Circle of Iron
"The Challenge of a Lifetime..."
David Carradine, Jeff Cooper and Christopher Lee
Directed by Richard Moore; Story written by Bruce Lee, James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant; Screenplay written by Stirling Silliphant and Stanley Mann; Produced by Sandy Howard, Paul Maslanski, Alex Massis, Zvi Spielmann and Richard St. Johns; Filmed by Ronnie Taylor; Edited by Earnest Walter.
Plot Hook -- No Spoilers
Circle of Iron is set in a place that is "nowhere and everywhere", and a time that is "no time and every time"; to give you a sense of what this place and time is like, all of Circle of Iron was filmed in Bet She'an, Israel. Anyhow, Cord (Jeff Cooper), a rebellious, truth-seeking soul in a warrior's body, enters a local martial arts tournament whose victor is allowed to seek the Book of All Knowledge, a philosophical tome containing the answers to all of life's existential questions. While he is the supreme fighter in the tournament, he breaks its rules, and he is not declared its winner. However, he follows the winner out of town in an effort to accompany him, and is endowed with the winner's responsibility when he is killed by a trial in their journey. Now Cord is left to test himself against the world in a search for the Book of All Knowledge...
On the Film
The title of this film, Circle of Iron, is a reference to the small plate of metal supposedly affixed to the chests of the competitors in the competition from which Cord is eliminated at the beginning; he does not wear one, which is one of the reasons he gets disqualified. But why is the film named for this seemingly insubstantial accessory? For the sake of metaphor, my dear lads and lassies!
Circle of Iron is based on an screenplay written in 1969 by Bruce Lee, Stirling Silliphant and James Coburn, and called The Silent Flute. While The Silent Flute never came to fruition itself, it was the sole inspiration for both the plot and the themes of Circle of Iron.
The Silent Flute was written primarily by Bruce Lee as an allegory for the philosophy of Zen Buddhism*. Its film adaptation maintained this purpose. While the plot of Circle of Iron might seem almost childish in its simplicity, its characters and events actually encapsulate an unambiguous running metaphor for seeking existential satisfaction within oneself, and totally divorced from the world, as Zen dictates one should. What it lacks in storyline it makes up for in thematic content.
We all know that Bruce Lee only worked on Kung Fu movies, and even though he had nothing to do with the production of Circle of Iron, the fact that it was based on his story necessitated that it should be -- you guessed it -- a Kung Fu movie. Cine-maniacs, do not fear, for fight scenes in this movies are sparse in distribution, and they are both meaningful and entertaining for the little time they last. So no, Circle of Iron is not one of those corny martial arts movies that you associate with David Carradine's career after Kung Fu ... Believe it or not, he's incredible in the four roles he plays!
*It should be noted that much of the plot of Circle of Iron was inspired by the story of Al-Khidr, from the Quran. This story fully corresponds to the principles of Zen, and it does not adulterate Circle of Iron's allegory; rather, arguably, it buttresses it by emphasizing the universality of spirituality that Zen Buddhists contend.
A Totally Subjective Review
Guys, I've gotta be honest: I am hammering out this write-up having seen Circle of Iron, fallen in love with it, and searching it on Everything2 to find that it doesn't even have a nodeshell. This movie may just be my favorite movie of all that I have ever seen -- it's freaking ridiculous.
Now, I must admit that if you don't go into it with an open mind, you might not like Circle of Iron as much as I do. But I guarantee you -- throw it on, sit back, and take it all in, and you will be happy with your experience in the end. Circle of Iron is a seamless (although, as I said earlier, unambiguous) allegory for a beautiful tradition, with remarkably poignant dialog, effective fantastical plot elements, and the incredible filming location of Bet She'an, a small village on the border between Israel and Jordan, just north of the West Bank. My recommendation is to SEE IT, SEE IT, SEE IT.
And of course, watching the movie.