Almost thirty years later, Sammo Hung’s “Wheels on Meals” is still one of the technically proficient martial arts films ever made. It’s just too bad there’s not much to it beyond the martial arts. Primarily it works as a comedy of two men fallen for the same woman whose entire antics are steeped in silent comedy that doesn’t club us over the head with obvious gags. But “Wheels on Meals” is sadly lagging and long in the tooth as an action film that professes mid-way to be nothing more than a romance comedy with martial arts back drops that do nothing to enhance the overall narrative.
I naturally wanted to love “Wheels on Meals” but it’s sadly a film that has aged and sagged in everything but its martial arts sequences which are scant and much too few and far between to really soak in as pure action cinema. Director Sammo Hung teams together a marvelous duo in Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, two cousins who live and breathe by their food fan that takes them in to the town square every day. By night they meet a new clientele in the form of hookers and happen across a mischievous one on the run from a vengeful John. This hooker so happens to be an heiress who is about to be kidnapped by her royal order and killed. Hung puts a lot of their cinematic influences at hand with the three stooges i.e. kung fu and a lot of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin that helps to fuel many of the epic scenes.
Including one disastrous grappling hook rescue and Jackie Chan’s knack for riding around on a skateboard in crowded shopping areas. But “Wheels on Meals” doesn’t offer much in engrossing characters or entertaining situations outside of the fight arena. And this is where the age is made quite apparent as involving characters are hard to find and the investigation in to the royalty of the young prostitute ultimately takes the action and puts it in to the back seat in exchange for more romantic comedy and slaptstick humor that doesn’t move the story along as much as it thinks.
Hung’s film is dazzling once it becomes about the fight sequences and rescue of the princess and invokes the likes of Danny Kay in the physical double takes. It’s just a shame there wasn’t much here until the climax to keep me going and watching on baited breath, in the end. I respect “Wheels on Meals” for being an unquestionable classic, but to say it’s aged as well as its contemporaries is calling in to question an abundant denial. An undoubted classic, I appreciate what “Wheels on Meals” puts forth as action cinema, but in the zone of character based comedy and drama, it doesn’t do much to involve us, especially in its over reliance on romance that ultimately top priority over the action.