What if I were to tell you that there was a movie based on a story by Bruce Lee (sort of based on his zen philosophy), starring David Carradine (in multiple roles) but also featuring Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach? And maybe I would also say it takes place in a fantasy world and Carradine plays a flute that he also uses for a weapon, and let’s say that my man James Coburn – well, he’s not in it as an actor, but being a student of Bruce Lee maybe he helped write the story. And then the screenplay was written by Sterling Silophant who wrote THE TOWERING INFERNO and crap like that. But then the director was some guy named Richard Moore who only directed that one movie. But he was cinematographer for THE STONE KILLER with Charles Bronson. But also ANNIE.
Well let’s take the gloves off, you can forget about “what if” and come down to the world of reality because I’m about to tell you that I just saw EXACTLY THAT movie described above. (see above.) CIRCLE OF IRON starts out with a corny statement about Bruce Lee before going into a MORTAL KOMBAT type competition where half naked white dudes with mustaches do karate against each other as some type of a test. See, they are fighting for the right to go on a quest to kill some dude named Zetan and steal his book. (I know that sounds like a waste of time, but it’s a pretty rare book though, one of those magic books that tells you all the secrets.) We figure out quickly that our guy is the shirtless guy, Cord the seeker. This is the first sign of trouble when you realize the main character is just some long haired soap opera dude with no presence or charisma of any kind. And not necessarily the greatest martial artist you ever seen, either. He’s interchangeable with any of those long haired white dude types from the ’70s and ’80s. He could be the dude from BEASTMASTER or ALIEN NATION tv series or anything, but it turns out he’s from DALLAS and YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
But anyway Cord is the outsider who doesn’t follow the rules, and he loses the match, but decides to go on the quest anyway. He’s gonna have to go past a couple more trials to get to Zetan, but fortunately he has one of those wise blind dudes (Carradine) to help him. He has a cane with a jingle bell on it, but its also his flute and his staff. When he swings it at motherfuckers you hear the wind blowing through it and the bell jingling. And then he says wise little sayings all the time.
Cord has to meet different dudes and learn different lessons to defeat them, and all of the dudes turn out to be played by David Carradine. He even plays a monkey who does monkey kung fu against Cord. (I figured Roddy McDowall would be in this scene, but I don’t think he was. On the other hand, I don’t know what scene he was in.)
The different trials do not just involve fighting. He also has to pass tests like the old there is a naked chick, what do you do test. There is a whole abstinence/castration theme first introduced in my favorite scene where he comes across Eli Wallach sitting in a big metal jug of oil in the middle of the desert because he’s trying to burn his dick off. ‘Cause he can’t control himself. Cord looks into the jug and says, “Your legs look like seeweed,” and Eli says, “I hope so!”
I don’t know what the story is behind this picture. I bet Bruce wanted to play the multiple roles, which would’ve been cool, but unfortunately he either died or just was replaced by Carradine, just like on KUNG FU. I thought that was cool in KILL BILL VOLUME 2 when you finally meet Bill and you think, this guy actually seems pretty nice and plus he was in DEATH RACE 2000, why does she want to kill him? And then you remember oh yeah, he massacred her wedding party, and also he took KUNG FU from Bruce Lee.
So he’s a thief, but he’s still cool in this movie. You just have to accept that he’s gonna be David Carradine cool, not Bruce Lee cool. And the rest of the movie is not as cool as him. The whole mideival fantasy deal is a little too KRULL in my opinion, and the fights are a tease. David does some good moves but he doesn’t fight enough for it to really be a martial arts movie, like Bruce would’ve made. Also I gotta point out, the title CIRCLE OF IRON doesn’t mean jack shit. I mean there’s a guy who wears a circle of iron at the beginning but it’s not important at all. Might as well call it SHIRTLESS since that’s what the main character wears in the same scene.
I wasn’t making that up thought about Eli Wallach burning his dick off, and the weird touches like that make it enjoyable. Also there’s a couple good sunset shots and pretty good music.
It woulda been better if James Coburn starred in it though, I want to see him do some kung fu.
That’s all I have to say about CIRCLE OF IRON, sorry.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.