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Review: Kung Fu Elliot

November 7, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Kung Fu Elliot Poster

Elliot “White Lightening” Scott dreams of being Canada’s first action hero, making amateurish and super low budget martial arts films with his long suffering girlfriend Linda Lum, starring his aspiring method actor friend Blake Zwicker.

Shot on the fly around New Brunswick, the action films in question are more hilarious than exciting.  But his story makes for one of the best and most thrillingly unpredictable documentaries in recent memory with Kung Fu Elliot, starting a weeklong run at Carlton Cinemas this weekend.  Now is the perfect chance to see one of the year’s absolute best films with an audience.

I first saw Kung Fu Elliot during Hot Docs and was left blown away, gasping at the truth of this documentary that could have easily been a modern response to the mockumentary stylings of This is Spinal Tap or the work of Christopher Guest.  These are apt comparisons to be sure, and the film deserves to attract a similar cult following, only this time it’s all real.

With an ironically appropriate operatic soundtrack, Kung Fu Elliot starts as a sort of behind the scenes look at the production of his third independent feature Blood Fight, and his filmmaking process often provides comedy gold.  But directors Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman, who themselves stumbled upon the title subject much the same way the audience does at the start of the film, have ultimately captured a very different type of documentary.

As surprising layers of depth are revealed during the stunning and fearless last act, Kung Fu Elliot becomes an intriguing game of deception.  Although courting controversy on the festival circuit with some audiences questioning the authenticity of what they captured, the directors assure us that they haven’t tampered with the truth, and I believe them.  This is a documentary that challenges our perceptions of reality in ways that recall the brilliant 2010 film Catfish, starting as one thing before thrillingly becoming something else during the last act revelations.

Although playing almost like a surreal cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Canada’s answer to American Movie, Kung Fu Elliot is ultimately unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  This is a shocking and wildly entertaining documentary that morphs into something entirely different before our eyes, masterfully changing our perception of the story that the filmmakers set out to tell.  This is brilliant and exhilarating stuff.

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