Shatter


Reviewed by Yves Gendron

In the early seventies after the western world had a  “revelation” regarding H-K kung-fu cinema through “FIVE FINGER OF DEATH” and the Bruce Lee films, it didn’t take long for some film companies to form a partnership with some of their eastern counterparts to produce “hybrid” productions that would theoretically mix the best of both worlds. H-K studios themselves were most eager to co-operate as this guaranteed a much-desired opening to the western market. Bruce Lee’s ENTER THE DRAGON produced by an association between Golden Harvest and Warner Brother was the best known and easily the best film done under such a deal. There was also the MAN FROM HONG KONG starring Jimmy Wang Yu, this one made by Golden Harvest in association with an Australian company. Then there was the pair of films co-produced between Shaw Brothers, H-K’s biggest studio at the time, and the famed British horror production house Hammer. These are the Dracula meets k-f flick THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES and the contemporary thriller SHATTER.

After having killed an African dictator while he was in bed with his white female lover, weary hired hitman Shatter (Stewart Whitman) goes to H-K to receive his payment. However he has the great displeasure of being double-crossed by his employer, who then naturally attempt to eliminate him. He is also repudiated by the CIA with whom he was previously associated as well as being forcibly told by British security officer Rattwood (Peter Cushing) to get out of H-K fast. That’s when a nearly desperate Shatter crosses the path of a young k-f master Tai Poh (Ti Lung) and his young female friend Mei Lei (Lili Li) who eventually decide to help him both stay alive and get his payment back in exchange for half the money.
As with all of the k-f “hybrid” productions the film was entirely written and directed by westerners. Hammer contributed by putting forth their big house star Peter Cushing while Shaw sent in young actress Lily Li, their stuntmen crew and Ti Lung, the closest thing they had to Bruce Lee. Neither Cushing nor Ti Lung had the main role though, which is unfortunate, as it is given instead to a B -movie American actor Stuart Whitman. Cushing in the end is only a guest star as the suave and somewhat sinister Rattwood, Ti Lung plays the white hero’s, near Kato like k-f fighting sidekick and cutie Lily Li was, what else, the ill-fated oriental love interest. What she is suppose to see in the rather beefy and weary Shatter to fall for him is probably the movie’s biggest hole. Basically the film completely rests on the simple idea of setting-up an approximate spy- political like thriller in the exotic location of H-K and showcasing the exotic and dynamic looking martial arts of Chinese k-f.  At the time this was of course an entirely new and fresh spectacle for the western audience which was probably considered enough to compensate for the limitation of the plot and the main actor.
To tell the truth, even at the time of it’s making there’s wasn’t really much going for this film. It may look more technically polished than other H-K productions done at the time but otherwise it is as dull and lumbering as the Shatter character himself, who look like your typical hard boiled action man but put on serious sedation.   Ti Lung appears after twenty minutes and only begins performing k-f after forty minutes, and it’s really nothing fantastic by today’s standard even if Ti is a very able performer. The film’s great martial highlight comes with a tournament match where Ti Lung pits his southern brand k-f against Thai boxing, Japanese Karate and Koreans Takewendo. It’s of slight interest because we see the difference between each brand of fighting but otherwise it remains quite unexciting.
Ti Lung doesn’t do much as he is only required to be the oriental strong-silent, stoic type and why he helps Shatter is never made quite clear. Actually, one of the rare real pleasures this movie offers has nothing to do with the quality of the film but simply the opportunity for dedicated k-f fans to see Ti in his prime and to hear him as well as Lily Li speak very good English. It is also enjoyable to spot some familiar faces as extras such as future k-f fiend Fung Ark On (as one of Ti Lung students), Lee Hoi Shan (as the tournament referee), Yuen clan brother Yuen Sun- Hi and Lau Kar Wing (as two of the bad guy’s bodyguards). Either Lau Kar Wing or his brother Lau Kar Leung also likely had a hand in the film’s action choreography. Future notorious hack filmmaker Godfrey Ho also was the film’s assistant director.
The film went through three directors as well as three cinematographers and it wasn’t released until 1976 in the western market, by which time the k-f wave was pretty much gone.  The declining Hammer House had even closed down shop earlier while Shaw Brothers closed down it’s movie making operation in the mid-eighties. In recent years SHATTER was released on video on a restored letter box print but has only at best some value as a mild object of curiosity. This is the only real recommendation the film deserves.

Rating for the film: 3.5