One only wonders how many film gems have been lost over the years. It’s an interesting topic, and it’s not without the efforts of people like the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome that we get to have these kinds of conversations – the kind that lead us to one of film history’s most obscure productions to date: New York Ninja.
Shepherded by director/writer/producer Kurtis M. Spieler for its restoration and completion, Taiwanese actor, martial artist and filmmaker John Liu’s one-and-only American production invites you to a lookback at Old New York, a perfect setting for any director with a fondness for the city’s gritty, kinetic and revivifying backdrop to tell a story on. Liu’s story begins almost immediately as he leads the film in the role of John, a news channel sound tech who learns his girlfriend has fallen victim to the wave of rising crime against women in the city. When the law is slow to act, it’s not too long before he takes matters into his own hands, donning a white ninja costume and tackling the city’s criminal underbelly head-on, becoming a local legend in the process, and ultimately flushing out an elusive criminal ringleader known only as “The Plutonium Killer”.
Seeing as how most of the elements for the film needed to be employed and added for the film’s assembly after it was mysteriously abandoned following production, Spieler’s efforts here echo nothing short of an inherent fondness for Western so-bad-it’s-good 80s martial arts cinema from the likes of Godfrey Ho and Keith Strandberg, and Golan-Globus titles to name a few.
The film’s resurrection also wouldn’t have been possible without the work of its notable VO cast to re-record all of the audio needed for the film in addition to its original scoring and editing, with none other than actor and martial arts legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson taking the mantle as the voice of John, next to the voices of Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Nightmare Sisters), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies), Vince Murdocco (Night Hunter, LA Wars), Matt Mitler (The Mutilator, Battle for the Lost Planet) and Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien, Martial Law) among others.
New York Ninja is exactly the kind of film you would expect, if you were looking in the throwback MA section of your local video store at a time when VHS tapes were still a thing. It brims with the kind of schlock that’s deemed admirable in its keenness to nostalgia for that group of film fans out there who pine for the halcyon days of kung fu cinema at the theater and snagging martial arts bootlegs off the racks in stores for cheap wherever they could find them, especially in New York City which made shooting an 80s indie ninja flick here all the more reasonable.
As I sit here and write this (prior to you reading – and thank you), I can only wonder what Liu, if anything, has thought of this latest treatment of his once-hopeful prospect. That we may yet learn why New York Ninja fell by the wayside for 37 years without ever following suit with its end credits-teased “L.A. Ninja”, remains to be seen long since Liu’s retirement after shooting New York Ninja, let alone if whether or not he’s seen it.
Regardless, Vinegar Syndrome did a thing here, and for what it’s worth and as rare as it is to see a once-abandoned film brought back to life with a world of support from a corner of film fandom that simply refused to let this particular piece of cinema die, it deserves all the ceremony it’s now getting.
New York Ninja is currently playing in select theaters. If you’d like a second opinion, click here for another review posted last year by contributing writer Robb Antequera.