" Get all the good you can outta 17 ‘cuz it sure wears out in one helluva hurry. "
— Paul Newman, Hud

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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In the 60s, before rising to remarkable fame, Kung-Fu legend Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon) set out with actor and friend James Coburn (The President’s Analyst) to pen the perfect martial arts film. Although the result, a script called The Silent Flute, wasn’t exactly perfect, the film ended up achieving much controversy among critics and fans.

Now on a special edition DVD, devotees of martial arts films can become outraged or inspired by this cinematic epic. With a beautiful looking transfer and absorbing special features, my guess is the latter.

Nothing is Self

Embrace the cheesiness and you'll have fun watching
Embrace the cheesiness and you’ll have fun watching

The film begins with a dedication to Bruce Lee and a description of his overall objective in bringing Eastern philosophy to a Western audience. We then meet Cord (Jeff Cooper), a young, ambitious martial artist who is competing in a tournament for the right to go on a quest for the Book of All Knowledge, which is held in a far away land by the sorcerer Zetan (Christopher Lee). He’s disqualified from the tournament in the final round, but decides to go anyway, following the technical winner, Morthond, on the journey of many “trials” to discover the book.

Cord meets The Blind Man (David Carradine), a flute-playing kung-fu master who probably has some sort of community college degree in philosophy. Throughout the film, this character appears then disappears, spewing silly, sometimes catchy phrases at our protagonist. Cord’s companion is killed in a fight at the first trial by the Monkey Man (also Carradine), a simian who will point the winner the direction of the next trial.

Cord defeats him with helping words from The Blind Man, and is sent off to face his next opponent, Chang Sha (Carradine again, this time with an outstanding mustache), the leader of a desert tribe that seems to be in constant celebration. Little does he know, his next trial is actually a test of his willpower instead of strength, and is taught a hard lesson after sleeping with one of Chang Sha’s many wives.

Our hero faces other characters and adversaries on his way to the island where Zetan resides, including a panther who represents Death (Carradine yet again) and man (Eli Wallach) who is attempting to dissolve his lower half in a vat of oil.

Mystery Kung-Fu Film 3000

The first draft of The Silent Flute was quickly passed by studios, deeming the project as far too risky and expensive to produce. It was scrapped and buried until Lee’s death in 1973, and under the new title Circle of Iron, was finally released five years later with a young David Carradine taking the legend’s place in the leading role(s).

A re-written script was conceived by Stirling Silliphant and Stanley Mann, but with Lee and Coburn (originally set to play Cord) missing from the final product, Circle of Iron is surely not their purest vision of what was intended.

Nevertheless, for audiences who are fans of the genre, this film does prove to be a lot of fun. The outrageous characters, cheesy dialogue, and meat-head kung-fu fights definitely will provide plenty of material for a group of fans to shoot hysterical counterpoint dialogue at.

DVD Extras

The commentary with director Richard Moore is more of an interview conducted by David Gregory played over the footage. It’s entertaining for the most part, but sometimes the subject of the discussion misses the point of what is on the screen. A few trailers and T.V. spots are also incorporated on this disc.

A large portion of the special features on disc two are interviews with cast and crew, featuring Carradine, co-producer Paul Maslansky, martial arts coordinator Joe Lewis, and a long audio interview of co-writer Stirling Silliphant. Although they are all informative, the most interesting is with Carradine, who has the better stories to tell about filming; including his relationship with Lee, the filming at the exotic and historical locations, and all the injuries he sustained during the production (which included a wounded knee, gouged toe, and two broken noses.)

Finally, there is the text Bruce Lee’s The Silent Flute: A History, written by David Miller and Klae Moore. This text feature provides more information on the origins of how Lee first came up with the idea and script, as well as its transformation into Circle of Iron.

Picture and Sound

The new Hi-Def, anamorphic 16x9 transfer looks great, especially with the striking scenery and fight sequences. The Dolby Digital 6.1 DTS-ES sounds great; there are no problems with the audio.

How to Watch This DVD

Get 10-15 people together around the tube, pop in this DVD, and see what happens when you include booze. Making wise-cracks at the screen won’t be hard, but you’ll have the most fun turning it into a drinking game.

Take a shot every time Cord is an idiot. Shoot twice when The Blind Man says something irrelevant. Whenever David Carradine’s wig flies off while playing the part of Chang Sha, swill the bottle.