Wheels on Meals (1984): What’s Kung Fu without Leg Warmers?
This post is part of Forgotten Films’ 1984 Blogathon. So much 1984. So little time.
The year 1984 was not awesome in a lot of ways. But it was a great year for films—check out the other 1984 Blogathon entries—and it was a big deal specifically for Hong Kong: The Sino-British Joint Declaration (the agreement to hand HK back to China in 1997) was signed. Combine 1984, movies, and Hong Kong, and you get films like “Wheels on Meals.” The film was directed by Sammo Hung, produced by Raymond Chow, and starred Jackie Chan, Sammo, and Yuen Biao, just a year after their collaboration in “Project A.” Not too shabby.
While “Wheels on Meals” (more on that especially silly name below) didn’t win any Hong Kong Film Awards that year, it stands up pretty well as a result of some fine martial artistry brought to you by Jackie, Sammo, and the less well known, but demonstrably wonderful Yuen Biao.
The Requisite Attempt at Describing an HK Plot
The story is predictably and blissfully ludicrous. Thomas (Jackie Chan) and David (Yuen Biao) are cousins running a food truck in Barcelona. Perhaps this is because David’s father (Paul Chang) is in a Barcelona loony bin. Perhaps not. Don’t ask questions—according to “Wheels on Meals,” there was a large HK ex-pat community in Barcelona in the 80s.
There is also a fair amount of discussion about characters’ nationalities, specifically as an explanation for their various proclivities and behaviors. Hiding in their apartment after a tryst, Thomas and David’s randy neighbor insists, “Italians can’t live without love,” while his angry wife waits outside the door with a shotgun. The Italian also points out that “All you Chinese know is work.” When Thomas and David exit by the window to avoid the continuing fracas (and get to work), the Spaniard downstairs opening his shop exclaims, “Don’t you Chinese use stairs?!” (Well, no, you don’t take the stairs, not if you started training in the Peking Opera School at the age of six, as Jackie, Sammo, and Biao did, together.) They excuse their acrobatics by explaining that “the Italians are fighting on there.” Best of all, not five minutes later, Sammo is describing himself, out loud, to another person, as “an inscrutable Chinese.”
This weird obsessiveness with nationalities becomes relevant (insofar as anything here is) when we learn that David’s father has fallen in love with a fellow loony, the Spaniard Gloria. This is how Thomas and David come to meet Gloria’s daughter, the lovely Sylvia (Lola Forner), or “Princess” as the boys call her.
Meanwhile, in what a viewer might be forgiven for thinking is another film altogether, Moby (Sammo), a fledgling private eye, is asked by Magritte’s “The Son of Man” (Miguel Palenzuela) to find the daughter of a woman named Gloria.
Before we can go any further, you must know that something awful has happened to Sammo’s hair. Perhaps as the result of some freak Spanish weather event, he appears to have been subjected to a bad perm. Sammo’s characters are usually pretty goofy, and let me tell you, the perm does nothing for Moby’s professionalism.
Kung Fu or Pamela?
It turns out that Thomas and David’s Sylvia is the woman Moby’s client has been looking for, and, thankfully, hijinks ensue. Moby’s client is dressed like Magritte’s Son of Man at least partly because he is (or used to be) the butler for the family Gloria used to work for, the Mondales.
At this point, the narrative is revealed to be a kung fu riff on an 18th-century novel: Gloria, once a maid in the house of a rich family, was raped by the head of the household. She fell pregnant (as one did under such circumstances, narratively speaking) and was kicked out—ending up in the loony bin. The male heir of the family now wants to hunt down Gloria and Sylvia and eliminate them so they cannot make any claims on the family fortune. This turns out to be pretty stupid, since neither of them has any idea there is a fortune which they might claim…until someone kidnaps them.
There is a lot of enjoyable silliness between Thomas and David visiting the loony bin and Moby trying to act like a professional private detective, given that he appears to believe private eyes dress like a flashier Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls” (1955).
Real Kung Fu
There are a few teaser fights here and there—a training session between Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, the boys defending Sylvia from Mondale’s henchmen—but the real fighting starts when everyone ends up at the villain’s castle.
The centerpiece is Jackie’s fight with Benny “the Jet” Urquidez, but this isn’t to slight Yuen Biao’s fight with Keith Vitali—an altogether more goofily choreographed and acrobatic encounter. Meanwhile, Sammo is left to face the villain alone. Once the villain dons his fencing mask, however, what you’re really watching is Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung fighting. Yuen Biao gets a lot of the sort of stunts here that Jackie made a career of—moving through furniture and riding walls to physically outwit his opponents.
You can see why, of the three, all of them charismatic and gifted fighters, Jackie Chan is the one pitted against Urquidez, the main event. Jackie is a ham–but not such a ham that we’re allowed to think he’s a clown like Sammo.
Stay tuned below for some clips of the fighting. I know that’s why you’re here.
So, Just How 80s Is All This Silliness?
1) Legwarmers and sweater vests
3) Did I mention Sammo’s Jeri-curl?
4) Traditional Spanish music as played on a synthesizer
6) The Knight-Rider-esque screen in the cousins’ food truck
8) Assholes on dirt bikes ruining everybody’s good, clean fun
9) A random shot of people who may or may not be the main characters riding horses on a beach at sunset
10) The villain’s name is Mondale, played by a guy named José Sancho. Honestly, I’m not making this up.
What’s with That Crazy Title?
According to a post on IMDb: The film is titled “Wheels on Meals” instead of “Meals on Wheels” because of superstition. Golden Harvest had produced two flops beginning with “M,” “Megaforce” (1982) and a film titled “Menage a Trois.” The company’s executives changed the title hoping this film would avoid the same problems.
I couldn’t find a good clip of Yuen Biao from Wheels on Meals, so instead, here’s an amazing sequence from the slightly more old-school “Magnificent Butcher” (1979). Yuen Biao is the guy in the white shirt fighting a dude with a knife (or two) inside (rather than outside). It’s all pretty amazing, but you can appreciate YB’s acrobatics here. “Magnificent Butcher” stars Sammo, who co-directed with fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping.