Just Look Away

Posted on March 4, 2011


Circle of Iron

It’s hard to kill a horse with a flute. – The Blind Man

This 1978 martial arts movie, also known as “The Silent Flute,” has a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where only 51% of viewers reported liking it.

Why Bother?

The whole world is in commotion and you wish me peace! I don’t know what peace is, I don’t want it. Don’t you listen to the desert? Even when there’s no wind the sand sings. – Chang-sha

In 1978, kung-fu had become so influential in the United States that this movie had a $4,000,000 US budget. It attracted actors like David Carridine, Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, and Eli Wallach. Both Steve McQueen and James Coburn were attached to the project at one point or another.

In fact, Bruce Lee and James Coburn wrote the original story. Because of disagreements over production decisions, the film wasn’t made until after Bruce Lee’s death. At that time, David Carridine acquired the rights. Karate champion Joe Lewis came on to direct some of the fight scenes, and David Carridine took on four roles originally intended for Bruce Lee.

So if you like martial arts movies, this one has the pedigree to get your attention.

I watched it

Oh, you are obviously mentally disturbed. You should have seen a doctor. –Cord

Imagine Conan the Barbarian, but with Zen instead of Nietzsche and with a lanky Californian instead of a muscle-bound Austrian.

A wizard named Zetan possesses the Book of All Knowledge. Ever year, martial artists compete to win the right to seek Zetan and retrieve the Book. The film begins when Cord competes for the right, but loses it when he breaks the rules of the contest. Rather than accept this judgment, he follows the winner. When the winner loses the first challenge of the journey, Cord takes his place.

In fact, this movie hews very closely to Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey.

The Verdict

One is taught in accordance with one’s fitness to learn. – The Blind Man

It’s tough for me to like this movie. According to his widow, Bruce Lee developed the original concept for the series Kung Fu, but couldn’t play Kwai Chang Caine because the producers didn’t think America wanted to watch a Chinese actor. They cast David Carridine instead. The producers tell a different story.

So here we have another instance of David Carridine playing a part originally intended for Bruce Lee. It’s not that he’s bad – he isn’t. He’s terrific. It’s just another example of Hollywood white-washing its products. Granted, Bruce Lee died in 1973, but there were other Asian actors available.

Some of the make-up is bad. The costuming suggests they spent all their money on other things. In the fight with Chang-sha, you can see that some of the close-ups were re-shot in the studio, because the sky has seams.

You have to be willing to accept that the movie is allegorical, and not supposed to make literal sense. For example, there’s no explanation why there has to be a contest to choose who will go after the Book. How the chosen know where to find the first challenge isn’t explained. In the First Challenge, the opponent says that Cord must fight, because he will not give way (it’s not in the order of things). When Cord overcomes him, he tells Cord how to find the next challenge. He tells Cord that no one has beaten him before, yet the next person that Cord meets talks about all the other seekers who came before. Cord very conveniently learns each lesson right before he needs it to overcome a trial.

It really helps if you have at least read a bit about Zen Buddhism, and know something about Bruce Lee’s teachings. The script has his fingerprints all over it.

Plus, those monkey people were really annoying.

I Challenge Your Comment-Fu

Think you could beat Bruce Lee? Think your fu is stronger than mine? Know more about martial arts movies than I do? Prove it in the comments!

Posted in: Movies