Before his untimely death, Bruce Lee and actor/friend/student, James Coburn, began working on a project that would be the ultimate Bruce Lee film; something that would capture the legendary fighter's spirituality, as well as his particular brand of martial arts. Sadly, Lee passed away, but Lee's friend, director Richard Moore (as well David Carradine who, oddly enough, also replaced Lee in the Kung Fu television series he'd helped to create!) brought Lee's final vision to light with 1978's The Silent Flute.
Cord (Cooper) is a fighter who enters a competition in which the prize is a chance to seek out The Book of Enlightenment. The uneducated Cord wins the fighting competition, but breaks several rules during the competition and is disqualified. However, when the chosen winner fails the very first trial of his quest, Cord is given a second chance to seek out Zetan (Lee), the keeper of The Book. Along the way, Cord meets a mysterious blind man (Carradine in one of four roles) who offers to teach him the spiritual aspects of being a warrior as they continue the journey. Cord and The Blind Man develop a special bond (the man plays a flute only Cord can here, which helps to guide his decisions), and his teachings show Cord there is more to being a warrior than strength and skill; the true power of a warrior is in his heart and mind.
Circle of Iron is a gorgeously filmed martial arts epic that focuses more on the mystical side of the genre rather than the fisticuffs, and that's a welcome thing indeed. I'm not a huge fan of martial arts films, but I found Circle of Iron's philosophy fascinating. Bruce Lee had not only created his own form of martial art (Jeet Kune Do) but also developed a philosophy that incorporated elements from both Eastern mysticism and Jewish mythology- a philosophy that's explored throughout the film.
Blue Underground unearths this cult-classic in a lovingly remastered DVD, featuring a great widescreen transfer, original mono soundtrack, and a whole bunch of great extras, including a commentary by Moore, interview with David Carradine, alternate title sequence, trailers, essays and more.
Those expecting a traditional martial arts film may be disappointed as Circle of Iron is anything but that. While there are plentiful fights, they aren't the typical brawls we're used to, and the real focus of this film is what happens between these fights, as Cord makes the gradual transition from fighter to mystic warrior.
Circle of Iron is a welcome addition to any martial arts fan's collection, if only for it's fascinating subtext and vicarious involvement from Lee. However, fans of fantasy films, and quest films in particular, will find a lot to like in this beautiful, deeply spiritual film.