From the Archive – The Silent Flute aka Circle of Iron (1979)

flute

 

Directed by Richard Moore
Starring David Carradine and Jeff Cooper

“The film Bruce lee wanted to make”! Screams the box, and I can see why. The film deals with Lee’s favourite subject – the weakness of formal martial arts schools compared to the more flexible style that he developed. Of course, it’s hardly a tribute to the man to cast David Carradine – the man who they got to take his place in Kung fu because they wanted a white guy – in the roles (yes, plural) that he would have played.

Basically, this fluffy-haired rebel, Kord (Cooper) fails to win the right to quest for a book because he doesn’t follow the rules. He tails the champion, who gets killed, then passes all the tests with the help of a blind and cryptic flute player (Carradine). He has to fight a monkey man (Carradine), face death (Carradine) and defeat a nomadic warrior (Carradine) after sleeping with his wife (not, thank God, Carradine), all in order to complete a journey of self-discovery, get to the island of Zetan (Christopher Lee) and win the book.

And that’s it, really.

What’s wrong with it?

In short, it’s a mess; a mish-mash of not-very-interesting fight scenes intercut with waffly philosophy both of which might have been more convincing had they come from Bruce Lee instead of Carradine. It’s not always entirely clear what the point of the various trials is, nor how exactly Kord overcomes them.

At the end of the film, Zetan begs Kord to release him from the tedium of his endless duty. I know how he felt.

What’s right with it?

Not much really. Nothing about this film grabs the imagination or the attention.

How bad is it really?

The Silent Flute does not suck on the level of many bad kung fu movies, but it is almost entirely uninteresting. This is only one for the hardcore bad movie completist; for anyone else it just isn’t worth the time.

What’s up with…?

  • Kord’s fluffy haircut? It never gets tangled, no matter what goes on.
  • Eli Wallach trying to overcome his baser nature by dissolving his lower body in oil? I mean, seriously?
  • Kord and the Blind Man being chased by a group of riders wearing a weird mixture of costumes? THere’s a samurai there, and I think a Mongol…Very odd.
  • Death appearing as a panther man and screaming a bit, then going away?

Ratings:

Production values: Second-rate at best. The filming is overly dark and the ‘special effects’ (mostly involving David Carradine switching between his roles between cuts) are not very special at all. The whole thing looks distinctly cheap. 15

Dialogue and performances: The script is filled with sub-Lee kung fu waffle, and the actors deliver it with leaden solemnity. Only Christopher Lee and Roddy McDowell (as the master of the tournament that rejects Kord) escape with any dignity intact. 18

Plot and execution: A leaden trek through a series of kung fu encounters does not a plot make, and the heavy-handed direction does nothing to alleviate the boredom. 17

Randomness: Bruce Lee films are often pretty weird, but this one takes the biscuit. The Man-in-Oil is the top of the line, but the Panther Man/Death is also a stand-out. 17

Waste of Potential – Bruce Lee made some of the seminal ‘hard’ kung fu movies, and this looks like it could have been another in the vein of Enter the Dragon and Game of Death. As it is, it is nothing of the sort. 16

Overall 83%

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