Circle of Iron
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The adventure epic written by Bruce Lee, his dream project he would never live to see! At the height of his international fame, the legendary Bruce Lee along with his friend and student James Coburn and Oscar -winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant began to write what he believed would be the greatest achievement of his film career. Five years after his mysterious death, Lee's vision would finally be realized. David Carradine (KILL BILL), Christopher Lee (THE LORD OF THE RINGS), Roddy McDowall (PLANET OF THE APES) and Eli Wallach (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) star in this acclaimed cult hit that brings Lee's personal philosophy to the screen with a still-potent combination of mysticism, humor and martial arts mayhem.
Audio Commentary with Director Richard Moore
Playing the Silent Flute - Interview with Star David Carradine
The Producer - Interview with Co-Producer Paul Maslansky
Karate Master - Interview with Martial Arts Coordinator Joe Lewis
Audio Interview with Co-Writer Stirling Silliphant
"A Pretty Damn Cool Film!" --Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool News
"Striking and Surrealistic!" --The Soho News
"The Most Elaborate And Most Beautiful Martial Arts Film To Ever Come Our Way!" --The New York Post
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The late David Carradine stars in this movie playing numerous parts and really carries the story. Other good actors in this tale include Christopher Lee and Eli Wallach. This is a story about a search for the ultimate knowledge of life which a great book is supposed to contain. In order to reach the summit where this book is kept by a group of quiet and peaceful monks, one has to meet various difficult challenges and tests along the way.
There is a lot of Asian philosophical lessons to be learned and the final lesson is the most revealing, which I will not give away in this review. I have seen this movie at least ten times in the past and I still bought this recent DVD because I had lost the original VHS copy I had many years ago. This interesting and unique movie has a little bit of everything one could desire in a martial arts action movie, including great philosophical lessons about how one might live their life more meaningfully. "You can't step into the same river twice" (Heraclitis), but you can see this movie more than twice if you purchase the DVD.
Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: The Samurai Soul: An old warrior's poetic tribute)
Originally written by Lee with James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant in 1970 until Lee's ego took over and he fell out with his collaborators and dropped out of a post-Fists of Fury attempt to revive the project because "you can't afford me anymore," the original version was intended as a mixture of hardcore Zen philosophy and scrotum scrunching hardcore violence that bore only passing resemblance to the film that finally got made. As other reviewers have noted, the heavily revised script is an attempt to explain Zen philosophy by people who don't really understand it, simplifying it and leavening it with humour to try and make it more accessible for the American grindhouse crowd. Well, one man's philosophy is another man's comedy...
Jeff Cooper, who looks a bit like Michael Ironside on steroids with a lot more hair, is Cord the Seeker, a disgraced fighter with more brawn than brain seeking the right to search for Zetan and his Book of Enlightenment. Yes, it's one of those films. Okay, Cooper looks a bit old for this seeking lark, but he's game, but to get to Zetan he has to pass many challenges that all involve David Carradine in many guises - blind flute player, monkey king, hospitable kung fu fighting wife-swapper and death himself. Along the way he discovers humility, wisdom, that abstinence is as bad as excess, that monkeys are cowardly egotists, that you should break good looking children's noses to stop their beauty turning them into tyrants and that it's okay if your girlfriend gets crucified the morning after the night before just as long as you learn a fortune cookie parable about the nature of love in the process.
The fights aren't especially impressive, neither particularly well choreographed nor excitingly shot, while Carradine's martial arts skills are surprisingly pallid in many scenes: his fight using his flute is a rather lethargic affair with none of the rather slow blows having the kind of impact and force Lee could have brought to them. If anything, he seems to just be tapping the stuntmen rather gently. The few star names in the cast - Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach - are little more than cameos, though Wallach is an absolute joy in the film's most notorious scene as a man who has been dissolving his penis in a vat of oil for ten years to rid himself of the temptation of the pleasures of the flesh, as you do. With a playful, matter-of-fact absurdity worthy of Lewis Carroll, it's completely bonkers and funny in all the right ways. It's also nothing to do with Lee, Coburn or Silliphant but part of Stanley Mann's rewrite that added lots of dialogue and moved the story from the modern-day East to a mythical kingdom `that never was and always is' that looks a lot like Yugoslavia with better weather and the odd desert but is in fact Israel. Still, as you may expect from a film directed by a former cinematographer (Richard Moore), it looks good and has an occasionally fine Bruce Smeaton score that sounds at times like a dress rehearsal for his haunting work on Iceman. And while it's one of those films that is easy to mock, it's also one of those films that, even while it really isn't very good, is still just offbeat enough to make it hard to dislike.
Blue Underground's 2-disc DVD is an impressive package, with a plethora of interviews - the most interesting an audio one with Stirling Silliphant - and the original Lee/Coburn/Silliphant script. The trailers are also revealing: the US distributors tried to sell it as an action film while the international trailer pitches it as `the first mystical martial arts adventure' as much to the arthouse crowd as action fans.