If rumours are to believed, Wheels on Meals was originally titled Meals on Wheels but changed because superstitious execs at production company Golden Harvest were concerned that their last two films beginning with M - Megaforce and Ménage à Trois - had done a Box office belly-flop. If it’s true, then it’s entirely in keeping with the bizarre random insanity of a film very much of its time (the mid-1980s are in full effect here), which mixes slapstick, leery comedy, and high-octane kung fu thrills to create a film that ultimately wears out its welcome but with plenty to appeal to dedicated connoisseurs of Chinese action cinema.
Thomas (Chan) and David (Biao) are two brothers running a fast food operation on the streets of Barcelona (the location filming - this is one of the first high profile Chinese movies to film outside the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong - is one of its plus points). An encounter with pickpocket Sylvia (Forner) leads the dumb-headed love-struck pair into a breathlessly wacky adventure alongside chunky bumbling private eye Moby (Hung) who is on Sylvia’s trail as it turns out she’s the heir to a considerable inheritance - a fact that has come to the attention of a vicious gang who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Sylvia is kidnapped and the limber-limbed trio infiltrate the villain’s castle lair, which leads to an energised, kinetic, kung fu masterclass.
Wheels on Meals is what it is - and fans of shamelessly broad slapstick (we looked in vain for Benny Hill’s name on the credits), gurning and mugging masquerading as acting and paper-thin plotting will be in their element here. The film deftly demonstrates the twinkling, slightly tongue-in-cheek humour and commendable disregard for his own safety which turned Chan into a crossover star, making his name in western cinema in the 1990s as much he had on home ground in his youth. Aficionados won’t really give too much of a damn about distractions such as plot, narrative, love interest and anything much to do with general story dynamics; they’re here for the rough stuff and the quickly film sets out its store with a lively tussle between Thomas and David and some bikers and the film is punctuated with bruising battle action until its explosive climax with Chan matched punch for punch and kick for kick by Hung and especially Baio, whose tussle with Keith Vitali’s aptly-named ‘Thug #2’ is a particular highlight.
Eureka has scrubbed Wheels on Meals up well for this shiny new Blu-ray release and packed the disc with new special features which will delight fans of the genre. Those not familiar with Chinese action cinema might find it all a bit clunky and baffling (but then they’re not the target audience) but there’s some fun to be had here for anyone who appreciates the artistry of action movies in general, and the emerging star power of Jackie Chan in particular.
WHEELS ON MEALS (1984) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SAMMO HUNG / SCREENPLAY: EDWARD TANG, JOHNNY LEE / STARRING: JACKIE CHAN, SAMMO HUNG, YUEN BIAO, LOLA FORMER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW