Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly. – The Blind Man
The Silent Flute
Set in a land of the past, or a possible future, a Martial Arts tournament is held to find a champion. This champion, will become The Seeker and will undertake a journey to find Zetan and the Book of Enlightenment. Along the way The Seeker will encounter three trials, which he must solve, or defeat, before he can reach the book.
At the beginning of 1969, Bruce Lee and two of his students, James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant, had begun work on a movie script. To keep the story under wraps, it had the title of Project ‘Leng’. ‘Leng’ is Chinese for Beautiful. James Coburn was to play the role of Cord the Seeker, while Bruce Lee would play the Monkey King, Changsha, Death and Ah Sahm, the blind man.
In February of 1971, Bruce, James and Stirling went location hunting in India. They began in Delhi, before travelling to Rajasthan and then on to Goa. Although they found deserts they could not find a ‘wilderness’, which was essential to the story.
Disheartened, that the location scouting hadn’t gone as well as they had hoped, the project was shelved. Bruce moved to Hong Kong, to pursue his film career, while James and Stirling returned to America.
In 1975, or early 1976, John Drew Barrymore ‘borrowed’ the script from James Coburn’s library, giving it to David Carradine to read over a weekend, as he needed to replace it as soon as possible, so that James didn’t notice that it was missing.
David immediately believed in the movie and contacted Stirling’s agent. He then spoke to Sandy Howard, the producer, who wanted David Carradine for the role of Cord the Seeker, but David wanted the roles that were to be played by Bruce Lee. After a demonstration, between David and Jeff Cooper, Sandy was sold on the idea.
In the autumn of 1977, the cast and crew relocated to Israel to begin filming. David Carradine took three flutes for the role, which he had made himself, from bamboo that he had planted on the Warner Bros. lot years earlier. Much of the Zen philosophy had been taken out of the script, as they were not understood by the executives of the day. Scenes were also dropped, while others were added or expanded upon. The man in oil is a scene that was written into the later script and spoils the movie, as it stops the flow and adds nothing to the story. Although much of the script was rewritten, some of the lines, spoken by David Carradine’s characters were taken from the Bruce’s original script, without being altered.
When filming had finished, in Israel, David Carradine returned his fee for the movie, so that some much-needed extra footage could be completed, with Joe Lewis and some stuntmen, dressed in Chinese armour. He would eventually get his fee returned, almost a year after the movie’s release.
For some reason the title was changed, on its release, to Circle of Iron, but most fans still call it The Silent Flute.
The Silent Flute boasts an impressive cast, that include ;David Carradine, Jeff Cooper, Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis and Earl Maynard.
As it is damn near impossible to locate an original script, for this movie, it is hard to tell what has been removed and added. Therefore, the film has to be seen as only having Bruce Lee’s name ion it, not his influence. Having said that, there is still a lot of philosophy and teachings from the scriptures, to stop this from being your typical martial arts movie. But, is The Silent Flute a martial arts movie? It certainly has some martial arts in it, but it is more of an adventure about the search for the Book of Enlightenment, than a typical beat-em-up movie. Maybe that is why it was misunderstood and panned so violently by the critics. Even some of Brice Lee’s fans hated the movie, thereby missing the point of the entire story. There are no stand-out performances, in the movie, possibly down to the director being Richard Moore, in his one and only directorial role. Richard Moore was best known as a cinematographer, which can be seen quite clearly in The Silent Flute. There are many problems with this movie, but the good parts far outweigh the bad. Also, the backdrop of Israel, with its Roman ruins and landscapes, really help this movie, adding a mystical element to this fantasy story.
There are, and have been, rumours surrounding a possible remake for the last couple of years. These first started surfacing in 2012, but any information is still hard to obtain. Some have said that it is to be set in a post-apocalyptic future, while others say that it is sticking to Bruce Lee’s original plan.
I guess we will just have to wait to see if justice will be done to what many think will be Bruce Lee’s final legacy. Here’s hoping.
I really like this movie and believe it to be a lost classic. 7/10