For this edition of Great Movie Fight Scenes we’re going back to Hong Kong with the 1984 martial arts comedy caper Wheels on Meals.
Wheels on Meals is a fun (and funny) martial arts film set in Barcelona, Spain. Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao play cousins, Thomas and David, running a hot dog concession and wowing customers with their kung-fu prowess. When the cousins cross paths with Moby, (Sammu Hung) a private detective on the trail of a mysterious woman, bad guys take notice and it’s up to David, Thomas and Moby to save the day.
One of Wheels on Meals‘ notable features is its title, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and for good reason! Golden Harvest, the studio behind the film had recently suffered poor box office returns on films beginning with the letter ‘M’, namely Menage a Trois and Megaforce. The studio heads believed that switching the letters in Wheels on Meals‘ title would result in a better box office gross. Incidentally, the film was a huge success, but this is probably owing more to its leading men than its wacky title.
Biao, Hung and Chan were all members of the China Drama Academy’s Seven Little Fortunes troupe, which consisted of the Academy’s most capable students. These three men were considered action star brothers in the Hong Kong cinema. The release of Wheels on Meals came at a prolific time for the trio with a string of recent hits including Chan’s Project A and Hung’s previous picture, Winners and Sinners. After the success of Wheels on Meals the trio would go on to star a succession of crowd-pleasing hits cementing their reputation as the golden trio of Hong Kong cinema.
Wheels on Meals is notable for its increasingly audacious and silly stunt-work. Chan does some great skateboard work, Hung pratfalls and surprises with his bumbling physicality and Biao performs the film’s most daring stunts often taking massive leaps of faith off of and onto all manner of surfaces. The film is a real treat for fans of comedy and action alike. Also, the film’s Spanish setting adds to the fun providing a rich backdrop for on-foot chases, vehicular stunts and some pretty scenery to boot.
Moreover, and most importantly to this article, Wheels on Meals contains one of the best kung-fu fights on film as Jackie Chan takes on Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez in a spooky castle. Benny Urquidez is a kick-boxer, former non-contact karate competitor, and at one time, holder of six World Titles in five different weight divisions. Wheels on Meals was the first time Urquidez faced Chan on-screen and it’s pretty spectacular stuff.
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This sequence opens with Urquidez landing the first blow, something that’s important in fights featuring Jackie Chan is that Chan is seen to be on the back foot; his characters have to use wits and cunning to overcome a tougher opponent. Director Hung signposts The Jet’s strength by emphasizing the speed of his attacks. In these opening moments Chan is able to block a barrage of attacks (but barely) but he is backed up against a dining table and ducks a spin-kick which extinguishes a row of lit candles (this was a mistake but was kept in the film as it illustrates Urquidez’s ability). There’s a nice bit of sparring that goes on in this fight as the men size one another up, punctuating the action and heightening the audience’s sense of tension.
Chan is really shown as the underdog in this sequence. He takes a beating from Urquidez, who is able to counter his every advance. There’s a good stare down between the two as Jackie takes refuge behind a chair. Then, a moment of comedy as Thomas sets the chair down and sits for a moment of respite. The amusing thing is the willingness of The Jet to go along with this, if the suspenders didn’t give it away this moment at least let’s us know that Thug #1 is a polite thug.
Rested and refreshed Thomas is ready to mount a comeback. The second stage of the fight begins with the men staring each other down. There’s a series of fake-outs here as both combatants attempt to find an in. I like this music at this point, the flute is calming and while the fight is serious business you get the impression that both parties are having fun. Chan finally scores a good hit on Urquidez after a series of punches and parries leads to a roundhouse that glances The Jet on the side of his head. Chan is starting to loosen up and performs some lunges while counting to 10. Thomas is beginning to psyche out Thug #1.
Hung does some nice work with the camera in this scene, leading with shots of the characters’ faces and pulling out to wider angles for the action. It makes the flow of the action feel constant and fast-paced while highlighting the emotions that both characters are feeling. There’s a good sequence where Benny has Jackie in a choke hold while Chan has him in a Mel Gibson-style hip-lock. Cuts back and forth build suspense here. In a typical bit of Chan-comedy the solution to breaking Urquidez’s grip comes not from punching but from tickling.
One of the fun things to notice is how the room is cleared as the fight progresses. They manage to break or move a lot of the furniture in the room leaving a mostly open arena to fight in. The fight culminates in a kickboxing bout, both men circle one another landing jabs here and there. Eventually, Chan gets in with another swift-kick (just as he did earlier with his first big hit) sending Urquidez falling sideways, Chan follows this up with a hook that sends The Jet flying across the room in slow motion. Benny Urquidez is dizzied and it looks like he won’t recover but he stands to fight again, Chan backs him into a corner and finishes with a flying knee-to-the-face. Urquidez nearly falls to his death but is saved by Chan who leaves Benny resting on a fancy-looking couch.
This is a fun and inventive fight sequence that does a fine job of highlighting the respect that builds between opponents through the course of a bout. Benny gives it his all, his undoing is ultimately his confidence, as Chan is able to off-set his attacker by goofing around. Benny and Jackie would fight again in 1988’s Young Dragons but for my money this fight between goofball Thomas and dapper Thug #1 showcases both men at the height of their talents.
Featured Image credit: basilmarinerchase