Sammo Hung/ Hong Kong/ 1984/ 108 mins
On Blu-ray from Mon 18 Mar 2019
Jackie Chan and Biao Yuen portray takeaway owners and cousins named Thomas and David respectively who combine clowning, gymnastics and skateboarding with their customer service. In between serving the populous of Barcelona they assist the local community with community safety issues (bullies on motorbikes) and indulge in some amateur social work as they try to help our heroine obtain her rightful inheritance. Sammo Hung directs and co-stars as a wannabe private detective (Moby) embroiled in the rescue of a kidnapped heiress.
This is the perfect martial arts film to engage viewers who are reluctant to embrace the genre. The refreshing Spanish locales and unusual plot elements (girl with large inheritance disguised as pickpocket (Lola Forner), small business entrepreneurship and amateur private investigation) leave the viewer strangely bereft of a suitable quota of action but a surfeit of the bizarre. The execution of the former is, as expected, wonderfully committed and realistic whilst there are mixed results for the latter plot components, the low point being a visit to a mental institution solely for comic effect.
The legendary work ethic of the Jackie Chan stunt team (who promoted an ethos of continuing to film in spite of potential injury) is glimpsed quite clearly in the fight between Chan and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez during which a punch is seen to connect with Chan who takes all of a half a second to recover and continue with the scene. This moment is preserved in excruciating slow motion by Hung who has a tendency to direct as though he has just binged a boxset of Peckinpah. It seems a little incongruous that such a profound reverence for action is married with this surreal mix of soap opera and sub-par thriller but the viewer quickly gets used to it.
The performance of Biao Yuen is the most refreshing element as he is given the lovesick and altruistic heavy lifting whilst Chan is more together and balanced than the persona he would refine to global acclaim over the past twenty years. In light of the development of Chan’s clown persona which sometimes has become more akin to Mr Bean than Bruce Lee it appears that Yuen has swapped roles with Chan. Sadly his career would not flourish like his partner or even Hung who also eventually dipped his toe in the Hollywood petri dish.
This film leaves the viewer with a thirst for Biao Yuen and a reminder of something that Hollywood has never truly understood: despite the violence on-screen these flicks have always benefited from a comedic perspective and apart from a few ill-advised comic beats Wheels on Meals is more fun and the action higher calibre than the majority of the genre’s recent fare.