An emblematic Hong Kong action comedy in its heyday conjoined by legendary Kung Fu trio Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, shot abroad in Barcelona with Sammo also taking the director job, WHEELS ON MEALS sees Chan and Yuen as two cousins, Thomas and David respectively, who are adroit in martial arts (and skateboards), run a fast food van in the tourist spot, soon they will team up with Hung’s amateurish shamus Moby to fight against the evil Mondale (Sancho), whose henchmen are relentlessly hunting down a young heiress Sylvia (the stunning former Miss Spain, Lola Forner), with whom both Thomas and David are infatuated.
The star trio (their third picture together, preceded by PROJECT A and WINNERS AND SINNERS, both released in 1983) brings about authentic bonhomie in their two against one raillery, with Hung often comically in the receiving end of the ribbing and pratfalls. Forner’s deceptively virtuous damsel-in-distress (petty larceny merely a peccadillo) doesn’t drive a wedge between the two cousins, instead, Thomas and David’s gauche vying for her affection elicits abundant lulz, including one sterling idea from Thomas, by suggesting David’s father (Paul Chang Chung) to marry Sylvia’s mother (Sentís), both mental hospital residents (there are stimulating cameos from regular collaborators Richard Ng, Wu Ma and John Sam as fellow head cases) who are smitten with each other, to the utter dismay of Yuen, since he and Sylvia will become step-siblings.
Whereas the plot gives no spectacular twists or suspense to elevate WHEELS ON MEALS head and shoulders above its similar peers, the climatic action set piece is a captivating blinder, in particular, the fisticuffs between Jackie Chan and kickboxing champion Benny Urquidez, which gives a visceral flesh-to-flesh impact that bespeaks what makes martial arts actioner such an entertaining delight to watch, and Chan’s epiphany of loosing up in the face of a formidable rival well speaks volume of his trademark amalgamation of levity and lethality that eventually would win him gazillion of fans in every nook and cranny of the world, an exemplar of how to take up the baton (from Bruce Lee, obviously) and pass it on with one’s own distinctive style (Chan is in his sixties and his clout still rolls on).
Elsewhere, Hung relishes in the self-referential jokes of his (only slightly at then) portly figure (when Moby hollers around in looking for a man named Fatso, whose corpulence can legitimately pale him into insignificance, or the running jokes of being unable to keep up with a simian Chan in all the shinning and whisking), and in fact, Hung is famous for his disproportionate agility that lends him a unique presence among other uniformly jacked Chinese martial artists. Without any help of wire-fu, Hung really cuts it both in and behind cameras, and WHEELS ON MEALS is a testimony to the halcyon days of Hong Kong action cinema, fun, thrill and a bit of romance, recommended for the whole family.
referential entries: John Woo’s ONCE A THIEF (1991, 6.5/10)