Circle of Iron (1979)

R | 102 mins | Adventure | 1979

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HISTORY

The film opens with a written dedication: “Prior to the death of the legendary Bruce Lee, he helped to create a movie story that might capture not only the spirit of martial arts but a part of the Zen philosophy he lived by. He was aware that a film with these dynamics would cause controversy, particularly among those unfamiliar with Zen beliefs. But it was this very uniqueness that he believed would enthrall the movie goer. Bruce set the story of The Silent Flute in a land that never was – and always is. It is to Bruce Lee that this film is posthumously dedicated.”
       The print viewed bore the title The Silent Flute, the title during production, but the film was released and reviewed in 1979 as Circle of Iron.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files and a 13 Feb 1978 Box article, Bruce Lee and actor James Coburn conceived the original story, with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, and intended to play the two lead characters. After Lee’s unexpected death on 20 Jul 1973, the future of the project remained uncertain until producer Sandy Howard acquired the screenplay by Silliphant and found a qualified replacement for Lee in actor David Carradine, who had emerged as a martial art performer on the television series Kung Fu (ABC, 14 Oct 1972--28 Jun 1975). Screenwriter Stanley Mann was responsible for the final versions of the script.
       As described in a 30 Dec 1977 LAT article, the performances of Carradine and Jeff Cooper were guided by martial arts ... More Less

The film opens with a written dedication: “Prior to the death of the legendary Bruce Lee, he helped to create a movie story that might capture not only the spirit of martial arts but a part of the Zen philosophy he lived by. He was aware that a film with these dynamics would cause controversy, particularly among those unfamiliar with Zen beliefs. But it was this very uniqueness that he believed would enthrall the movie goer. Bruce set the story of The Silent Flute in a land that never was – and always is. It is to Bruce Lee that this film is posthumously dedicated.”
       The print viewed bore the title The Silent Flute, the title during production, but the film was released and reviewed in 1979 as Circle of Iron.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files and a 13 Feb 1978 Box article, Bruce Lee and actor James Coburn conceived the original story, with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, and intended to play the two lead characters. After Lee’s unexpected death on 20 Jul 1973, the future of the project remained uncertain until producer Sandy Howard acquired the screenplay by Silliphant and found a qualified replacement for Lee in actor David Carradine, who had emerged as a martial art performer on the television series Kung Fu (ABC, 14 Oct 1972--28 Jun 1975). Screenwriter Stanley Mann was responsible for the final versions of the script.
       As described in a 30 Dec 1977 LAT article, the performances of Carradine and Jeff Cooper were guided by martial arts coordinator, Kam Yuen, who was well-known in the entertainment industry through his Tai Mantis Kung Fu school in Los Angeles, CA. Carradine and Cooper were longtime friends, and it was Carradine’s suggestion that Cooper play the role of “Cord.” During fight sequences on set, Carradine’s nose was broken twice in one week, but the injuries did not delay production.
       The ten-week shooting schedule primarily took place in Israel. Location sites included the Beit Guvrin caves, the waterfalls at Ein Gedi, Coral Island off the coast of Eilat, the Rothschild Gardens and the Roman amphitheatre at Beit She’an, which provided the setting for the opening sequence. Additional location work occurred in Kenya, Africa, Ireland, and Hollywood, CA. Briefs in the 21 Oct 1977 DV and the 28 Nov 1977 Box reported that principal photography began in late Oct 1977. A DV news item from 22 Dec 1977 indicated that filming in Israel was completed by the end of Dec 1977.
       The 13 Feb 1978 Box article mentioned a budget of approximately $3 million. Producer Howard was hoping the film would attract audiences based on the story’s philosophical themes, but he was also prepared to market the film as an action picture for young fans.
       As noted in a 21 Jun 1977 HR brief, the film marked the directorial debut feature for Richard Moore who was credited as director of photography on previous productions. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Nov 1977.
---
Box Office
13 Feb 1978.
---
Daily Variety
21 Oct 1977.
---
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1979
p. 14, 47.
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1977
Section IV, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jan 1979
Section B, p. 6.
New York Times
19 Jan 1979
p. 15.
Variety
2 Nov 1977.
---
Variety
24 Jan 1979
p. 22.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
also starring
and
as "Cord"
introducing
as "Tara"
and
as "the man in oil"
Martial artists:
+

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
a Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Stills photog
Clapper loader
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const mgr
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost manufacturer
Ward mistress
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd mixer
Rerec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Mattes
Titles by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod services
Casting
Unit pub
Prod coord
Prod secy
Scr supv
Prod services furnished by
Prod exec
Prod accountant
STAND INS
Martial arts coord
Martial arts coord
Stunt coord
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Silent Flute
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 17 January 1979
New York opening: 19 January 1979
Production Date:
late October--December 1977 in Israel
Copyright Claimant:
Aphrodite Management, B. V.
Copyright Date:
23 March 1979
Copyright Number:
PA26332
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a timeless place, martial arts contestants fight for the right to seek the coveted Book of Knowledge, known as the key to enlightenment. The winner will face dangerous trials to discover the hidden location of The Book, which is guarded by the seemingly invincible Zetan. Cord, a maverick warrior, advances to the finals and defeats his opponent, Morthond. However, the crowd at the amphitheater boos when Cord violates the rules by unfairly striking Morthond after he is down. The White Robe judge declares Morthond the winner and awards him the medallion of a seeker, but Cord proclaims that the wrong man has been chosen to challenge Zetan. Defiant, Cord leaves to pursue the quest on his own, despite the White Robe’s opinion that he is too intemperate for the task. On the way out of town, Cord notices a Blind Man entering the ruins of a fortress. Inside, Cord watches the Blind Man as he calmly and efficiently defeats a group of attackers armed with lethal weapons, using only his staff. Later, Cord introduces himself to the Blind Man and discovers that the staff is not only a weapon, but also a flute. Awed by the man’s miraculous skills, Cord wants to learn from him in preparation for facing Zetan. As Cord follows along, they encounter an aggressive monkey, which the Blind Man scares off with a simple movement. While Cord tries to understand the value in this lesson, the enigmatic Blind Man disappears. Next, Cord finds Morthond suffering from injuries he received during his trial with a monkey. As Morthond dies, he tells Cord ... +


In a timeless place, martial arts contestants fight for the right to seek the coveted Book of Knowledge, known as the key to enlightenment. The winner will face dangerous trials to discover the hidden location of The Book, which is guarded by the seemingly invincible Zetan. Cord, a maverick warrior, advances to the finals and defeats his opponent, Morthond. However, the crowd at the amphitheater boos when Cord violates the rules by unfairly striking Morthond after he is down. The White Robe judge declares Morthond the winner and awards him the medallion of a seeker, but Cord proclaims that the wrong man has been chosen to challenge Zetan. Defiant, Cord leaves to pursue the quest on his own, despite the White Robe’s opinion that he is too intemperate for the task. On the way out of town, Cord notices a Blind Man entering the ruins of a fortress. Inside, Cord watches the Blind Man as he calmly and efficiently defeats a group of attackers armed with lethal weapons, using only his staff. Later, Cord introduces himself to the Blind Man and discovers that the staff is not only a weapon, but also a flute. Awed by the man’s miraculous skills, Cord wants to learn from him in preparation for facing Zetan. As Cord follows along, they encounter an aggressive monkey, which the Blind Man scares off with a simple movement. While Cord tries to understand the value in this lesson, the enigmatic Blind Man disappears. Next, Cord finds Morthond suffering from injuries he received during his trial with a monkey. As Morthond dies, he tells Cord to take the medallion, and Cord places it around his neck, giving him a sense of legitimacy. To face his first trial, Cord enters a cave where a group of monkeys screech in celebration as their leader, Monkeyman, eliminates another seeker. Cord watches the fight and remembers the Blind Man’s lesson about exposing the monkey as a coward. Initially, Monkeyman laughs at Cord and tells him to leave, but when Cord declares that he could ignore Monkeyman on his way to Zetan, the Monkeyman feels disrespected and becomes angry. During combat, Cord overpowers Monkeyman, who has never been defeated by a seeker. Afterward, Cord demands to know the route to Zetan, and Monkeyman instructs him to go west until he comes to a wilderness where he will find a rose. Next, Cord encounters a camp of partygoers in the desert. He is welcomed by Changsha, a chieftain, and introduced to an attractive woman, Tara, one of Changsha’s nine wives. When Cord asks if Changsha is the second trial, the chieftain is evasive. While Cord watches from the sidelines, Changsha fights Black Giant, another seeker, and then brutally kills him and tears off his medallion. However, Changsha refuses to fight Cord until they have slept. That night, Tara enters Cord’s tent and gives him a rose. Cord, who has declared a vow of chastity, realizes that Tara is his next trial. After they make love, Cord persuades Tara to stay with him forever, but when he wakes in the morning, she is missing and the campers have departed. Nearby, he finds her dead body tied to a stake and is grief–stricken. As Cord screams Changsha’s name in hatred, he continues on his quest and realizes that his second trial was really a lesson about the consequences of possessing the ones you love. That night, he fearlessly confronts the figure of Death in a dream and tells him to come anytime. The next morning at a waterfall, the Blind Man reappears. Cord follows him again, but after witnessing the Blind Man’s unusual response to a series of encounters, Cord begins to doubt that the Blind Man is a worthy teacher. As Cord is about to say goodbye, the Blind Man reveals the reasons for his actions, giving the impatient Cord a lesson in judging what one sees. Although Cord does not fully understand yet, the Blind Man appears to anticipate events as if he has been on this journey previously. Next, Cord comes across Changsha’s camp, which has relocated to a beach. Immediately, Changsha recognizes that Cord has changed and has made peace with Tara’s death. However, if Cord wants to reach Zetan, who is nearby, he must pass through Changsha. The fight between the two men is evenly matched, and after awhile Changsha stops and reveals that Cord has been chosen to meet Zetan. A boat ferries Cord to a castle on an island that appears to be occupied by peaceful inhabitants. When Zetan introduces himself, Cord puts up his hand prepared to fight, but instead Zetan opens his arms and welcomes him. Cord is puzzled since he was expecting to battle for The Book of Knowledge. Impatient for answers, Cord demands to see The Book, but Zetan warns him that what he is about to view may be more frightening than the trials he has won to get here. When Cord opens The Book, he sees his face in a mirror on page after page and understands the meaning of his quest: there is no enlightenment outside of oneself. Zetan explains that the other seekers who have viewed The Book often return to the world and become teachers, providing the trials that Cord has experienced. Cord realizes that the Blind Man was also a seeker and a true teacher after all. Later, Cord finds the Blind Man on a hilltop playing the flute, which only Cord can hear. He says that he saw everything in The Book, and the Blind Man embraces him. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.