The Challenge of a LifetimeÖ

CIRCLE OF IRON is a film that attempts to be a martial art/Zen philosophy outing. In a nutshell, itís a rather odd film. How does it stack up against other chop-socky movies? Letís read on and find out:

After an opening that pays tribute to Bruce Lee (something Iíll talk about later in the review), we get down to the action. In a scene that mirrors that of ENTER THE DRAGON, we have men fighting in a martial arts competition. The truly strange thing is that itís overseen by Roddy McDowall. No matter how serious he is in the role, itís nearly comical watching him as he views the combat.

This is where we meet our hero of the film, Cord, as played by Jeff Cooper. Cord gets into the action and whoops anyone who gets in his way. Unfortunately, for him, he breaks the rules in his final fight and loses the chance to venture forth and find Zetan, owner of the Book of Enlightenment. Cord, however, doesnít give a damn and he tells Roddy McDowall that heíll still track him down. It doesnít matter to Cord that nobody has ever achieved this success.

Along the way, Cord comes upon David Carradine who plays a blind man (and three other roles in the film). He watches as Carradine disposes of a gang of men who attack him by using his flute. This captures Cordís interest, and he begins to shadow Carradine.

Itís here that we begin to hear Carradineís philosophy on life. He throws off such nuggets as:

Carradine: A fish saved my life once.

Cord: How?

Carradine: I ate him.

Yeah. And on it goesÖ

Eventually, Cord reaches his first trial in tracking down Zetan. He sees the man that beat him in the competition die from his wounds, and treks into the cave that is home to a race of human/apes. Playing the part of the chief ape is David Carradine, who Cord takes down in-stride.

After this, Cord runs across Eli Wallach. In the most non-unintentional funny scene in the movie, Wallach is sitting in a caldron of oil. Heís there to waste away his body and, most important, his penis. After Cord tells him that his legs look like seaweed, Wallach invites Cord into the tub with him. Cord laughs him off and continues on his journey.

Following a scene where Cord meets Death (in Carradineís third role), he stumbles upon a carnival of drifters. Itís here that Cord finds his final trial. Heís to face off against Changsa, again played by Carradine. Before they fight, however, Changsa offers his ninth wife to Cord. Having taken a vow of chastity, thereís little Cord can do with the woman. And, unfortunately, thereís no nudity. How this film ever achieved itís R-rating is beyond me.

The next morning, the carnival is gone. Cord finds the body of the ninth wife crucified, and he sets out again. According to Changsa, he is to look for a rose in the middle of a desert for his final trial.

Cord temporarily gains company with Carradineís Blind Man, but soon moves on without him. Like the viewer, heís grown tired of the Blind Manís philosophies.

Finally, he finds the rose in the desert. And it is here that Cord defeats Changsa. Beaten, Changsa tells Cord that his destiny lies across the sea. That is where he will find Zetan and the Book of Enlightenment.

Does Cord find Zetan? Of course, he does. In a throwaway role for Christopher Lee, who plays Zetan, he is anything but the warrior Cord thought he would be. Instead, heís a gentleman. Cord finds the Book of Enlightenment andÖ well, thatís where Iíll stop the review. Youíll just have to endure the film on your own to find out what is inside and how Cord leaves Zetan.

CIRCLE OF IRON is an oddity of a film.

It was originally a vehicle intended for Bruce Lee. Along with James Coburn, he envisioned the movie. You then add Sterling Silliphant, who won Oscars for such films as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and working with Irwin Allen on such outings as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO.

Unfortunately, Bruce Lee never lived to see the film come to its fruition. In his place was cast David Carradine. And we canít forget that the same situation occurred with the television series KUNG FU. In the role of Caine, Carradine was great at espousing the hidden meanings of Zen philosophies. So it was a natural to get him in the role.

If Lee had lived, it would have been amusing to see the audience reaction to the film. Obviously they would come looking for another ENTER THE DRAGON, and what they would have got insteadÖ

The final piece of the puzzle, when Cord opens the Book of Enlightenment, is a complete joke on the audience. No doubt it was intended as a fantastic Zen motivation, but for the audience to have sat through this entire film, their encompassing ambition to see what is in that book, comes off as completely lackluster.

How a film with such names as Carradine, Silliphant, Wallach, Coburn, Roddy McDowall, and Bruce and Christopher Lee go straight down the toilet is a mystery.

There are also times where the film finds itself with tongue firmly in cheek and seems to be nodding at the audience:

The Blind Man: Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.

Cord: On the other hand: A horse has no udders and a sow canít whinny and up is down and sideways straight ahead.

This is a martial arts film about the philosophy behind the arts. Armed with the names of Bruce Lee and David Carradine on the DVD cover, itís a wonder what unsuspecting audiences will think of it.

If you like wooden acting, bad witticisms, and an ending that will leave you feeling cheated; this is the film for you.

Otherwise, avoid.

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