The story behind New York Ninja is almost as incredible as the film itself. In 1984 Taiwanese martial artist and actor John Liu (The Invincible Armour, Struggle Through Death) came to New York City with the intention of filming his latest movie there. While he did shoot it, he was so unimpressed by the results he abandoned the project and left the unedited footage in a vault and retired from filmmaking. An there it sat for thirty-five years later the footage came into the hands of film restoration specialists Vinegar Syndrome. They had the technology, they could rebuild it, all except for one critical element. The film’s soundtrack was missing, as was the script.
So they wrote a new one, not a spoof but authentic-sounding 80s style dialogue. And they hired a team of cult performers to record it. They include Leon Isaac Kennedy (Penitentiary, Lone Wolf McQuade), Linnea Quigley ( Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Camp Twilight) and Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien, Righting Wrongs). Saying that the results are unique would be an understatement.
John (Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Bloodfist, The Hitman Agency) is a soundman for a local TV station. He’s also about to become a father. At least he was until his wife (Ginger Lynn, Jailhouse Girls, House of Many Sorrows) is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets killed by a gang of human traffickers. The police are, of course, no help.
Luckily John is also a ninja. He takes to the streets looking for the killers and kicking ass on any criminals he comes across. But even as he’s inspiring a wave of “Ninja Mania” in the citizens of The Big Apple, he has no idea that the man behind it all is also The Plutonium Killer (Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Shed of the Dead) an ex CIA agent turned nuclear in an experiment gone wrong.
The best way to describe New York Ninja is one of Cannon’s ninja films, a poster for Ninja III: The Domination even turns up in one scene, but with a lower budget, directed by Godfrey Ho and written by someone with a serious hallucinogenics habit. Multi-ethnic street gangs run rampant, people walk by seemingly oblivious to a ninja beating the crap out of several men at a time. And, did I mention the ninja has a thing for roller skates and engraving “New York Ninja” into his shuriken?
The actions scenes are plentiful and amusing though not always for the right reasons. There’s no denying Liu could throw a kick, but he’s no Sho Kosugi. And even if he was, New York Ninja’s fight choreography is right out of the films that we used to watch on “Kung Fu Theatre” every Saturday afternoon. Most of Liu’s other films were probably among them. Allegedly Liu was approached to participate in the remaking of New York Ninja and didn’t want anything to do with it. Which is sad because I can only imagine how much his input would have helped. That and there must be some incredible stories about the filming of it.
Thankfully everyone who was associated with the restoration effort took it seriously. There’s no hamming it up or intentionally funny dialogue in New York Ninja. And in the end, given the material, it’s much more amusing that way. It entertains the same way these films did at the time, with its own mix of charm and cheese, not by having it redubbed by people mocking the genre and its fans.