Circle of Iron
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|Circle of Iron|
Circle of Iron film poster
|Directed by||Richard Moore|
|Produced by||Sandy Howard|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Story by||Bruce Lee|
Anthony De Longis
|Music by||Bruce Smeaton|
|Edited by||Ernest Walter|
|Distributed by||AVCO Embasssy Pictures|
|July 25, 1978|
|Box office||$1 million (US rentals)|
Circle of Iron is a 1978 martial arts fantasy film co-written by Bruce Lee, who intended to star in the film himself, but died before production. The film is also known as The Silent Flute, which was the original title of the story conceived by Lee, James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant in 1969. After Lee's death in 1973, Silliphant and Stanley Mann completed the screenplay, and Lee's part was given to Kung Fu television star David Carradine. Many other well-known character actors also had small roles in the film, including Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach and Christopher Lee.
The movie begins with a martial arts tournament, in which fighters are competing for the right to begin a quest to challenge Zetan (Lee), a famous wizard who possesses a special book of enlightenment that is supposed to contain all the world's wisdom. Arrogant brawler Cord (Jeff Cooper) defeats every opponent, but is disqualified for fighting dishonorably. Cord decides to follow the eventual winner, Morthond (Anthony de Longis), hoping that he can lead him to Zetan.
While the two fighters are resting, a blind flutist (Carradine) walks by them and into a nearby building. Cord follows the blind man and sees him easily dispatch a gang of thugs who attacked him. Impressed by his fighting skills, Cord asks the blind man to be his teacher. The blind man refuses. Cord follows him anyway, but gets frustrated with the way the blind man teaches his lessons in riddles, and they soon part ways.
Cord finds Morthond wounded from the first trial. Morthond asks Cord to help him end his suffering and pursue his quest to find Zetan. Cord does, and faces a tribe of monkey men whose leader, the Monkeyman (Carradine), is a great fighter. Cord challenges and eventually overcomes the Monkeyman, who then tells him how to find his second trial.
On the way, Cord encounters a man in a large cauldron of oil (Wallach), who is attempting to dissolve the lower half of his body. The man is hoping to end his sexual urges to find enlightenment, and invites Cord to join him, but Cord immediately leaves.
Cord then comes upon a band of travelers holding a festival. Cord meets with their leader, Chang-Sha (Carradine), who offers to let Cord sleep with one of his wives, Tara (Erica Creer). Cord declines due to his vow of celibacy and instead challenges Chang-Sha to combat. The contest is set for the following day. During the night, Cord is joined in his tent by Tara. They make love, and Cord asks Tara to stay with him forever. The next morning when Cord awakes, he finds that the entire band has left, and that Tara has been crucified.
On his journey, Cord has a vision of Death (Carradine), but dispels the spirit by demonstrating his lack of fear.
While trying to find Chang-Sha, Cord comes to an oasis, where he again meets the blind man. Cord again asks him to be his teacher; the blind man agrees and they travel together. Encounters with a poor ferryman, a band of raiders and a spoiled child become opportunities for the blind man to teach an exasperated Cord a few life lessons before they go their separate ways once again.
Cord finally finds Chang-Sha and his band. While Cord holds himself, not Chang-Sha, responsible for Tara's death, he still insists on fighting Chang-Sha to learn the location of Zetan. The fight ends in a draw, but Chang-Sha still tells Cord how to find Zetan.
Cord reaches the island where Zetan lives, and encounters the sect that protects the book of enlightenment. Cord expects to have to fight, but Zetan explains that Cord has passed the trials and is entitled to read the book. He even asks Cord to replace him as the new keeper of the book. Opening it, Cord finds that the book's pages are simply mirrors. Zetan explains that there is no book of wisdom, and that enlightenment is found only in oneself. Cord walks off laughing, declining to take Zetan's place, and leaves the island. He rejoins the blind man, who gives Cord his flute, passing on his role of teacher.
Bruce Lee's inspiration
Bruce Lee envisioned his film as an entertaining introduction to Eastern philosophy, as well as martial arts. As he wrote in a preface to the script:
The story illustrates a great difference between Oriental and Western thinking. This average Westerner would be intrigued by someone's ability to catch flies with chopsticks, and would probably say that has nothing to do with how good he is in combat. But the Oriental would realize that a man who has attained such complete mastery of an art reveals his presence of mind in every action...True mastery transcends any particular art.
After Lee abandoned the project, the original script was rewritten, replacing some violent scenes with comedic themes.
- David Carradine as The Blind Man, The Monkeyman, Death and Chang-Sha
- Christopher Lee as Zetan
- Jeff Cooper as Cord
- Roddy McDowall as White Robe
- Eli Wallach as The Man-in-oil
- Anthony De Longis as Morthond
- Earl Maynard as Black Giant
- Erica Creer as Tara
The movie's reception was mostly negative, with critics citing poor acting and martial arts, but it has gained a cult following. It currently holds a 43% "rotten" rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
- THE BIG THUDS OF 1979--FILMS THAT FLOPPED, BADLY Epstein, Andrew. Los Angeles Times 27 Apr 1980: o6.
- "Circle of Iron: Bruce Lee's Lost Movie". Retrieved 2009-02-16.