Circle of Iron (1978)

CIRCLE OF IRON (1978)
Article 2916 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2009
Posting Date: 8-7-2009
Directed by Richard Moore
Featuring David Carradine, Jeff Cooper, Christopher Lee
Country: USA

A martial artist seeks for the right to go on a quest for a book of knowledge belonging to a wizard named Setan. When he loses the tournament, he decides that he will embark on the quest anyway. However, he has much to learn…

This Zen Martial Arts fantasy was originally a project of Bruce Lee’s, in which he intended to combine his martial arts prowess and his Zen philosophy into one movie. The movie suffered several setbacks, and at one point or another Steve McQueen and James Coburn were intended to star in it. It was not made until after Lee’s death. David Carradine was originally offered the role of Cord, the martial artist seeking the book, but chose instead to take the four-person role that Bruce Lee himself had intended to play, and the role of the seeker went to Jeff Cooper, a friend of Carradine’s.

Now, I’m no expert on Zen philosophy, so I usually handle movies like this by trying to let the mysticism seep through me and see what sticks and what doesn’t. That being said, there are snippets of conversation and certain plot elements that hit home, such as the moment where the seeker’s teacher (Carradine as the Blind Man) performs a series of actions with impenetrable motives (he destroys a boat that was loaned to him for his quest, he stops to rebuild a wall despite being under attack by several horsemen, and he breaks the nose of a young boy) that get questioned by the seeker, and reveals his motives for these actions. There are also moments that fall flat, and this is because I feel that Jeff Cooper was miscast; this actor fails to display that mystical sense needed to make the character come alive, whereas I can sense how practically every other actor originally intended for the part (McQueen, Coburn and Carradine) would have delivered in this regard. At any rate, when it falls flat, it’s usually due to a moment with Cooper that doesn’t work for me; on the other hand, Carradine is consistently good, and Christopher Lee is wonderful in the role of Setan the wizard, who is not what he seems. In the final analysis, the movie is simply inconsistent, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a strong cult following.

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