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Bad Movies, Martial Arts

Bad Movie of the Week: Circle of Iron

It’s the Bad Movie of the Week! In the world of bad movies, David Carradine is a high priest (though he has been known to star in good movies as well). But this isn’t just any David Carradine movie. Its production began in 1970, when Bruce Lee co-wrote a script for a new movie called The Silent Flute through which he intended introduce Eastern philosophy and martial arts to Western audiences. Due to a number of conflicts, the project did not go forward. After Lee’s death in 1973, the project was revived with David Carradine in Lee’s roles, as well as a new script with more “comedic scenes” and a new, meaningless title:

Circle of Iron (1978)


Plot: Young, brash Cord is a martial artist competing to be chosen for the dangerous task of seeking the mysterious wizard Zetan and the Book of Enlightenment. Losing the competition, he decides to go anyway, and sets out alone. Along the way, he attempts to befriend a blind wanderer who turns out to be a talented, but frustratingly enigmatic, martial artist. At times, the wanderer leaves Cord alone, and Cord is forced to face a series of trials armed only with his strength and the wisdom he has acquired. Finally, he reaches Zetan, but what he finds is not what he expected.

Read on for the final rating:

Best quote: A movie full of wisdom…

Cord: How long have you been blind?

Blind Man: How long have you been blind?

Cord: I’m not blind.

Blind Man: Am I?

Cord: Do you answer every question with a question?

Blind Man: Do you question every answer?

Cord: Aww, talking to you is like talking to a wall.

Blind Man: Buddha once sat before a wall, and when he arose he was enlightened.

Cord: Do you compare yourself with Buddha?

Blind Man: (chuckles) No. Only to the wall.

And wit…

Morthond: One year ago, I took a vow of silence!

Cord: And when did you break it?

Morthond: Now!

Most implausible moment: Circle of Iron is full of oddities and non sequiters: a surreal scene with Eli Wallach as a man trying to dissolve his lower extremities in a barrel of oil; a barrage of dubious wisdom delivered with Zen-like pomposity by David Carradine; and a mid-career Christopher Lee as the Chief Warlock of Rivendell/Cloud City.

Final score: 2 (6 is worst). Some actors are completely full of themselves. We know this; we saw it vividly when Carradine and Chuck Norris faced off in the epic Lone Wolf McQuade. Great as Bruce Lee was, it’s hard to deny he was a little full of himself too. So it’s no surprise that a movie with the history of Circle of Iron — conceived by one such actor, finished by another — ends up being odd, scattered, and pretty darn full of itself. Although its ambitions to greatness fall ridiculously flat, however, Circle of Iron earns a key place in the bad movie pantheon. The chance to watch David Carradine lay down some Bruce Lee-style wisdom is enough in itself to earn this movie a 2 — silly, but definitely worth a look.

For more on the story of Circle of Iron, check out “Circle of Iron: Bruce Lee’s Lost Movie”.


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