Another Sunday morning, another movie to watch from Shout Factory TV. Lucky for me, they have plenty of movies to choose from. Now I chose today’s movie because of the history behind it. See, today’s movie was originally co-written by Bruce Lee, who had intended to star in it but was unfortunately killed before he could start working on it. A couple of years after his death, Stirling Silliphant, one of the other co-writers, completed the screenplay and David Carradine was cast to play the role intended for Bruce Lee. So let’s see what kind of movie we have on out hands as I watch Circle Of Iron.
The plot: In a distant land, a martial arts tournament is held; with the final match coming down to Cord and Morthond. Cord ends up defeating Morthond but due to his dirty fighting tactics, he is disqualified and Morthond is declared the victor. After Morthond is awarded the medallion and the right to seek the Book of Knowledge from Zetan, Cord argues with the judge about why Morthond was chosen. The judge tells Cord that he had broken almost every rule in the tournament and is not worthy of going on the quest. Cord says that everyone they have sent to face Zetan has failed to return but he will defeat him and look into the Book of Enlightenment himself, then follows after Morthond when he leaves the city. Morthond is upset about Cord’s following him, breaking his vow of silence to challenge Cord to another fight, but Cord refuses, saying he wants to help him, not kill him. After travelling for most of the day, the two warriors stop to rest and notice a blind man, whom Cord had seen earlier in the city, making his way into some ruins. When loud voices are heard from the ruins, Cord decides to go and investigate while Morthond uses the opportunity to continue on his quest without Cord. Inside the ruins, Cord sees the blind man fighting with some bandits and easily defeats them, though Cord does kill one that was about to throw a knife at the blind man. Cord approaches the blind man and asks him to be his teacher and when the blind man refuses, Cord says he will follow him and learn by watching him. When the two men encounter a monkeyman, Cord doesn’t see the wisdom in how the blind man handles the encounter, arguing he will never need to fight a monkey, but when he turns to gether his gear, he finds the blind man has vanished. Suddenly, he sees a wounded Morthond stumble against some rocks and when Cord approaches him, Morthond tells him he had failed the first trial and asks Cord to help give him a warrior’s death, then take the medallion and finish the quest. Cord does as Morthond asks and after Morthond’s death, he takes the medallion and heads into the nearby caves. Inside, he finds a tribe of monkeymen and watches as their leader defeats another warrior. Recalling the words of the blind man, Cord heads down and confronts the monkeymen’s leader, eventually defeating him and learning the way to Zetan. After traveling for a while, Cord comes across a man in a giant cauldron of oil. Cord asks the man if he needs help but the man says no, as he had done this himself so that he can dissolve the lower half of his body as a way of ridding himself of his sexual urges and offers to let Cord join him but Cord refuses, saying his vow of celibacy is enough. Cord continues across the desert and eventually comes to an oasis, where he sees a group of travelers have set up camp and are holding a festival. As Cord makes his way into the camp and watches the festivities, he is invited to sit next to the travelers leader Chang-Sha inside his tent. The two men talk for a bit before Chang-Sha steps outside and battles another traveler who had sought to test his strength against him. After Chang-Sha defeats the warrior, Cord asks when they will fight but Chang-Sha tells him that they will fight in the morning. That night, one of Chang-Sha’s wives, Tara enters his tent and says that Chang-Sha sent her there to give him a rose, symbolizing his second trial, and after talking for a bit, the two end up having sex, after which Cord asks Tara to go with him. The next morning, Cord wakes up to find the camp has gone and Tara had been left crucified on the outskirts of the oasis. Cord goes looking for Chang-Sha and as he stops for the night, he has a vision of Death approaching him but Cord is able to dispel the vision by showing that he doesn’t fear Death. The next day, Cord comes to another oasis and encounters the blind man again, and after Cord asks again for him to teach him, the blind man agrees. As they continue on their way, the blind man asks a fisherman if they can use his boat to cross the river, but after they do so, the blind man kicks out the sides of the boat, damaging it. They then encounter some bandits and attempt to run from them, fighting them when they have to, and after dealing with the bandits, the blind man stops to repair a stone wall. As they continue on their way, the blind man strikes a young boy, breaking his nose. Cord tells the blind man that he is leaving him but demands answers for the things he did. When the blind man answers, Cord questions how he knew the things he did and realizes that the blind man had been through there before, which gave him the knowledge about things that Cord didn’t. Cord eventually comes across Chang-Sha and after admitting that he doesn’t hold Chang-Sha responsible for Tara’s death, he challenges him to a fight. Chang-Sha agrees and after the two men fight to a draw, Chang-Sha tells Cord where to find Zetan. Cord makes his way on a ferry to an island, where he finds the religious sect that protects the Book of Enlightenment. Cord is taken to see Zetan and Cord goes to fight him but Zetan says there is no need for violence. He tells Cord that he has passed the trials and is entitled to look at the Book of Enlightenment but as Cord turns the pages, he finds that they are nothing more than mirrors. Zetan explains that many have come to seek the book only to find that enlightenment comes from themselves. As Cord laughs at the result of his quest, Zetan says that otwhile most of those who looked in the book have stayed there, some have left to become part of the challenges or teachers in their own ways, and Cord realizes the blind man was one of those people. Zetan offers Cord his job as protector of the book but Cord continues laughing as he leaves the island. Cord eventually finds the blind man and after talking for a bit, they embrace and the blind man hands Cord his flute, passing on his role of teacher to Cord.
When Circle Of Iron first came out, it received mainly negative reviews but has since garnered a cult following, causing some critics to reassess the movie, hence it’s current ranking of 43% on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, several critics felt that the lack of Bruce Lee’s charisma and guidance caused the movie to not reach it’s true potential. Bruce Lee envisioned Circle Of Iron to be an introduction for Western audiences to Eastern philosophy and the movie was originally supposed to be shot in 1969, with Steve McQueen offered the role of Cord but he turned it down. The flute that David Carradine plays throughout the movie is the same flute he plays in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. The movie made $1 million, but most of that was through video rentals and not the box office.
Well, the movie is definitely slow enough to fit being a philosophical movie, but didn’t exactly keep the interest peaked enough to make it good. I will be honest, even if Bruce Lee was in it, I don’t know if this movie would have been any better. The acting was good, with David Carradine doing a great job playing the multiple roles of the blind man, Monkeyman, Death, and Chang-Sha. I honestly think he had some fun playing the different roles. Jeff Cooper was also good as Cord and but I thought that Christopher Lee was a little wasted as Zetan, as his presence honestly felt a little anti-climactic to me. The plot was pretty slow paced and even the few fight scenes were pretty slow, making this movie a little boring and hard to pay attention too. The fight scenes were pretty well choreographed but the slow pacing just didn’t make them exciting at all. I know that the focus was supposed to be on the philosophical aspects but they still could have made the few fights that were included to be a little more exciting. It’s a decent intellectual movie but the slow pace is not going to attract to many people to watch it.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5