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DIRECTED BY: John Liu/Kurtis Spieler (re-dub)
FEATURING: John Liu, voices of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Leon Isaac Kennedy
PLOT: When his pregnant wife is murdered by thugs, a TV reporter turns vigilante to take down the gang of abductors responsible for his misery.
COMMENTS: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg‘s mega-opus, Hitler: A Film from Germany, with all its intellectual musings, puppets, and art-housery was a highly enjoyable single-sitting film throughout its seven-plus hours. Aleksey German‘s three-hour epic of mumbling bleakness, Hard to be a God, felt like a breeze. Heck, even Béla Tarr‘s meandering two-hour ennui fest Damnation felt a pleasure compared to the leaden hour-and-a-half of Vinegar Syndrome’s re(ish)-release of New York Ninja. There are times when an opinion may be deemed incorrect, and I admit that what you are about to read will come across to many as woefully misguided. That proviso provised, New York Ninja is one of the most wearisome movies I’ve ever endured.
The film’s backstory and re-creation make for an interesting tale. Back in the mid 1980s, John Liu toppled his directorial career by bankrupting his film studio during the production of New York Ninja. Back in the early 2020s, Vinegar Syndrome came into possession of some eight hours-worth of footage that had been shot for the project, and recreated the story from scratch, calling in a bunch of voice-over/dubbing heavy-weights. I tip my hat to Kurtis Spieler (the re-director) for his chutzpah and enthusiasm.
However, the resulting film is a trial by tedium. The story is chock-full of silly elements (not a bad thing)—plucky reporter lady, random kid-cum-acolyte, and whimsically attired New York City goons; and eccentric elements (a better thing)—a mysterious, effete baddie collecting women, and his Plutonium-cursed ex-CIA henchman, only seen without his bitchin’ shades when dosing himself with radiation. But the (bad) dialogue timing is all off, the silliness falls in that awkward too much/not enough layer, and from the original and re-do only one actor makes it out with respectability intact. (This being Leon Isaac Kennedy, who voices the police detective played by…? Someone.)
It is never my ambition to rain on anyone’s parade, particularly if it’s a low-budget parade with its heart in the right place. However, I could not in good conscience advise that anyone waste their time with this experiment. Whether or not the original New York Ninja would have been watchable is a mystery to remain unsolved until, perhaps, the hereafter, where all unfinished whack-o gems may get their time in the Heavenly lime-light. And I respect Vinegar Syndrome, both for their mission statement (saving old, oddball films), as well as trying their hand at this great re-jigging effort. Their ultimate goal was to recreate 1980s martial arts cheese. But left to age for four decades, this cheese has gotten too moldy to consider eating.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the movie packs in a lot of cult craziness: seemingly trying to bundle as much 80s movie madness into 90 minutes as it can…. It’s this manic energy and commitment to the absurd that makes ‘New York Ninja’ so much fun.” -Andrew Skeates, Far East Films (contemporaneous)