Friday, July 2, 2010

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: CALL HIM MR. SHATTER (1974)

Looking to expand beyond their UK borders, Hammer Film Productions signed a co-production deal in the early 1970s with Asian powerhouse studio Shaw Brothers. While the deal was for three pictures, only two resulted from this merger. The first was THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), an attempt to merge Hammer’s popular Dracula saga with some Far East mysticism. A co-production in every sense of the word, the film saw Roy Ward Baker directing side-by-side with Shaw legend Chang Cheh (only Baker receives credit) and Hammer veteran Peter Cushing taking blows right next to Shaw superstar David Chiang. The second cinematic team up resulted in CALL HIM MR. SHATTER, an action-adventure attempt that abandons horror to move into James Bond espionage territory and exploit the Hong Kong locales.

SHATTER opens with scenes of riots in an unnamed African country (someone got a hold of some stock footage). Gen. Ansabi M’Goya (Yemi Ajibade), the country’s ruler, is shown arriving at a fancy hotel to get it on with his token white lady. While preparing for the lovin’, they are interrupted by a masked man who kills M’Goya with a fancy camera-gun hybrid. The masked man is Shatter (Stuart Whitman), an international hitman who quickly bolts to Hong Kong to collect his pay. Unfortunately, his contact Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), a powerful mafia connected bank head, refuses to pay up, even after given the photographic proof of the assassination.

But Slaughter, er, Shatter ain’t no dummy and has a bargaining chip up his sleeve as he snagged M’Goya’s attaché case containing a list of mob drug processing facilities in the world. Of course, this makes him a marked man by both the mob and the UK government represented by cool Paul Rattwood (Peter Cushing, in his final Hammer film). After getting his ass beat in a back alley, Shatter is rescued by bartender Tai Pah (Ti Lung) and his lady Mai-Mee (Lily Li). Shatter discovers that Tai Pah is also a kung fu master (stereotype much?) and, before you can say YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, he is getting it on with Mai-Mee. Obviously this bothers Tai Pah, but he still accepts Shatter’s offer to be his head-kicking muscle, especially since it means getting half of the cool million Shatter plans to squeeze out of the mob.

SHATTER has all the elements required for an international espionage flick. You have assassination; double crosses; exotic locales; wanted documents; public negotiations; murder; chases; the “a stiff drink will solve my problems” ethic; and hot lovin’! The production obviously benefits from the location filming in Hong Kong and they aren’t afraid to get deep into those claustrophobic alleyways. Also, since it is a co-production with the Shaw Brothers, you get a bit more bang for your buck (or more dropkick for your Hong Kong dollar, if you willlll). They just do things differently there. For example, when someone tries to kill Shatter by launching an RPG into his hotel room, the filmmakers make sure to have a naked Chinese man in the room next door blasted out of his door. Why? Because they can do it, that’s why! And you have to love the two dummies that get thrown off a skyscraper during the film’s climax (see pic).

In addition, you get Peter Cushing as a stuffy UK government type who has to give the mother of all exposition speeches. I bet he got the script and was like, “Damn, I have to make all that sound good?” Naturally, it is a credit to his abilities that he does it and doesn’t have a heart attack in the process. There was a bit of behind-the-scenes drama as well as director Monte Hellman was replaced at some point during the production. Hammer exec Michael Carreras took over and receives sole on screen credit. Original helmer Hellman and Whitman both supplied an audio commentary on the film’s Roan laserdisc. According to reports on that commentary, Hellman says that 80% of the finished film is his work and Whitman admits to be a little more than shattered after hard nights out drinking in Hong Kong. Hey, he is just a method actor! I guess that explains why Ti Lung does all of the heavy hitting, eh?

And Ti Lung is definitely one of the reasons to see the film. Discovered by Shaw mega-star Jimmy Wang Yu, Ti Lung made his film debut in Chang Cheh’s Wang Yu sequel RETURN OF THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1968). Lung quickly became one of Cheh’s favorites and starred in a mind-boggling 20+ films in the 6 years between his introduction and SHATTER. Obviously the Shaws were hoping to bring their two stars (Lung and 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES’ David Chiang were their biggest stars following Jimmy Wang Yu’s ugly departure from the company) to the international market. Unfortunately, they do Lung a bit of a disservice as the filmmakers get him to mimic Bruce Lee’s fighting style. Having trained in Wing Chun, Lung has no problem physically imitating Lee’s style but it doesn’t help him stand apart. For example, Lung doesn’t get a single scene to show off his fancy sword skills that made him popular in Shaw Brothers productions in the first place. His highlight in this film is a random martial arts tournament in a nightclub where he fights several foes (including Lo Wei) of different styles. This is also one of the few scenes where Whitman gets to throw down and, uh, lets just say he is better holding a gun to people’s necks.

Regardless of Whitman's lack of martial arts prowess, CALL HIM MR. SHATTER is a good time. If you are looking for some Bondian action with some martial arts mayhem, you can't go wrong here.

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