Wheels on Meals Review
Martial-arts maestro Jackie Chan has enjoyed a career spanning more than five decades and, even into his sixties, shows no signs of slowing down. For many his heyday came in the eighties, which included several successful collaborations with “brothers” Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Featuring a deft blend of slapstick and jaw-dropping stunt work, these films cemented Chan’s reputation as a natural successor to silent era greats such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
Wheels on Meals (1984) is an early example of the talented trio collaborating whilst at Golden Harvest, with Hung taking on directing duties as well as appearing in front of the camera. The film centres on Thomas (Chan) and his buddy David (Biao), who work as chefs selling fast food on the streets of Barcelona. Not only are the pair rather good at performing back flips and delivering orders nimbly by skateboard, they’re adept at martial arts too. This comes in very handy early-on when they’re hassled by a biker gang who threaten business - serving as an excuse for Hung to throw in some impressive motorcycle stunts.
Trouble finds the pair when they meet a striking young woman named Sylvia, played by former Miss Spain Lola Forner. Both are immediately smitten, leading to some humorous scenes as they become eager to make a good impression. What they don’t realise at first is that Sylvia has been operating as a sneaky pickpocket, making herself very unpopular in the local area - and is about to rob them blind. By sheer coincidence their old friend Moby (Hung) is trying his luck as a detective and has been hired to track down the very same woman by a mysterious client. Moby provides much comic relief as he embarks on the case, sporting some dubious fashions and a tight 80s perm, he comes across as completely inept.
The film would have benefitted from tightening during the first half, as it is a little slow to really get going. The momentum picks up when it’s eventually revealed that Sylvia is – much to everyone’s surprise - an heiress to a sizeable fortune. This has put her in grave danger, as an evil relative will stop at nothing to claim the inheritance – it is best not to examine the plot intricacies too closely. The big-hearted duo feel compelled to protect Sylvia and, when she’s kidnapped by a bunch of heavies, join forces with Moby to get her back.
The film is packed with outright silliness, yet while the madcap physical feats rarely fail to impress, some of the verbal gags don’t translate well and fall flat. The production does make excellent use of locations around Spain – particularly a castle that features in the climax, requiring our heroes to bravely scale the walls. This was one of Chan’s first ventures to be shot outside of Hong Kong, though many of his subsequent films have been made all over the world. Shrewd casting choices were intended to give the film more international appeal, particularly as Chan had yet to break into the US market at this stage in his career. While many familiar players from Hong Kong crop up in small uncredited roles, such as John Sham and Richard Ng (both amusing here), the cast also includes American TV veteran Herb Edelman and Spanish actor Jose Sancho. Additionally, the presence of US Karate champ Keith Vitali and kickboxing legend Benny “The Jet” Urquidez adds considerable value.
Wheels on Meals doesn’t match the inventiveness and sheer volume of eye-popping stunts found in Chan’s finest work of that era - the spectacular Police Story and Project A immediately spring to mind. Nonetheless, there’s still much to enjoy, with some truly memorable moments. One highlight is a frenetic chase through the streets in the duo’s seemingly indestructible garish yellow snack van, where they hurl (or squirt) everything on board at their pursuers. There’s also an awesome climatic showdown in the villain’s stronghold between Chan and the formidable Urquidez. This brilliantly choreographed scene – often cited by Chan as one of his best fights - is not to be missed.
The film makes its UK debut on Blu-ray with a limited edition (4,000 units) brand new 2K restoration. The image, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is clean and sharp throughout with no signs of damage. Colours are appreciably vibrant, showing off the attractive location work around Barcelona to great effect.
There are a number of audio options available: the original Cantonese track (choice of mono or newly restored DTS-HD MA 5.1), English track from the international release (either original mono or 5.1), an alternate English dub track from the 2006 DVD release (available in 5.1 only), plus a new custom option featuring the original Cantonese dialogue track, but mixed with the alternate soundtrack from the international release. It’s worth mentioning that the international release features funkier music – which serves the film far better in my opinion. I noticed that the translation differs slightly between the two English tracks too. Dialogue was distinct with all options and no signs of hiss or crackle were detected. English subtitles are also included.
The film retains a 15 certificate in the UK and has always been available uncut in this Country, though surprisingly it was 18 rated for a mid-eighties cinema release.
The release includes over 2 hours of archival interviews with several key players, all ported over from an earlier DVD edition. Sadly there is no input from Jackie Chan.
On Giant’s Shoulders (7:41): a brief interview with prolific director Sammo Hung. There's also a second interview with Hung, where he talks briefly about the film (10:05)
Born To Fight (14:57): Star Yuen Biao talks about the film.
Jet Fighter (28:24): kickboxing legend Benny “The Jet” Urquidez discusses his long successful career, where he remained largely undefeated in the ring even after more than 60 fights. It’s revealed that he came from a fighting family – his father was a boxer and mother a wrestler.
King of the Ring (33:23): US Karate champion Keith Vitali talks about his career, moving from being an actor in several action films to a producer of children’s self-defence videos. He cites Chuck Norris as a role model – fortunately referring to Chuck’s impressive fighting record and not his thespian skills.
The Inside Track (34:44): A fascinating interview with Chan’s long-standing friend and collaborator Stanley Tong. He talks of being a huge Bruce Lee fan and studying martial arts from the age of 12 years-old. Tong has worked extensively in the Hong Kong film industry in a variety of roles, including stuntman, producer and director. He discusses the films he has directed starring Chan from the nineties onwards, including Supercop and Rumble in the Bronx. Not surprisingly, there’s no mention of Tong’s ill-advised big screen version of Mr Magoo, which starred Leslie Nielsen.
Spartan X Alternate Credits – “blooper reel” credits from the Japanese release of Wheels on Meals [aka Spartan X] – can be viewed isolated or as part of the main feature (3:25) Plus: additional outtake footage (4:01)
Trailers: Original Hong Kong (4:08), International (2:13) and Japanese Spartan X (2:33).
PLUS: A Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new essays by James Oliver and Scott Harrison (first print run only and not available for review).