourite single shot in the film is of the laugh a monk gives when Elliot claims that he has spent 20 years learning Karate… But here is also where Elliot’s potential interest in other women is explored.
Due to Elliot’s wild imagination and tendency to manipulate the truth (ahem), he and Linda inevitably end up occasionally having incredibly fiery rows - And just as the film is making you question the ethics of the filmmakers sat by watching these moments they suddenly intervene and the tension level absolutely skyrockets. The outburst of drama is so palpable that I was completely stunned and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. For that alone, this film is worth watching – even if at moments you begin to question why it is worth paying attention to someone like Elliot (which I personally never did), then it is crucial to watch until the end.
Elliot’s ambition and obsession with making films is mostly admirable and something that he believes in, but on the other hand his narcissistic fantasies of stardom and fame are the worst kind of selfishness, causing pain and discomfort for all around him. Only a egomaniac would act so naturally arrogant on camera anywhere, and kudos to the filmmakers for managing to capture this footage with such objectivity.
But liking the central character is not what Kung Fu Elliot is about. It is about the crazy lengths that some people go to to tell stories, and about the lies that people tell themselves in order to believe that those stories are worth hearing…