Circle of Iron, AKA The Silent Flute. That was the title of the original story, co-written by Bruce Lee, James Coburn, and Stirling Silliphant, and completed for filming in 1978, after Bruce Lee's death, by Silliphant and Stanley Mann. The film boasts not only an appearance by Eli Wallach, but small parts for Christopher Lee and Roddy McDowall, and something like four roles for David Carradine, including the part of a kung-fu-fighting ape. It's sort of a variant on the education of an idiot theme: a young, impetuous fighter, Cord (hammily played by Jeff Cooper, a TV actor who hailed from Hamilton, Ontario) goes on a quest for enlightenment, and encounters various trials along the way, as well as various teachers, many of whom are played by Carradine. Carradine - whose main role is that of a blind shakuhachi player - delivers some highly corny bon mots during the movie - the screenplay is sprinkled liberally with Zen koans and such, which produce something more akin to stupefaction than satori. There's a ripoff of Heraclitus' line about not being able to step into the same river twice (phrased differently, but it's the same idea). There's the observation, used to describe Cord's reluctant apprenticeship with his blind teacher, that you can tie two birds together, but though they have four wings, they cannot fly. The funniest sequence, however, dispenses with Carradine altogether, and occurs when Cord encounters Wallach in the desert, half-submerged in a giant vat.
here - for me, it's the second most memorable appearance by him, after, of course, Tuco. As often happens with Ernest Borgnine, you're struck by the fact that even in 1978, Wallach looked old; pretty amazing that he would continue to live and work for another three decades (his final film, the Wall Street sequel, was completed in 2010). My respects to Eli Wallach and condolences to his family and friends. Viva Tuco!