Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter
Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing
Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh
Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…
If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.
Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.
I wouldn’t mind the incoherent plot so much if the movie was at least entertaining. It’s supposed to be an action thriller, but it’s incredibly boring and languidly paced, which doesn’t exactly scream out “action thriller,” now does it? A thriller requires a drive that pushes everything forward and Shatter most definitely does not have this necessary component. The action is also sub-standard by Shaw standards, although Ti Lung does show off his skills rather well (as you’d expect). The camerawork leaves a lot to be desired in these action scenes, though, with lots of tight close-ups, medium shots missing a lot of the action, and wide shots so ineptly framed that heads are often cut off. Oddly, it seems that Chang Cheh was on set to help with the action scenes. I’m going to guess that he was more of a communicator with the Chinese actors than a director in this instance, because there’s no way he’d film action as poorly as this.
Shatter does have a couple of saving graces that make it somewhat tolerable. It was filmed completely on location in Hong Kong, and it catches tons of great shots of the city. No matter how boring the story is, I will always be fascinated by this type of window back in time. I can’t recall any of the Shaw films of this era capturing the city in quite the same way. I wonder if this is due to the non-Chinese directors, coming to the city for perhaps the first time and desiring to capture more of the local, “exotic” flavor than the Shaw crew who lived and worked there for many years. Whatever the reason, Shatter offers a lot of wonderful views of the cluttered city streets and the natural surroundings outside the urban areas. It doesn’t really offset the slowness of the film, but it does ease it some.
Lily Li is horribly wasted in a love interest role that doesn’t add much of anything to the film, but Ti Lung is allowed a lot more screen time to show off his martial skills. His character doesn’t really do much besides this, but we all love to see Ti Lung kick ass so I can’t complain too much. As I mentioned the framing of the fight scenes is often poor, and the editing kills a lot of the momentum (especially when Shatter is there and they have to keep cutting back to him). A lot of the fights are filmed in a strange slo-mo, too, which on one hand allows a closer examination of Ti Lung’s performance, but it’s also not implemented very well in terms of impact. But regardless of the issues, it’s still Ti Lung being the ultra-badass he is, and that quality shines through. Like the location shooting, it’s not enough to make it a good film (or even mediocre), but it is always a welcome diversion from the plodding story.
Shatter is far from a good movie, but if you’re a big enough Ti Lung fan you’ll probably get something out of it. Not much, but if nothing else you get to hear Ti Lung speak English, in his natural, undubbed voice!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the final film of 1974, the Italian co-production This Time I’ll Make You Rich! See ya then!