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Saturday, September 20, 2014

KUNG FU ELLIOT: Fantastic Fest Review

2014, 88 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau's Slamdance Grand Jury Prize-winner Kung Fu Elliot is an alternately amusing and disturbing documentary with a subject who is so good that he almost seems fake.  The film is about Elliot Scott, a man who wants to be the Canada's first action hero.  He says that he's a martial arts champion.  He also makes movies, starring himself, of course.  His filmmaking partner is his girlfriend, Linda Lum, the voice of reason in Elliot's life.

Elliot, for many reasons, is a perfect documentary subject - he's eccentric, magnetic, bizarre, yet oddly charming.  And, his "supporting cast" is equally interesting.  Linda is the film's MVP, so to say.  She's a dryly comic, endlessly tragic character who, in a way, provides us with a logical, human window into Elliot's life of fantasy.  Just when we start to fall under Elliot's spell, Linda snaps us back out to remind us that what much of what we're watching is no more than a crazy fantasy.

Kung Fu Elliot has plenty of surface-level entertainment value, but has quite a bit lying below as well.  The film explores what it means to follow dreams and explores how we can delude ourselves into believing something so strongly that we don't realize it's really a folly.

In many ways, Kung Fu Elliot is similar to Sarah Polley's masterful Stories We Tell, however because of my respect for both you, my readers, and those films, I won't tell you why.  However, I will say that if you loved Stories We Tell, there's a very good chance you'll love this film.  Bauckman and Belliveau are truly excellent storytellers - the movie that I started watching wasn't the same as the one I was watching when it ended (that's a feat) - and they took me on an intimate adventure filled with twists and turns.

Overall, Kung Fu Elliot is a remarkable documentary.  It's one of the most surprising films of the year and one that I highly recommend.  Kung Fu Elliot epitomizes why a filmmaker doesn't need a big budget to create something unforgettable.  If you have a good enough subject and a good director (or in this case, directors), you'll likely have a great film.


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