Director: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung
Screenplay: Edward Tang, Gwing-Gai Lee
Starring: Jackie Chan, Biao Yuen, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Benny Urquidez, José Sancho, Keith Vitali
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Wheels on Meals saw the three action mega-star ‘brothers’ Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung pair up for the third time after the success of Winners and Sinners and Project A the previous year. Elder brother Hung took his seat on the director’s chair and the shoot took place in Barcelona to give the film a fresh look and avoid the difficulties of being on location in Hong Kong. It’s a beloved title to many fans of Chan, but personally I’ve not held it in quite as high regard as titles like Project A, Drunken Master and Police Story. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it though, so I was willing to give it a second chance when I was offered a screener to review the film.
Wheels on Meals sees Chan and Biao play Thomas and David (respectively), friends living and working together in Barcelona, running a mobile fast-food van. Meanwhile, Moby (Hung), a loose associate of theirs, swindles himself a lucrative private detective job meant for his boss. He’s paid large sums of money to try and find a woman called Gloria (Susana Sentís) and her daughter Sylvia (Lola Forner). It soon turns out that Gloria is in a mental institution with David’s father (Paul Chang Chung) and the pair are madly in love with one another. Sylvia however, is earning a living pretending to be a prostitute and thieving from her potential clients. When Thomas and David discover this, they try to her help her, for the sake of her mother as well as due to the fact she’s incredibly attractive and they’re two single young men. As some mysterious bad guys appear trying to capture Sylvia and Gloria, the plot thickens and our heroic trio find themselves in over their heads. Nevertheless, they do their best to save the day.
The film gets off to a good start with a fun initial 15 min containing some cool stunt gags (some involving skateboarding & a couple of daring and acrobatic window jumps) and then a great biker gang fight sequence. However, the film stumbles for quite a while after this with a lengthy period containing little action, too much non-physical comedy that doesn’t translate well, and some clumsily constructed episodic storytelling. So it drags its feet for a while, although there are still some enjoyable scenes dotted around.
However, after just under and hour, a decent street fight and ensuing car chase kicks off the last 45 mins, when the film really kicks into gear. Incidentally, this is also when the story starts to take shape and make sense, with all parties finally becoming fully involved with each other. This final portion of the film is excellent and I could see what all the fuss was about.
All primary leads get to show their skills in the castle-set finale in particular, as they each take separate routes in their attempts to save the damsels in distress. Hung gets to show off his comedic talents, as well as some impressive but still amusing weapon combat. Biao performs some mind-blowing acrobatic tricks as he leaps around the set to avoid the real-life karate champion Keith Vitali. Chan gets to shine the brightest though, as he takes part in what is often considered the greatest on-screen fight of his career, if not anyone’s, when he goes head-to-head with Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez. It’s a truly astonishing fight that feels more intense and realistic than many of Chan’s more prop-heavy set-pieces. Between this scene and his incredible fight with John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, Urquidez was a prime component in a couple of the best unarmed face-offs in both Hong Kong and US cinema. So it’s a shame he didn’t quite become the household name many other less skilled action stars did.
Speaking of stars, the main trio are highly enjoyable to watch as always, delivering the film’s broad comedy most effectively (other than some of the aforementioned scenes relying on dialogue/delivery which don’t translate well to English speakers like myself). Small roles are played better than usual too for a Hong Kong action production, with some decent American, Chinese and international character actors playing brief but memorable parts. For instance you’ve got Herb Edelman playing Hung’s boss and Richard Ng playing a wacky patient from the mental institution (the film’s treatment of mental illness probably wouldn’t pass muster these days though).
The film looks better than a lot of similar HK films too. It’s very colourful and makes great use of locations and Barcelona’s unique architecture, particularly Gaudi’s wonderful work. There’s plenty of camera movement too, giving subtle energy to the less exciting sequences.
So, although the first hour is pretty weak, with some brief fun sequences and stunts nestling among some clunky storytelling and hit and miss humour, the final 45 minutes make up for it. In this sizeable segment, there are several superb fights, a few cool stunts and a charming cast to bring the film back in favour. As such, it’s still not my favourite Jackie Chan film, as I prefer his more consistently entertaining work, but when Wheels on Meals works it’s mightily impressive so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of Hong Kong action cinema.
Wheels on Meals is out on 18th March on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The transfers look fantastic – colourful, clean, detailed and sharp yet natural looking. You get a wealth of audio options, which cover all the bases. I decided to opt for the new custom audio option with the funky international soundtrack but original Cantonese dialogue.
You get plenty of special features too:
– Limited edition slipcase [4000 copies ONLY]
– Stunning 1080p presentation from a brand new 2K restoration
– Optional English subtitles
– Original Cantonese audio track, available in both original mono (LPCM) and newly restored DTS-HD MA 5.1
– Optional English audio from the film’s international release, featuring an alternate (and much funkier) soundtrack, available in both original mono and 5.1
– Alternate English dub track from the film’s 2006 DVD release (available in 5.1 only)
– New and Exclusive audio option – a custom audio option featuring the original Cantonese dialogue track, but mixed with the alternate soundtrack from the international release
– On Giant’s Shoulders – An archival interview with Sammo Hung [7 mins]
– An additional archival interview with Sammo Hung [10 mins] | Born to Fight An archival interview with Yuen Biao [15 mins]
– Jet Fighter – An archival interview with kickboxing champion and martial-artist Benny The Jet Urquidez [28 mins]
– King of the Ring – An archival interview with martial-artist Keith Vitali [33 mins]
– The Inside Track – An archival interview with director and action choreographer Stanley Tong [34 mins]
– Spartan X – Alternate Credits The original Japanese version of Wheels on Meals featured these alternate blooper reel credits which would later become a traditional feature of films starring Jackie Chan (can be viewed isolated or as part of the main feature)
– Additional Outtake footage [4 mins]
– Original Theatrical Trailer
– International Release Trailer
– Original Japanese Spartan X trailer
– PLUS: A Limited Edition Collector s Booklet featuring a new essay by James Oliver [4000 copies ONLY]
Like the other recent Eureka Hong Kong action releases, almost everything is ported over from the old Hong Kong Legends DVDs (bar the Bey Logan commentary and Brett Ratner interview for obvious reasons), but there’s a lot here and everything is great, so I can’t complain. It’s a shame new commentary contributors weren’t brought in like they were for the Once Upon a Time in China trilogy set, but you can’t have everything. So much is covered in the various interviews here you don’t really need much else. Stanley Tong’s inclusion here is odd as he wasn’t involved in Meals on Wheels, but he talks of his working relationship with Jackie Chan and is a pleasure to hear from anyway. Like most of the contributors, he comes off as a nice, honest guy who works hard to do what he does. Benny ‘The Jet’ shows his ego a little, but this is to be expected from such a successful fighter and he’s still full of praise for his co-stars/director and has some interesting stories to tell about his career.