Circle of Iron

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Circle of Iron
Circle of Iron.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Moore
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Stanley Mann
Story byBruce Lee
James Coburn
Stirling Silliphant
Produced bySandy Howard
Paul Maslansky
StarringDavid Carradine
Christopher Lee
Jeff Cooper
Roddy McDowall
Eli Wallach
Anthony De Longis
Earl Maynard
Erica Creer
CinematographyRonnie Taylor
Edited byErnest Walter
Music byBruce Smeaton
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
July 25, 1978
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million (est.)

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.


At a martial arts tournament, fighters compete 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. The arrogant brawler Cord (Jeff Cooper) defeats every opponent, but he is disqualified for fighting dishonorably. Cord decides to follow the eventual winner, Morthond (Anthony de Longis), hoping that he can lead Cord 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 attack him. Impressed by his fighting skills, Cord asks the blind man to be his teacher. The blind man refuses, but Cord follows him anyway. Cord becomes 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 he 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. He 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. However, he 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.

Resuming his journey, Cord has a vision of Death (Carradine), but he dispels the spirit by demonstrating his lack of fear.

While trying to find Chang-Sha, Cord reaches 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. Cord holds himself responsible for Tara's death, but he insists on fighting Chang-Sha to learn the location of Zetan. The fight ends in a draw, but Chang-Sha tells Cord how to find Zetan anyway.

Cord reaches the island where Zetan lives. He encounters the sect that protects the book of enlightenment. Cord expects 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[edit]

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.[1]



Box office[edit]

In the United States, the film earned $1 million in theatrical rentals.[2] This was equivalent to estimated box office gross receipts of approximately $2.6 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

The film's reception was mostly negative, with critics citing poor acting and martial arts, but it has gained a cult following.[4] It currently holds a 43% "rotten" rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on seven reviews.[5]


  1. ^ "Circle of Iron: Bruce Lee's Lost Movie". Retrieved 2009-02-16.
  2. ^ Epstein, Andrew (27 April 1980). "The Big Thuds of 1979: Films That Flopped, Badly". Los Angeles Times. p. 6.
  3. ^ Vogel, Harold L. (2010). "Table 3.4. Motion picture theater industry statistics, 1965-2009". Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis. Cambridge University Press. pp. 88–9. ISBN 978-1-139-49732-9. 1979 (...) MPAA U.S. rentals % of BO (...) 37.8
  4. ^ "The Silent Flute (1978)". Kung-Fu Kingdom. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  5. ^ "Circle of Iron (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 23 June 2020.

External links[edit]