The 80’s was a time rife with a variety of movie trends and fads. The slasher boom, action-adventure movies, and of course: ninjas. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, Ninja III: The Domination, and more offered a variety of ninja based action, as well as a variety of shows and movies they were shoehorned into because of the sheer popularity. But what if I were to tell you that perhaps the ultimate 80’s ninja story has not even been seen… until now.
John (John Liu) is a sound technician at a New York City news station with his whole life ahead of him. A steady job, a lovely wife, a kid on the way, and his birthday. But when shoddily dressed gangsters and human traffickers brutally slay his beloved on the street, and the law powerless to track them down, he has no one to rely on but himself… and his martial arts mastery! Becoming the titular New York Ninja, he decides to take a shuriken to crime one lowlife at a time. Soon becoming a target of the sinister Plutonium Killer heading the operation and his minions, will he survive or will the Big Apple go rotten for good?
The story behind New York Ninja is just as fascinating as the film itself, all captured in Re-Enter The New York Ninja an expansive documentary in the blu-ray release on the background and eventual realization of the film as we now know it. Essentially, John Liu is a martial artist and actor who was shooting the film in New York in the early 80’s. It was guerilla style filmmaking with a low-budget that was eventually pulled and the film was never complete. Rights and film elements bouncing around from TROMA until it ended up in the hands of film archive and video label Vinegar Syndrome. Headed by Kurtis Spieler, they went through the herculean task of assembling the footage into a legible story, redoing and redubbing all the voices, sound, and music, and most importantly; making it fun. And fun it is!
I was fortunate enough to witness New York Ninja unleashed unto an unsuspecting audience at Beyond Fest 2021, and it is definitely a movie for the crowds. Each display of bystanders being attacked by The Warriors styled gangsters, The New York Ninja revealing more trademarked merchandise, and The Plutonium Killer’s… everything got solid responses from the crowd and drew us in. It truly is the kind of movie that needs to be seen to be believed. The dub cast are all-stars from all corners of genre cinema, from Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Berrymen and more, you’re sure to hear some familiar voices coming from the wide array of characters in New York Ninja.
Much like rediscovered and borderline uncategorizable films like The Miami Connection, The Visitor, and The Astrologer, New York Ninja is a movie that defies reason. This case in particular, a Frankenstein like effort of patching together a derelict action movie to create something entirely new. It is a testament to the filmmakers spirit and just how much fun a movie can have! With its backstory, New York Ninja is a category of its own and truly one of a kind. An assured to be cult classic and true film experiment that may not be able to be repeated. If you see it, you too will love New York Ninja!
New York Ninja will be released on blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome on November 1st.