Review for Wheels On Meals (UK)
At the time of writing, it looks as if that Cine Asia is going to the same distributor heaven that claimed its predecessor Hong Kong Legends. Poor sales have pushed the company behind the label, Showbox Media into administration. That’s cause of much lamentation for UK fans of martial arts movies, as there are few distributors around that champion the cause of such cinema in the UK as Cine Asia does, and as Hong Kong Legends and Premier Asia did before it. Not only did Cine Asia bring the best of modern film from the Far East to the UK, but in recent months they had also acquired a significant fraction of the HKL back catalogue, and were in the process of re-releasing some titles which should never really be allowed out of print in the UK, films like Police Story, Project A, and the Bruce Lee movies. When HKL went out of business, I found that I had missed out on several of my favourite titles, and it’s only through Cine Asia resurrecting them that I finally got to see some of them on DVD. Now it looks like the same thing will happen again. If you like Asian cinema, then get the Cine Asia holes in your collection filled now, lest you miss out again. One of the films that Cine Asia allowed me to get the second time of asking was Wheels on Meals, at one time my favourite Jackie Chan movie...
It looks like Cine Asia have taken the original Hong Kong Legends Platinum Edition discs, and stuck Cine Asia labels on them, and put them in a case with a Cine Asia sleeve.
David (Yuen Biao) and Thomas (Jackie Chan) are kung fu caterers in Barcelona. The kung fu is just incidental, and a result of their daily training regimen. Their real job is running a catering van in the city, a mobile restaurant for the locals and tourists alike. Admittedly the martial arts skills come in useful when dealing with passing Hells Angels gangs and the like, but they aren’t really tested until they encounter an attractive pickpocket named Sylvia. Moby (Sammo Hung) is a private detective. Actually he’s a private detective in training, but when debts require his boss to exit the city with immediate effect, Moby gives himself a promotion, and he’s quick to get his first job, to find a woman named Gloria and her child. That child just happens to be Sylvia, and Moby isn’t the only person looking for them. A villainous aristocrat wants to find them and put them on ice. These three groups are on a collision course for comedy...
The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is relatively stable, clear and free of print damage. You get the action put across well, and the travelogue through Barcelona really does impress. This film makes great use of locations and local colour. Speaking of colour, eighties fashions are on full display here. The transfer itself is nothing too special, a little soft, and quite grainy and a little lacking in definition. But you do get to see the stunts, fights and action sequences in decent enough clarity and boy are there stunts, fights and action!
You have the choice between the original DD 2.0 mono Cantonese, a DD 5.1 English dub (which I avoided out of general principle), and a DD 5.1 Cantonese remix, which I chose. It’s a nice, if understated audio experience, which while keeping most things front and centre, does enough with the action and music to give the film presence. Subtitles are available in English and Dutch, and I found the English subtitles to be accurately timed and free of error.
As mentioned, these are the HKL discs relabelled, so not all of the information on the discs is current, certainly not the contact details and websites for HKL and Premier Asia. Neither is the Bey Logan biography on disc 1, and not all of the twelve films trailed in the Further Attractions section are available for retail purchase any more. Certainly seeking out Volcano High and Winners and Sinners is a bit of a challenge. Some of them have been re-released by Cine Asia though.
The discs get the animated menu treatment, but the only significant extra on disc 1 is the Bey Logan audio commentary, an essential supplement if ever there was one, and on several releases of more interest than the film itself. This isn’t one of those movies, but the audio commentary is rich, dense and overwhelming with information. It’s the kind of audio commentary that you listen to more than once.
The rest of the extras are on disc 2.
In the Interview Gallery, you’ll find some very interesting and appropriate interviews with Sammo Hung (8 minutes) and Yuen Biao (15 minutes) who talk about the experience of making Wheels on Meals. Also interesting, but not directly linked is the interview with Stanley Tong, HK movie director that lasts 35 minutes, and he talks about his career and working with Jackie Chan. Not at all interesting and without any mention of Wheels on Meals is the interview with Brett Ratner, who talks about the Rush Hour movies for 19 minutes.
Fight Club is where the meat of the extras is, with interviews with Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez, and Keith Vitali, who were the main villains in Wheels on Meals. They both talk about their current work and their martial arts schools, but of more interest is their recollections of making Wheels on Meals. These interviews last 28 and 35 minutes respectively.
On The Cutting Room Floor, you’ll find two reels of outtakes, the sort of thing that usual appears in the end credits of a Jackie Chan film, but don’t do in Wheels on Meals. These run for 3 minutes and 1 minute respectively.
Finally there is the Trailer Gallery with the UK and Original trailers for the film.
There are some films that are diminished by repeat viewing, where each subsequent re-watch lowers it in one’s estimation. When I first saw Wheels on Meals as a teenager, it was the best thing ever. It had comedy, action, entertainment and with a cool yellow van. It was like the Hong Kong Only Fools and Horses! I taped it from a late night Channel 4 Jackie Chan season, and nursed that tape for several years and even more watches. Back then, it was the best ever Jackie Chan movie for me, beating out Police Story, Armour of God, and even Project A. Now, not so much.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I actually drifted off into a snooze while I was watching it last night, although after jerking awake, I did skip back and watch it from that point without drifting away again, so it was less through tedium than through tiredness. But the fact of the matter is that if I didn’t know Wheels on Meals backwards, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep. But I do have perennial favourites I can re-watch at the drop of a hat and stay bright-eyed and bushy tailed throughout. The thing of it is that I’ve seen Wheels on Meals enough to think past the astounding action and slapstick humour, and try and analyse the film, and it really doesn’t hang together all that well.
Like a lot of kung fu comedies of the era, it’s really just a collection of gags and action set pieces loosely hanging together by a couple of frayed plot threads, and if you even pick at one of those, it all falls apart. Where Wheels on Meals is beginning to lose its ‘best kung fu movie ever’ charm for me is in its comedy. Not the physical comedy, which is just as inspired as ever, but rather the verbal and wordplay, the quick-fire gags and puns which mostly come from Sammo Hung’s character Moby. What I used to think of as witty and humorous now appears forced and juvenile. I suppose that says more about me as a viewer than it does about the film. But it’s this which breaks my span of attention, and gets me thinking about the film and its gossamer plot.
But plot is not what Wheels on Meals is about. The sight gags still work, the physical comedy is amazing, and it’s the action sequences that really stand out in this film, and here you have the trio, the brothers in their prime, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung. They deliver action here like you would not believe, and with hardly a stuntman and not a single special effect in use. What makes it all work is that the challenge that they face is so good, as Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez and Keith Vitali provide antagonists that you can believe would give our heroes pause. It’s no wonder that when asked about favourite kung fu action scenes, a lot of fans will cite the Jackie Chan and Benny Urquidez fight at the end of this film as one of the best ever put to celluloid.
For me, Wheels on Meals is no longer the best martial arts action comedy any more, but that’s probably because I’ve just seen it so many times. It is still one of the best though, and if you are only going to go for one Cine Asia classic title before they go the way of HKL, then this ought to be the one. Just don’t watch it as often as I did.