Saturday, 21 January 2012

Three Brothers, A Retrospective - Part 2: Wheels On Meals (1984)

Here we go. Part 2 of my retrospective in which I'll be taking an extended look at three films starring the triple threat of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Last time I revisited the film Project A for the first time in many years and it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Let's see if I can carry on that enjoyment with Wheels On Meals.

After the massive success of Project A Jackie, Sammo and Yuen wasted little time in gearing up for their next project. This time it would be Sammo in the director's chair and much like Jackie had done with Project A he decided to do something different. So he thought it would be a good idea to shoot the film on location in Barcelona, Spain with interiors being filmed in the Golden Harvest studios in Hong Kong. It was decided that the film be called Wheels On Meals instead of the other way round as two other films by Golden Harvest; Megaforce and Menage A Trois had been box office flops and they felt the letter 'M' would be bad luck.

Joining them would be Spanish actress Lola Forner playing the love interest and American martial arts champions Benny "The Jet" Urquidez and Keith Vitali playing the henchman of the main villain played by Spanish actor Jose Sancho.

With an exotic location, a great cast and some solid action the final result was a film that was an even bigger hit then Project A and further cemented Jackie,'s, Sammo's and Yuen's reputation as three of the biggest stars in the Hong Kong film industry during the 1980's.

Jackie and Yuen play Thomas and David a pair of fast food chefs who travel round Barcelona selling food to locals and tourists. It's established very early on the film when the two have a morning spar just what we're in for. The timing of both men are absolutely incredible and it's hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull of that same rhythm and speed in which they both effortlessly pull off.

After that nice little sequence we see both of them plying their trade out of a yellow van. We're shown that both men are known to the community and get along with them. This was something Sammo wanted to emphasize in the film and give it a more international flavour. It's not long before trouble appears in the form of a motorcycle gang led by the late Blackie Ko. Ko had made a reputation for himself as someone who was able to direct and perform vehicle stunts so whenever you saw a high profile action film that was made in the 80's and featured any kind of vehicle stunts, more often then not those scenes were directed by him.

Afterwards we meet Sammo's character Moby. He's a private detective who ends up being hired by a rich business man to locate a woman who is the heir to a large fortune. Moby agrees and sets about trying to find her. It's here we see Sammo sporting a a rather nifty jerry curl hairstyle. Hairstyles and playing with his overall look was something of a running theme in his films as he was always trying to find ways of making himself look different. The odd thing is he doesn't look too out of place with it. After all it was the 1980's and odd hairstyles was one of the many things that decade is remembered for.

Thomas and David pay a visit to David's father played by Paul Chang who is an a mental institution, it's here they meet Sylvia (Forner) who is the daughter of the woman David's father is in a relationship with. Quite how two mentally ill people are able to have a relationship within the hospital is never fully explained but it doesn't matter because thinking about that in this type of movie would be just silly. Besides, this scene also features comic actors Richard Ng and John Shum. There's a nice little exchange of dialogue between Ng and Jackie in which he explains there's a difference between having severe mental and emotional problems and being stupid and the way Ng delivers it with such a deadpan expression is absolutely priceless.

Later that night, Thomas and David are in the red light district (hookers have to eat, right?) and Thomas catches Sylvia who as it turns out is posing as a prostitute in order to rob her clients. Unfortunately she's caught red handed when trying to lift a man's wallet and flees, hiding in the boy's fast food van. Feeling charitable they take her to their home and let her stay the night. Here we get to see Jackie and Yuen's comedic interplay as they try and act all suave around Sylvia. It's all very silly Hong Kong humor but it did make me chuckle as Jackie and Yuen know how to play it exactly right without it becoming too farcical.

The next morning the boys awake to find that Sylvia has robbed them of their money and stolen their neighbor's car. Shortly afterwards Sylvia arrives home and finds a group of thugs waiting for her. It's revealed that she is the woman Sammo has been tracking and someone is after her for her inheritance. In the midst of their attempt to capture her, Sammo arrives, having just been robbed by her minutes before. We get this short but very nicely choreographed brawl, which leaves Sammo with another of his trademarks, a black eye.

Realizing he may be way over his head he decides to approach Thomas and David, having discovered their connection to her and asks for her whereabouts. They don't say anything and leave Moby to fend for himself. This was actually a disappointing scene. For one, it takes place in a night club and usually when we see these three in a night club, three things tend to happen. Dance off, Fight scene or a combination of the two and we don't see that here and instead we get a scene which Sammo's character inadvertently offends the Spanish patrons of the club. It was short but it did serve the purpose of showing that these three characters know each other but still, a bit of action couldn't have hurt.

Upon leaving the club they bump into Sylvia and they take her to their home again. After the obligatory heartfelt moment in which Sylvia explains why she's a thief we're treated to that all important moment in 80's Hong Kong comedies, the cheesy montage sequence. It's exactly what you'd expect to be but it gives Sammo the opportunity to show off some landmarks in Barcelona. Not long afterward Sylvia is found by the same thugs who tried to grab her earlier and this leads from some painful kicks to said thug's faces delivered by Sammo and Yuen and we jump right into an excellent car chase sequence.

I mentioned earlier that Blackie Ko directed the vehicle stunts and it's obvious from the way it's filmed and edited that he must have enjoyed putting it together. As the car tears through the streets we get some lovely shots of Barcelona's famous landmarks, well, if you're shooting a film in Spain you're damn well going to show off. It's a great scene and shows that Hong Kong movies can do more then just martial arts action. After escaping they all manage to get home but soon Urquidez and Vitali show up and we get the first round between Jackie and Yuen against Urquidez and Vitali.

Urquidez and Vitali are no strangers to the movie scene. By this time in their career this was one their earliest roles. Urquidez had appeared in the film Force: Five directed by Robert Clouse and Vitali had appeared in Revenge of the Ninja. So they were already familiar with the way martial arts was filmed for screen. The fight itself is short but boy oh boy does it look painful. Jackie and Yuen especially take some nasty looking kicks to the chest.

Our heroes manage to give the bad guys the slip but the next day Sylvia and her mother are kidnapped. I have to give Urquidez and Vitali credit. They don't waste time trying to correct their mistakes. Most movie henchmen could learn a lot from these two. This leaves Thomas, David and Moby with no choice but to rescue them. Here we see that they are holed up in a castle and all three make their way inside using different methods. As you'd expect they're all caught and we end up seeing what is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best and I mean this, the best one on one martial arts fight scenes ever recorded.

Now having said that it would be understandable if you thought I might be hyping it up but I'm not neither men have ever looked better. One thing I've noticed about Jackie is that while he looked amazing in many of the fight sequences he did in his own films he never looked better then when he was working under Sammo. As I mentioned in my previous review, both men (along with Yuen Biao) grew up together and attended Yu Jim-Yuen's Peking Opera School. They had practiced and honed their craft since they were children, they all had this understanding and knew each other's strengths so well. It seemed Sammo was able to tap into just that little extra skill in Jackie's move set and could use it to great effect.

Which is why Urquidez makes the perfect opponent. For those who may not be familiar with Benny Urquidez. He grew up as part of a very athletic family. His mother was a professional wrestler and his father a boxer. His siblings were all black belts and Benny would go on to earn them in nine different forms of Karate. In 1974 he decided to pursue a career in the full contact scene. Throughout his career he would rack up an impressive score of 200 wins and 0 losses, including 63 title defenses and 57 knockouts. To add another string to his already impressive bow he is the only professional fighter to hold six titles in 5 weight divisions for 24 consecutive years. So early on in his career it was easy to see why he would want to be in movies.

Benny is the real deal and he made the leap to film fighting effortlessly. His fight with Jackie is intricately choreographed with both of them actually hitting each other during some of the exchanges. It's painful to watch but also astoundingly done. Vitali also gets his moment to shine going up against Yuen Biao. Here we get something a little different, instead of the brutal street fighting of Jackie and Urquidez we get a more acrobatic scene which sees Yuen leaping over tables and chairs trying to avoid Vitali's brutal kicks. It's fast, snappy and compliments the previous fight nicely.

Finally to cap off what has already been one of the finest finale's in Hong Kong action history we get what are essentially the desserts with Sammo taking on the main villain. Sammo combines traditional Chinese sword fighting with European fencing and it's an excellent way to end what has already been such a good film.

So there we have it, Wheels On Meals. I had a great time with this one and having been able to go back and watch it again has been a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how brutal the fight scenes are and the brawl between Jackie and Urquidez holds a high place on my list of top martial arts fight scenes ever. If you have haven't seen it yet then can I say you will be in for one hell of a good time. Join me next time for part 3 where I'll be taking a look at another action classic, one which will see our fearless trio play against type and take on the combined might of Yuen Wah and Benny Urquidez in Dragons Forever.

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