Cord (Jeff Cooper) is a martial arts expert in a mythical land who competes for the right to go on a quest to confront a legendary master (Christopher Lee) who protects a mystical book. Cord cheats and is disqualified, but heads out on the quest all the same. Along the way he encounters various threats (all played by David Carradine) and a supernaturally talented blind man (also Carradine), not to mention oddities such as Eli Wallach sitting in a barrel of oil as part of long-term project to…dissolve his penis.
Yup, it’s a pretty odd kettle of fish, all right. The film began as an idea Bruce Lee had in his pre-stardom days, fleshed out into a screenplay by his students James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant. The project was a non-starter, and when it finally seemed as if it might see fruition, Lee felt he was now above the project. Based on the evidence we have here, he was right. Though, as the accompanying extras point out, the script has been reshaped and has lost the worst of its pretensions, the result is still ludicrous. Shot in Israel (which creates a decidedly odd setting for a martial arts film), and starring Cooper as a barbarian with pop-metal hair, this confection has the low-end cheese of the likes of Ator the Fighting Eagle and the self-importance of El Topo. The worst of two worlds, in other words. But the film is also a fascinating bit of 70s flotsam.
Quite the impressive range of options for a film from 1978: 2.0., 5.1 EX and 6.1 DTS, plust the original mono. But Blue Underground has always gone the extra mile with their releases, so we shouldn’t be surprised. There are limits to what the remixes can do with the source material, but the end result is very solid. There are some good surround sound effects (notably in crowd scenes). The surround is low key, but the sound is crisp and clean and there is some nice movement from rear to front speakers.
About halfway through the film, there is a faintly visible line bisecting the screen, but this is pretty much the only visible print damage. The colours are excellent, as are the blacks, the image is sharp, and there is very little grain. I did get one moment where the a flaw in the disc led to the picture breaking up for a second, but otherwise things look fine.
Disc 1 has a the theatrical trailers and TV spots along with a commentary track in the form an interview with director Richard Moore. It’s pleasant enough, though it also spends a lot of time listing off where each scene was shot. Disc 2 has a collection of interviews with Carradine, co-producer Paul Maslansky, and martial arts coordinator Joe Lewis. There’s also a vintage audio interview with the late Silliphant. This is all good historical material, and how the movie came to be is in some ways more interesting than the film itself. “Bruce Lee’s The Silent Flute: A History” is a print essay by Davis Miller and Klae Moore, and makes for fascinating reading. Even better is the presence of the original script by Lee, Coburn and Silliphant (accessible via PC). The still galleries are divided up into posters, ad mats, B&W stills, colour stills, and home video box art.
This film isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but its packaging is respectful and makes the whole exercise very interesting.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- David Carradine Interview
- Director Interview
- Co-Producer Interview
- Martial Arts Coordinator Interview
- Screenwriter Audio Interview
- “Bruce Lee’s Silent Flute: A History” Essay
- First Draft Script
- Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots
- Still Galleries