Also known as Circle of Iron, this is the second posthumous Bruce Lee project (the first being “Game of Death”) that never came to fruition. Co-written with actor and friend James Coburn, and writer Stirling Siliphant, Bruce wanted to convey his philosophy on martial arts and Zen Buddhism to a wider audience. Following Bruce’s death, Siliphant worked with Stanley Mann (“Damien; Omen II”) to finish the script and though not a commercial success it became a cult classic.
Jeff Cooper is Cord (originally to be played by James Coburn) a self-made, unorthodox warrior seeker. David Carradine plays the four roles of rhythm master Changsha, Monkeyman, Death, and the Blind Man who guides cord through his journey. Anthony De Longis is Cord’s opponent Morthond in the film’s opening tournament, and Erica Creer is introduced as love interest Tara.
Roddy McDowell and Christopher Lee make noticeable appearances, however the most memorable has to be Eli Wallach. As “Man in Oil”, Wallach provides some comic relief but also one of the film’s most profound messages.
Defying the authorities, Cord the Seeker embarks on the quest to find and defeat the invincible Zetan, for the right to reveal the secrets of the Book of Enlightenment he guards. However the journey is fraught with vicious combat trials and life lessons. Cord’s only guide is an enigmatic blind flute player with the wisdom and fighting ability of a Shaolin Monk. Soon Cord learns that he must not only be an able fighter but also face his own fears and weaknesses.
Legendary kickboxing champion Joe Lewis worked with “Kung-Fu” technical advisor Kam Yuen to choreograph the fight scenes incorporating Kung-Fu styles and Karate. Whilst perhaps lacking in the speed and fluidity of other kung fu flicks, there is plenty of grace and athleticism displayed on the whole. The tournament scene features Anthony De Longis fighting his way to the finals with a balletic martial arts display worthy of a future Black Belt Hall of Fame recipient.
Jeff Cooper might not be as trained a martial artist as others in the cast but prepared adequately so that when he does fight, he looks impressive enough. Every punch and kick convincingly connects and they certainly appear powerful. Cooper’s unorthodox style reflects Cord’s rebellious character even changing from an aggressive to a softer style while narrating Cord’s spiritual journey.
Carradine injects some character acting into his fight scenes. As Monkeyman, Carradine snarls, spits and taunts in between attacks, a little comical sometimes but chilling particularly in his battle against Kam Yuen, the seeker wielding a three-sectional staff. With Changsha the rhythm master, Carradine is more of a performer, moving in time to music, laughing and smiling as he plays to the crowd especially when fighting the much taller and formidably muscular seeker, Earl Maynard. The Blind Man sees Carradine more stoic, calm and unflinching. Whether it’s fighting bandits or mercenaries, every attack is countered (whether unarmed or using his bamboo flute as a jo (staff) as easily as he twists an apple clean in half.
“The Silent Flute”, with its underlying themes is more than just a fantasy revenge actioner. The trials Cord faces, the lessons about love, fear, and death epitomise Bruce Lee’s Zen philosophy, which become all the more apparent as events of the film culminate in its final message by the end. The martial arts on show not only entertain but provide valuable lessons of their own such as the nature of ego. David Carradine’s performances are engaging and multi-dimensional as is Cooper, and together, share plenty of on screen rapport. Add stunning cinematography, haunting music (especially Carradine’s flute playing), a script packed with humour, visceral moments, and the quintessential Zen reflections make this a worthwhile viewing.
- This is the second time David Carradine took over a role originally intended for Bruce Lee. The first was Kwai Chang Caine in the television series “Kung Fu”.
- Stirling Siliphant and Bruce Lee previously worked together on the US television show “Longstreet”.
- Choreographer and kickboxing legend Joe Lewis was considered for the role of Cord.