AKA Karate Death Squad, Jackie Chan Versus Wang Yu
Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Jackie Chan, Tung Lam, Lee Man-Tai, Ma Cheung, Phillip Ko Fei, Ma Kei, Lee Si-Si, Chan Wai-Lau, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Sit Hon, Lily Lan Yu-Li, Yu Ling-Lung, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Wong Yeuk-Ping, Woo Wai
Directed by Lo Wei
Right outta the gate: this isn’t a Jackie Chan movie. He plays a villain and has a couple of fights, but this is a Jimmy Wang Yu movie all the way. If you go into this movie expecting anything remotely similar to a Jackie movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed. So set your expectations to Lo Wei/Jimmy Wang Yu classic wuxia, and you should have a grand ole time like I did. My high assessment of The Killer Meteors will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I can only call it like I see it and I had a fantastic time watching this movie.
The Killer Meteors is about a martial artist so badass that other martial artists come and pay him tribute. He wields the infamous Killer Meteor, a weapon with unparalleled power that no living person has ever seen in action. This martial artist (Jimmy Wang Yu) is hired by Hua the Hearty AKA Devil Meteor (or Immortal Meteor, depending on the translation) to kill his wife. She has poisoned Hua and is refusing to give him his yearly dose of the antidote. Hua is sick of the games, so he sends in the one-man wrecking crew of Jimmy Wang Yu to settle the score. But as this is a wuxia in the classic sense, the final tale is not so cut and dry as that.
That lied-to Western audience wasn’t the only one frustrated. After the disappointing box office numbers of New Fist of Fury, Lo Wei decided that he needed to change things up if he wanted his new company to stay in business. This led him to casting the fading star Jimmy Wang Yu in his next film’s lead, and relegating Jackie to a supporting, villainous role. I imagine that Lo Wei figured he’d try Jackie as a villain to see if it worked better for him than the Bruce Lee-style character of New Fist of Fury. It’s a bit frustrating to watch these movies now, as we know what Jackie is good at, but everything happens for a reason. If these films had been successful, Lo Wei may never have allowed Jackie to be loaned out to Yuen Woo-Ping to make Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, thus depriving the world of Jackie Chan as we know him today. So while many cast aside these early films as nonsense, they’re actually more interesting and influential to his career than it would appear at first glance.
The story does take too long to take shape and get going, but fans of Lo Wei’s previous films will find the film rich enough so that this slow start doesn’t hinder the film at all. The intro is especially fun with Magic Thief stealing an iridescent pearl, but before he can make his escape he is stopped and one-upped by three consecutive martial artists who want the pearl for themselves (Mighty God, Iron-Palm Stone Monkey and Ghost Shadow, if you were wondering). The pearl itself has no bearing on the story, but its storyline does eventually introduce Jimmy Wang Yu’s character, as well as providing a super fun, fantastical introduction.
The Killer Meteors is great fun in the tradition of early Shaw Brothers wuxia films (especially reminiscent of Lo Wei’s best work there). That being said, I’d only recommend it if you’re inclined to like classic wuxia storytelling, as the fights will sorely disappoint strict hand-to-hand kung fu fans. Jackie Chan also doesn’t really fit the film at all, but his fights should provide a hardcore Jackie fan with some enjoyment if they decide to venture this deep into his catalog. The Killer Meteors is pretty much all entertainment for me, though. It’s not fight-based entertainment, but if you’re willing to open your mind a bit, The Killer Meteors will treat you right.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan: 1976’s Shaolin Wooden Men! I’m quite excited to revisit this one, as I remember it being one of the better early Jackie films. We’ll see! If nothing else, I still love the title to death!