Circle of Iron (1978)

Posted: 31/08/2012 in Trash movies
Tags: , , , , , ,

*Black Dynamite tells it like it is

The fact of the matter is: In 1971 Bruce Lee pitched in a treatment for a series called  The Warrior,  about a martial artist (Lee himself) in the American Old West. After rejecting his idea with famous “world is not ready for an Asian lead” AKA “we are a bunch of racist fucks” they decided to blatantly steal his idea, name series Kung Fu and instead of a famed and revolutionary martial artist that was Bruce Lee  cast David Carradine who: 01. Is not Asian 02. Closest thing to martial arts he ever did was dancing.*

Without any disrespect to Carradine who proved himself to be a competent actor on  rare occasions when he was cast in a substantial, well written role- he was catastrophic choice for the part of Kwai Chang Caine yet he built his career on that 70es martial arts show (even spawning a sequel series and a movie). So how does he pays tribute to the man he (at least indirectly) screwed over? Well… by buying his unused script for Silent Flute, putting it  into production AKA by screwing the man again (even after his death!). Classy thing to do man, for sure…

What was planed as a first Bruce Lee‘s big American movie, 20th Century Fox’s Silent Flute was to be fascinating, martial arts epic full of Lee’s unique philosophy– touching upon everything from eastern mysticism to personal liberation. Script (or more accurate a draft) was written by Bruce Lee, James Colburn (planed co- star, and a central figure of the movie) and Sterling Silliphant, veteran Hollywood writer and  Lee’s close friend (they collaborated on Silliphant penned Marlowe and Long Street series). 20th Century Fox reluctantly agreed to finance it,  providing that it had to be shot in India. Unfortunately studio and the power trio came into disagreement over the locations of filming and after unsuccessful scouting for locations in India the project fell trough. Bruce would have to wait for Enter the Dragon to see his dream of being the first Asian lead in a American production see the light of day and even that was a bittersweet victory because he died from a brain edema just days before Enter the Dragon premiere.

So, what happened to the script? It ended up in the hands of none other than David Carradine who was incredibly eager to make it a reality. So, Silliphant and  Stanley Mann dusted it off and finished the script and in the process killed some  of the  explicit and most intriguing scenes, be it incredibly brutal fight that has Lee’s character (literally) crushing opponents balls, scenes of tantric sex, fantastic ambiguous ending and even a big chunk of Zen inspired philosophy that underlines our hero’s journey. Name Silent Flute was also scrapped and replaced with bad-ass sounding but meaningful Circle of Iron.They also changed the location from real world  to “a land that never was and always will be” and decided to shoot it in Israel (decision that for a change makes sense because Israel gave the movie an exotic and mystic backdrop that it so desperately needed).

Number of people were approached for the lead role of Cord including ex- karate and kickboxing champion Joe Lewis, (who had trained under Bruce Lee for at least a year) but he declined. He eventually did show up just as they were finishing up the film…  fight scenes ended up being so idiotic that he agreed to shoot some additional martial arts scenes and double the main actor in few instances.

In this version the lead, rebel “martial artist” Cord, (Jeff Cooper – Carradine’s friend who didn’t run away from the role like all the others did) embarks on a quest for the Book of Enlightenment, kept by mysterious and possibly evil Zetan (played by none other than great Christopher Lee) and in his journey is confronted by three trials.

All the trials of course educate him in Zen philosophy and he runs across a string of bizarre character including but not limited to Ah Sahm, a blind flute player, a human- monkey hybrid, Death himself and a leader of a tribe of Gypsies . All are of course played by David Carradine (including almost bare- ass monkey man). It’s always fascinating to see Carradine in action, he has no speed, no muscle and no moves… and even worse he obviously gave some lessons to Cooper because he fallows the same “style” to a T.

“Only thing about me is the way that I walk…”

Anyway, Cord’s trials strange as they are involve combat, riddles or deep conversations- like the one with
a man (Eli Walllach) who has been sitting in a barrel of oil for 10 years in an unusual attempt to remove the lower part of his body, namely his genitals. Ah Sahm helps him often by reciting different wise words (some directly lifted from the original script) but you can hear it in his voice that he doesn’t really understand one word that he’s saying and considers it nothing more than some hippie new- age mambo- jumbo.

“Dissolving in oil I see, how’s that working out for you?”

Eventually Cord passes the tests (including a stupid sex scene and a death of a said girl) and reaches the Zetan.
When he finally opens the book he discovers that each page of the book is a mirror, showing him that the secret to enlightenment was within him all the time. After that he returns to the world, maniacally laughing and credits start rolling with Carradine  playing his flute in his honor.

Remake or should we say a new interpretation, with a post- apocalyptic edge is in works for possible 2013 release date. China’s National Film Capital will co-produce it. For now the only confirmed casting is Gina Carano (ex- Muay Thai and MMA fighter and a friend of Bruce Lee Legacy foundation ) as Tara. The fact  that Tara in the original film did nothing but sleep with the main protagonist and subsequently die because of it (via crucifixion none the less)–  will probably have to be changed a bit. I’ll just have to presume that producers are not imbeciles who would waste world class fighter on a role of a bimbo.

Concept art for a new version of the film

Anyway we’ll have to wait and see will the justice FINALLY be done to the original Bruce Lee’s vision (’cause it’s about time) or is it all just wishful thinking.

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