Circle of Iron (1978)

David Carradine, Jeff Cooper, Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall,
A young martial artist embarks on an adventure, encountering other martial artists in battle until one day he meets an aging blind man who will show him the true meaning of martial arts and life.
  • 5.8 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann, Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Writer:
  • Richard Moore, Director:
  • Sandy Howard, Producer:
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7 / 10

"Nothing is Self..."

This film is outstanding, if not a cinematic work of excellence. The level of camp it displays works well with the oddly exotic Israeli background it was filmed upon. Many stories are offered about how Bruce Lee and James Coburn struggled to move this project forward, and how David Carradine capitalized on his fame in the TV series "Kung Fu" to pick up the story rights, but the work also honors what Lee felt was the essence of the martial arts. This film is mistakenly classified as a "martial arts" film, and subsequently knocked for Carradine's friend and co-star Jeff Cooper's lack of grace and skills in both fighting and acting. "Circle of Iron" also has its flaws in direction and incidental music but shines in its eccentricity, cast, zen precepts, and Cord's awakening that "there is no meaning in life except the meaning that man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers".

6 / 10

Be the empty vessel

This is the story and journey of a lone man, Cord (played by Canadian Jeff Cooper), who is in search of Zetan and his book of knowledge. Along the way he meets many people and has to overcome several trials.

The story was original conceived by Bruce Lee, with help from James Coburn. In the meantime Bruce left for Honk Kong (Golden Harvest) to make what would be his series of movies that would immortalize him. This movie was resurrected after Bruce's untimely death.

What would have been Bruce's role, as the blind mystic/martial arts flute player with a bell on his toe, went to the universal Bruce Lee role acquiring machine that is David Carradine. In David's defense he does play 4 roles in this movie and is the saving grace of the movie. Jeff Cooper painfully interprets Cord, the hero. He almost lacks any emotion even when annoyed or angry his face is strangely serene and on the verge of a smile. He obviously spent time working out, but little to no time in a dojo. Also what's up with the hair ?? David's problem lies in his "martial arts" skills and his fortune cookie kung-fu babble. The movie seems like an extended version of the TV series that David was in (Kung Fu).

There are problems with this movie. Initially the movie was to take place in the East (China, Thailand, etc) to correspond with the various themes of the movie (Taoism, Zen Buddhism, etc). Instead the movie was filmed in Israel. The landscapes and backdrops are at times breathtaking, just out of place. This along with the crappy martial arts choreography (think Dolemite) and the repetition of extras gives the movie the feel of a Conan knock-off.

There are also some nice cameos by Roddy McDowall, Christopher Lee and Eli Wallach. The man in oil scene is priceless. Throughout all this if one pays attention, one can pick up a lot of Bruce's beliefs and philosophies. One can only wonder how good this movie would have been if Bruce would have been able to make it. I highly recommend this movie for fans of Bruce and the martial arts genre.

-Celluloid Rehab

7 / 10

Well, I liked it.

This is a silly movie and not for those who want credibility, realism, SFX, CGI, or The Rock. But, it is about some of the more exalted aspects of what it means to seek the limits of what you can do with a combination of your spirit and your self. Karate, kung-fu, la savate... they're all just ways to fight. This film is for those who know that ways to fight are stepping stones to something greater. It follows a man who does not know, but who is learning, that punching and kicking merely create freedom to explore and to learn; the benefits of his quest will come from something more than his physical self can achieve.

It's not a great movie, but it addresses great questions and, if you look at it through the lens of metaphor, it can point you towards an answer or two. As well as that, it's a punctuation mark--if not a prose passage--from the '80s era of movies that asked us to keep believing things we knew were probably not true, but would be oh-so-cool if they were.