Retro Review: ‘New York Ninja’

In 1984 writer, director, actor and martial artist John Liu shot a low budget film on the streets of New York about a ninja on a quest for revenge. But with little to nothing in the way of resources and money the production never truly went anywhere and the footage sat on a shelf for decades. But last year, cult film Blu Ray/DVD distributors Vinegar Syndrome found themselves in possession of the work Liu had done all those years ago and saw a golden opportunity. Producer Kurtis M. Spiegler went to work taking what was shot and stitching Liu’s work together into something that almost resembled a coherent film. When Vinegar Syndrome finally released New York Ninja it became an immediate cult classic with the Blu Ray release selling out instantly and being a hit when it was shown on TCM Underground.

After being told by his wife in the most convoluted way that is wife is pregnant John is on top of the world. But when she is murdered by one of the countless tackily dressed gangs roaming around New York, John dons his ninja gear and sets out to have his revenge. While he pops up around the Big Apple battling bad guys, the Plutonium Killer, a gangster who exposes himself to radioactive material begins preying on victims. Inevitably these two will have to cross paths.

If nothing else the unveiling of New York Ninja to the world proves that Kurtis M. Spiegler is nothing short of a genius as the “re-director”. We see from the opening with a nonsensical and awkward conversation between Liu and his wife the quality of film has to work with. He took several hours of ridiculous footage including; a ninja fighting a gang with a sword while on roller skates and a villain with a melting face because he keep looking into a case full of plutonium, and somehow turned it into a somewhat real movie. Helping him out in dubbing over the nameless actors from 1984, Spiegler got help from a number of cult film favorites like Linnea Quigley and Michael Berryman.

By the time we see the end product it is an incredibly charming and hilarious. If you enjoy 80’s ninja films like the ilk Canon produced you will no doubt find New York Ninja to be a ridiculously entertaining tribute to these flicks. While the fight choreography is poorly executed it is fast-paced and ridiculous enough to that you can not get enough of it. The plot is mostly random nonsense that flies all over the place, but honestly if you are seeking out a movie called New York Ninja this will not be much of an issue.

When John Liu gave up on making his own starmaking vehicle in the United States he doubtfully believed his work would ever see the light of day. Luckily for us fans of B-grade cinema, New York Ninja exists in this timeline against all odds. While this film may be difficult to come by it is well worth the effort to seek out for fans of poorly made martial arts flicks.