THE KILLER METEORS [1976]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

AKA FUNG YU SEUNG LAU SING

HONG KONG

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

RUNNING TIME: 104 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Mi Wei is the Killer Meteor, a martial arts master whose reputation is so strong that criminals will cut off their fingers in repentance rather than face his possible wrath. Only three people have seen his mysterious weapon the Killer Meteor, and two of them are dead. Once-great swordsman Liu Ching Yee steals a pearl then brings Wei to the house of Wa Wu Bin, who wants Wei to kill his wife Madame Tempest. She’s been poisoning him then giving him some antidote once a year. Wei accepts this challenge despite Tempest having four bodyguards of special skill, not to mention Wa’s strange ways of trying Wei out. Then there’s the fact that Tempest has a chest full of pearls better than the one Liu stole, and certain folks could be after this….

I honestly can’t tell if The Killer Meteors is meant to be something of a spoof or not. It’s almost as incoherent and bonkers as Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu, my review of which I posted yesterday. It’s not a Jackie Chan vehicle at all but a Jimmy Wang Yu vehicle, producer Lo Wei thinking that, after two flops, putting Chan in a movie with one of the biggest martial arts stars of the time was a good idea, though Wang Yu’s popularity was starting to wane by 1976. Usually more commercially successful playing one armed heroes than two armed heroes, it’s possible that Wang Yu was one of many martial arts film actors whose careers were significantly affected by the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee, especially since Lee was a trained martial artist and Wang Yu wasn’t. He was actually a champion swimmer, but with training he could look pretty good with strong choreography, and had a cocky charm which was quite appealing. However, by 1976 he was losing much of the expertise he’d been taught; in fact he looks tired throughout The Killer Meteors as well as out of shape, and it’s hard to believe that his debut lead role as The One-Armed Swordsman was only nine years before. Chan, as he’d not long done in the modern-set Rumble In Hong Kong, plays the main villain, and does it well, projecting steely arrogance, so well in fact that it’s surprising that he wasn’t given more screen time seeing as he was billed second. But then this is a pretty peculiar picture all round, with scene after scene which is strange and makes little sense, in a complicated plot with a final act which gives us a surprise every few minutes. Fight scenes are comparatively low in number, but there’s still much fun to he had.

The opening music is the native dance sequence from the 1933 King Kong, composed by Max Steiner. No, I’m not joking. It’s not a poor pirated recording either, it’s an adaptation with slightly different orchestration presumably done by credited composer Stanley Chow. Somebody breaks into a house, turns a book in a bookshelf to open into a secret chamber, and takes a pearl in a box. However, once outside again he bumps into an intimidating strongman who’s just moved some concrete lions [!] so is about to hand the pearl over to him when somebody else turns up and, with his Iron Palm, puts the lions back in their original place [though not before talking to them] and destroys one. He likes to leap about and dares the rest to catch him, but he can’t keep the pearl because someone else appears with a whip which knocks him down. This comic sequence is nicely played and timed, the often maligned Wei doing a good job here. Now we meet our hero, sleeping on a rock while others thank him, leave offerings, and remove their own fingers because they’ve been bad and don’t want to have to face off against Wei, not to mention his incredible Killer Meteor weapons. “Kill anyone last year, any serious crimes”? asks Wei  “No”. “Then you can live another year”. The guy with the pearl now shows up, but so does Liu Ching Yee the famous Thunder Swordsman now on hard times, who crushes the pearl then says there’s more at the house of Wa Wu Bin, the mere mention of whom sends the other guy running off. Wei and Liu set off, and we could have just cut to their destination rather than have the two sit and chat and have their voices drowned out by the sound of a waterfall so we don’t know what they’re saying unless you turn on the English subtitles [come on, you know I prefer to watch these in English]. They reach an inn where a guy is showing off his “Lightning Sword” but somebody else says “It sucks”. Another guy asks the name of the luminary currently dining and is put in his place with a slap and, “Know his name? You’re not worthy enough”.

Bin is sometimes referred to as being immortal, yet he’s supposedly dying from his wife’s poison she puts in his soup, though he says he primarily wants to kill her because, “She likes men, lots and lots of men”. Wei could be the man for the job because he’s, “A very special man, and she does like to surround herself with special men”. God the dialogue in this film is odd, and is only slightly less odd when viewing the subtitles which are a closer translation of the Chinese. Her four bodyguards are a man who throws needles with deadly accuracy; another with hands so magnetic that he can use them to attract objects that aren’t even magnetic; a sorcerer who’s magic must be so deep that screenwriter Lung Ku obviously thought that us lot wouldn’t be able to take it so decided that we shouldn’t actually see a single bit of it, and a fighter so cunning that we never actually see him being cunning. But Bin is weird. He fights Wei to see if he’s tough enough, though seeing as they’re equally matched he may as well have gone after Madame Tempest himself. He then gets Wei beaten up by his men [which we curiously see very little of] so he’s arrested and put in prison where Feng Chi [a sort of mayor I think] orders the poisoning of the other 63 inmates, after which it’s revealed that – well I’ll tell you because there are several twists that I will not reveal – Wei is a secret agent on another mission, trying to get proof that Liu has stolen some pearls. Feng, whose servants lay a red carpet before him for him to walk on, will give Wei his most prized possession – his daughter – if he succeeds, though said daughter visits him anyway and sleeps with him. But there’s something up with her, and most viewers will feel the same about the film whose plot seems to largely consist of various scenes of people saying strange things, but it’s entertaining enough to make up for the fact that only in the final quarter do we really get into the fighting, by which time the number of twists has got absurd.

The fights contain a lot of wire-assisted leaping about, even onto roofs, usually with a loud whooshing noise. Despite its many, many issues, The Killer Meteors is the most pure wuxia out of Chan’s films, therefore taking place in a world that’s a bit fantastical. We don’t get Wei fighting anyone until nearly half an hour when he faces off against some guards, using the bag containing the Killer Meteors as a club, something which he also does a bit later in a fairly similar brawl. Wang Yu doesn’t seem anywhere near his best, which may not be much for some but at least he was sometimes, especially in his early work like The Chinese Boxer, able to exude some power and pretense at skill. His first fight with Chan is interesting. There’s much more editing around Wang Yu who does a lot of blocking and wire leaps while Chan jumps and rolls for real in longer shots. While it’s patently obvious that Wang Yu has some serious limitations, it still manages to be a solid sequence and miles better than their brief encounter in Fantasy Mission Force. Plot then takes over until finally Wei fights a load more of Madame Tempest’s men including her four bodyguards, who are all killed off disappointingly quickly in what seems like a piss take, though possibly wasn’t. Three of the thieves from the beginning return and get more action, wielding two seis, a whip and two axes respectively against soldiers in a pretty unimpressive melee with the axe wielder in particular being slow and lacking timing. Wang Yu then has to fight a “surprise” villain who isn’t really, then Chan again on top of some upright stakes in a pit full of shorter spiked ones. It’s not bad, but was done much better in Iron Monkey etc. As for the Killer Meteors themselves, Wei says that, “They’re pretty dull objects and are actually not particularly impressive at all”. Well,  one does look good but isn’t worth the buildup and wears itself out after just one use, which is a fat lot of good if you ask me. The second – well, just expect to chuckle.

The budget was clearly low, though the effects of a  “Decomposing Flesh Pill” are enjoyable grotesque. Some of the story elements, such as Wei being a secret agent, have little bearing on things and could have been removed so we had a more focused narrative. Was the Gu Long novel upon which it was based the same? But then books can often get away with more. At one point we see Wei kidnapped and we think that he’s the person winding up in a lush area populated by women, only it’s a beggar character – oh, actually, Wei is there too. When he’s put in a cage, guards laugh hysterically at him, then we cut to him outside the cage with the same guards laughing hysterically at him. You just have to go with it and accept that we’re not in the land of anything resembling the normal, otherwise this film will be something you tire of pretty soon, especially when not one or two but three characters return from the grave. The dubbed dialogue really is something else, with lines like, “Well, judging from that, even with a straw you could kill a man”. “At last, the beating proves that he trusts you, and that’s a good thing”. Y”ou know why I killed him? Because he’s the Devil and you’re a man”.  And there are a hell of a lot of, “But still”s. For some reason though, the English dub calls most of the characters by their Chinese names, while the  Cantonese version gives us [take a deep breath]; Taoist Ghost, Black Llama, Magic Thief, Mighty God, Iron-Palm Stone Monkey, Ghost Shadow, Fong the Wind Chaser, Blazing Star, Killer Hands, Moon Breeze and Lady Phoenix. All these exciting monickers and yet too many of these folk aren’t utilised to anything resembling their full potential. Is that subverting of expectations or carelesseness?

Wang Yu is still able to swagger in a cool fashion and easily gets away with picking up a woman, spanking her, then carrying her with a rope around his neck down some very precarious ground. Yu-Li Lan made no other films at all, but seems to be having fun as Phoenix, whose throne wall has colourful lighting projected on to it. Actually this is a quite visually impressive film in places, with some good film noir-style shots making good use of black, and not one but two highly artificial yet beautiful sets full of flowers. The cinematography is credited to two people – Ching-Chu Chen and Chung-Yuan Chen – while it’s possible that Wang Yu directed the majority of the film and Wei just sat there listening to horse racing or something. As usual, the job of “composer” Stanley Chow was to paste together pieces from various sources, but as mentioned before the Kong music is clearly a re-recording, including a passage from another part of the same scene, while a chord and a few notes from John Barry’s Goldfinger soundtrack turn up. Some more ethnic instrumentation dominates elsewhere in a slightly more subtle “score” than usual. Generally considered very poor indeed, The Killer Meteors, with some more care, could well have been a bonkers classic of the genre instead of just a fun, silly but minor romp.

Rating: ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆

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About Dr Lenera 1979 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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