East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Circle of Iron/The Silent Flute (1978)

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My friend Dalmazio reminded me yesterday of a movie that I re-watch usually once a year, and that would fit my highly hypothetical guide to sword & sorcery movies, despite the fact that it does not feature any sword that I can remember, nor is the sorcery so prominent.
The movie is called Circle of Iron, but is also known as The Silent Flute, and was originally written by Bruce Lee, that would have starred it.
The movie was planned for 1969, and should have featured James Coburn (who also had a hand in the original story) as a co-star, but then the project fizzed.

It was produced nine years later, with David carradine in the role that should have been Lee’s, and Jeff Cooper in the role that had been imagined for James Coburn or Steve McQueen.

The first mystical martial arts adventure… well, it is a way to put it.
The movie follows Cord (Cooper), a martial artist in a generic Oriental fantasy world, that is looking for… ah, something. Personal mastery, excellence, something like that.
Something he can achieve – or so he is told – by facing and defeating Zetan (Christopher Lee1).
Along the way to Zetan’s place, Cord meets a blind man that will travel with him, offering philosophical advice.
Also along the way, Cord will have to face a number of challenges, not all of them of a martial nature.


The film is beautifully photographed and shot mainly in Israel.
The plot is somewhat flimsy, but the idea of building what is by all means a Taoist fantasy is pretty intriguing.
Carradine plays the blind man and all of Cord’s adversaries along the road, and the fight scenes are nicely choreographed and competently shot.


But what is really interesting in this movie, to me at least, is the way in which the wider world is suggested. The few bits we see hint at a wider, coherent and strange place, one that would be interesting to explore further.


According to Wikipedia, on the first page of the original script, Bruce Lee had written:

The story illustrates a great difference between Oriental and Western thinking. This average Westerner would be intrigued by someone’s ability to catch flies with chopsticks, and would probably say that has nothing to do with how good he is in combat. But the Oriental would realize that a man who has attained such complete mastery of an art reveals his presence of mind in every action…True mastery transcends any particular art.

Overambitious, suffering from an obvious scarcity of funds, subject to numerous rewrites and various cuts and remixes (two versions exist, with two different titles), Circle of Iron/The Silent Flute remains a good way to pass some time on a summer (or early autumn) evening.

  1. Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach also have small parts. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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