And a horse has no udders and a cow can’t whinny and up is down and sideways is straight ahead. - Cord
Circle of Iron is a movie I came across by chance in my formative years. It was playing in rotation on HBO, and I was drawn to it because I was drawn to virtually anything that was oriented towards martial arts.
But Circle of Iron is different. This movie, which came out in 1978, is something different from the subtitled, sound-effect filled fight-fests that were available on Sunday afternoon TV in my youth.
To begin with, the movie was written by Bruce Lee in cooperation with others, including James Coburn. To the uninitiated, this might seem a difference without a distinction - after all, wasn’t Bruce Lee simply yet another martial arts movie star, churning out versions of that Sunday afternoon schlock?
What is not necessarily well known, however, is that Bruce Lee was, for all intents and purposes, a scholar of martial arts, with a distinct philosophical perspective on martial arts, life, and the intersection of the two. Within this, he was also an innovator and an artist, ultimately developing his own martial art - Jeet Kune Do - modifying his own training and borrowing from an array of other arts to make a more efficient, effective system.
Understanding that gives an important perspective on Circle of Iron. The movie absolutely does involve fighting matches - younger me almost certainly would not have watched it if it did not. But these matches are in service of the larger philosophical point the story is leading to. This is no simple revenge tale - no one in the movie ever shouts "you bastard, you killed my brother!" - and the outcomes of those matches, as well as the outcome of the movie - is not necessarily what one would expect.
I am being purposely vague about what the actual outcome is, of course. This is a movie better experienced. Other movies and stories have borrowed from it since, to be sure. This is true of older films, as well as those much more recent - for myself, I found a vital scene in The Last Jedi to draw heavily from the ending of this movie.
If this intrigues you at all, this movie is worth checking out. It’s available on iTunes and Amazon Video. I’ve had a hankering to see it again recently, and so had to go out and find it. Be aware that it is a martial arts movie from the 1970’s, with the acting and action quality one should expect from the era. That said, the quality of the story is shown in the actors that it drew in. Bruce Lee intended to star in the movie, but died before he could film it. The role he wrote for himself is filled by David Carradine, and Roddy McDowell, Eli Wallach, and Christopher Lee all appear in the film as well.