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Barcelona Boxing
A region 2 DVD review of WHEELS ON MEALS / KWAI TSAN TSEH by Slarek
 

OK, Wheels on Meals is a silly and ultimately meaningless title, a semi-spoonerist switching of words prompted by a superstition about titles starting with the letter M (you'll need to listen to Bey Logan's commentary to get the full story). That said, the literal translation of the Chinese title – 'Fast Food Car' – is not a lot better. But if ever there was a case for not judging a book by its cover – or rather a film by it's title – then this is it, as in the realms of kung-fu comedies, Wheels on Meals is an absolute winner.

And so it should be, given that it stars Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, three of the most athletic and charismatic talents in the genre. It's also directed by Hung, a master of staging action for the camera and a dab hand at the gags. And as the key heavy we have Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, undefeated full contact karate champion and a screen fighter with the necessary skill and physicality to provide a very convincing challenge to Chan (that's him as the hard-kicking assassin who attacks John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank – he was also Cusack's kick-boxing instructor). That the film showcases the talents of all of these players at something like the top of their game should be recommendation enough. Hell, what am I saying? If you're a genre fan you already know all this. But if you've discovered Chan via his later films and are new to this one, then you're in for a treat.

Generically speaking, the film has a few surprises. That Chan and Biao play mobile food vendors and Hung a wannabe private detective will not raise many eyebrows, but that they do so in Barcelona rather than Hong Kong marks a definite departure from the norm and provides a refreshing change of scenery. The plot may be on the slender side – catering cousins Thomas (Chan) and David (Biao) fall in with beautiful pickpocket Sylvia (former Miss Spain, Lola Former), who is being sought by private eye Moby (Hung) for a wealthy client and by dastardly Mondale (Pepe Sancho) and his men in an effort to prevent her claiming her inheritance – but at least does not feel like the padding between the action scenes. The comedy is rarely as broad as the genre norm and is sometimes rather smart – an opening gag involving bedroom doors, which I won't spoil for newcomers, is funny precisely because of its almost offhand delivery, and the scene in which the plump Hung goes looking for 'The Fat Man' in a bar full of jovial fat men is a delight. Indeed, character interplay provides some of the film's most offbeat comedy moments, a personal favourite being the asylum inmate who suggests a logical solution to the problem of Thomas and David's lost wheel nuts – when subsequently questioned why he is incarcerated he patiently explains that "madness and stupidity are two different issues – do you understand, stupid?"

That none of this drags is due in no small part to breezy performances across the board, with even the smallest bit part nicely played without calling to the gallery. Even the leads tend to keep their more expressive emotions in check, although Biao gets his moment when some bad news sends him hurling to the ground to beat it with his fists and wail in despair. Excellent use is also made of the Spanish locations, with Hung the director seemingly liberated by his access to so many attractive exteriors and a sizeable cast of extras, making Wheels on Meals one of the most visually appealing kung-fu films of its day.

Initially the action appears in short, sharp bursts, with expectations rewarded – the bikers who disrupt the market square and are spectacularly dismounted by Chan and Biao – but still played with one eye on the comically unexpected, with the bikers' leader whining that his mum won't allow him to fight and sent on his way with a reprimanding slap. Usually, though, it's Sammo who gets the short end of the stick, falling through a shop awning that the others have bounced off, and tumbling out of a van and down a steep hillside after the crew have outmanoeuvred their pursuers.

You know it's all building to something, and with Thomas, David and Moby now a sort of ramshackle Three Musketeers, their three-pronged assault on Mondale's castle hideout provides climactic fights that allow Chan, Biao and Hung to really show off their individual skills. The centrepiece has to be Chan's battle with Urquidez, a ferociously choreographed demonstration of the speed, agility and fighting skills of both men that is played largely straight, leaving the comic action to a sword-fighting Hung and a furniture-leaping Biao. It's a stonking three-way finale, with Hung once again proving that he can choreograph action to camera better than just about anyone, as well as bring out the very best in the fighting skills of his leads.

Wheels on Meals is, as Bey Logan says on the commentary, a blast, an enormously likeable comedy actioner that balances these two elements effortlessly, right up to and including the superbly staged final battles. It has a great cast, great direction, great fights and is great fun. What are you waiting for?

sound and vision

Hong Kong legends keep on getting it right and once again have delivered a first rate transfer, capturing the colours of the Spanish locations and Sammo's sometimes fashion-victim clothing very nicely, and exhibiting very good sharpness and contrast levels. As ever, the print is virtually spotless.

There are three soundtracks available, Cantonese 5.1, English 5.1 and the original Cantonese mono 2.0 track. The Cantonese 5.1 is nowhere near as lively as he remix on HKL's Knockabout DVD, though the rear speakers really kick in when the motorbikes start racing about the market square. It's only when you switch to the original mono track that you really appreciate the qualities of the 5.1 – the mono original is a lot harsher, with minor distortion in the louder dialogue. The English dub provides the usual amusements, especially if run alongside the subtitles.

extra features

The Commentary by Bey Logan provides the usual plethora of information on the cast and crew, plus a guide to the architecture of the great Antoni Gaudi, whose work is featured prominently in the film, and some comments on the fashion choices of Sammo and his co-stars. Once again this is essential listening for anyone interested in the film and especially the stars and director.

The rest of the extras are on disk 2.

The Interview Gallery has 4 entries.

In On Giant's Shoulders (7:41) director/star Sammo Hung recalls the shoot, the on-location language difficulties, working with car and bike stunt coordinator Blacky Ko (who died two years ago), the choice of Benny Urquidez as a foil for Jackie, and his own character in the film. The interview is in Chinese with English subtitles, and as with all of the interviews is anamorphic widescreen.

In Born to Fight (14:57) co-star Yuen Biao traces his history with long-term friends and collaborators Sammo and Jackie and explains how they all got into action movies. He outlines the plot of Wheels on Meals in case you missed it, and talks about learning to ride skateboards for the film, the difficulty most of the actors had with the fencing scenes, and the stunt work during the car chase. Asked about a future project that would re-unite the three friends, he suggests that such a venture would have to feature their sons, as the three are too old for such action work now. This is in Chinese with English subtitles.

Rush and Roll (18:39) is an interview with Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, who talks about how he got into the film business, his introduction to Jackie Chan and the making of the two Rush Hour films, as well as the threat of a third. To be honest I'm not sure what this interview is doing on the disc – the Jackie Chan connection aside, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Wheels on Meals and is frankly a bit self-congratulatory and not that interesting. A tiresome attempt to visually enliven the interview intermittently splits the screen in two and places the same footage on both sides, with one of them enlarged and in black-and-white.

In The Inside Track (34:44) Stanley Tong, a friend and collaborator with Sammo and Jackie, (he directed Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, Police Story 3, Police Story 4 and First Strike) talks about his own journey through the Hong Kong film industry, from stunt man to director, a trip that involved a fair few injuries, and stunt doubling for women because of his then slender build. Though also not directly connected to the film, this is a lot more interesting than the interview with Ratner, and Tong nicely counters Ratner's admission that most of the Rush Hour action sequences were adapted from similar scenes in Jackie's Asian films by stating categorically that when directing Jackie a golden rule is that you should never repeat something he has done before. This also has those annoying 2-screen bits.

The next section, Fight Club, has two bloody good interviews.

Jet Fighter (28:25) talks to with Benny "The Jet" Urquidez at his gym, where he explains his teaching methods, his philosophy of life and love – "if you can't do it for love, it won't last long" – his history with martial arts (he is an undefeated kickboxing champion, with 63 successful title defences, 57 of which resulted in knockouts), how he got into movies and his work with Jackie Chan on both Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. An extraordinarily energetic and upbeat interviewee, he clearly loved working on the films and hanging out with Chan, Hung, Biao and fellow bad guy actor Keith Vitali. Which brings us neatly to...

King of the Ring (33:24) is an interview with Keith Vitali, who plays Thug Number 2 opposite Urquidez and does battle with Biao at the film's climax. He recalls his time working on the film with great fondness and retains a huge admiration for its three stars, whom he admits to having learned a great deal from. He provides a lot of detail on the filming of specific scenes, and to this day remains humbled and thrilled by this experience. This is an enormously enjoyable and informative inclusion.

The Cutting Room Floor has two sets of Out-Takes (2:53 and 0:54), familiar end credit accompaniments on Chan's film but not on this one, at least not on most prints – apparently they were included on the Japanese release (Chan's fan base in Japan at the time was one of the biggest in the world), and in lieu of that print we have what I presume were the outtakes used. They are quite fun, though not as spectacular as those in Chan's later works, and include shots not used in the final cut of the film.

The Trailer Gallery has the UK Promotional Trailer (1:41), which is an ad for this very DVD, and the Original Theatrical Trailer (3:59). Both are anamorphic widescreen and in very good condition.

summary

Wheels on Meals is a terrific blend of comedy and kung-fu that stays loyal to both concerns throughout. It marked a step forward for the genre in several respects, from its Spanish locations to its multi-racial cast and even cross-culture romances, but its still-present freshness is down to the talents of its director and stars, who deliver a string of solid action sequences that climax in a fight that has already earned its place as one of the genre's best.

Hong Kong Legends have done the film proud, with a fine transfer, a typically excellent Bey Logan commentary and a collection of (mostly) interesting interviews on the second disk. If you're a Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung fan you'll already have the disc on order, and if not you should have. If you've yet to discover just why these two men are held in such high regard within the genre then this is as good an introduction as you'll find. Highly recommended.

Wheels on Meals
Kwai tsan tseh

Hong Kong / Spain 1984
104 mins
director
Sammo Hung
starring
Jackie Chan
Sammo Hung
Yuen Biao
Lola Forner
Benny Urquidez
Keith Vitali
Herb Edelman

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
Cantonese
English
subtitles
English
Dutch
extras
Commentary by Bey Logan
Interview with Sammo Hung
Interview with Yuen Biao
Interview with Brett Ratner
Interview with Stanley Tong
Interview with Benny "The Jet" Urquidez
Interview with Benny Keith Vitali
Outtakes
Trailers
distributor
Hong Kong Legends
release date
30 January 2006
review posted
30 January 2006

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See all of Slarek's reviews