New York Ninja (2021)


New York Ninja
(2021)- * * *1\2

Directed by: John Liu and Kurtis Spieler 

Starring: John Liu and the voice cast of Don 'The Dragon Wilson', Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Berryman, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Vince Murdocco, Linnea Quigley, and Ginger Lynn Allen


                                                    ****1400th Review!!******                                        

John Liu (Liu; voiced by Don the Dragon) is a humble soundman working for a New York City news network. His wife Nita (voiced by Ginger Lynn Allen) tells him she's pregnant and Liu is elated. The problem: New York is overrun by punks, thugs, and goons of all stripes, and they're running rampant. After Nita is attacked, a despondent and frustrated Liu first tries all the typical red tape-infested channels, such as going to Det. Jimmy Williams (voiced by Leon Isaac Kennedy). 

Getting nowhere, Liu does the only natural thing: he dons his ninja outfit and hits the streets, dispensing justice as the NEW YORK NINJA! But he'll face his ultimate nemesis in The Plutonium Killer (voiced by Michael Berryman), a light-sensitive, burn-happy baddie. His underling Rattail is no slouch either. These are tough challenges, but the New York Ninja begins gaining a legion of fans and supporters. Will he bring safety and justice back to New York? You have to find out!

The story behind New York Ninja is almost as amazing as the movie itself. In fact, its resurrection is downright miraculous. For those that may not know, what happened was this: the film was shot in 1984, but ended up not being completed due to production problems. The film reels languished in a vault until they were discovered in the archives of Vinegar Syndrome. All the visuals were intact, but no sound elements were able to be tracked down. 

So, the team at VS, headed by a very clever and intrepid guy named Kurtis Spieler, edited the film back to health, and re-created anything auditory. Spieler had no script to work with, so he re-wrote any dialogue he couldn't figure out by reading the lips of the silent original film. He then cast an excellent bunch of our favorite actors to do the voice parts, and got a killer, synthy score by a band called Voyag3r to do the music. The result is tremendous. A lot of work went into this project, and Spieler along with Vinegar Syndrome should win some sort of film preservation or editing award for what is, in our opinion, an important and even monumental project.

Importantly, as Spieler writes in his liner notes, he didn't want to make fun of the movie in a What's Up Tiger Lily (1966) style While he realized that New York Ninja is a film in the vein of a Miami Connection (1987) (which it played theatrically on a double bill with) or a Samurai Cop (1991), he - very wisely - took the project seriously and didn't try to be "above" the movie. While there is plenty of humor, he treated it as if he was editing (and, presently, re-directing) the film in the 80's. That decision made all the difference in the end.

As the first-ever Vinegar Syndrome Pictures release, they went all-out with not just the aforementioned screenings, but they released it in a deluxe hard box with a magnetic door, and a black ribbon, not to mention the book. They must be proud of this release, and they should be. Even if it was nothing more than a document of New York City in 1984 - which it wonderfully is - the film would be more than worth your time. There's even a clear shot of a movie marquee, likely on 42nd Street, for Ninja 3: The Domination (1984). On top of this priceless and now preserved footage, the movie itself has a Tenement (1985) meets Death Promise (1977) meets The Instructor (1981) vibe - but it's even funnier and weirder than those three gems.

Let's talk about the (new) cast: While, at first, it may seem odd to hear the unmistakable voice of Don The Dragon coming out of John Liu, the audience quickly warms to it, and the film as a whole. It's all so lovable and quirky, you just have to love it. Besides, as Spieler noted, to have dialogue not exactly match the mouths of the actors onscreen is nothing new for Martial Arts film fans. 

It even adds a bit of charm, although the film is pretty darn charming on its own. Spieler and VS's intention was to re-cast the movie with Vinegar Syndrome-related actors - i.e., genre favorites that fans like us would love - and who they got is genuinely cool. Michael Berryman is great as The Plutonium Killer, Leon Isaac Kennedy is wonderfully welcome as Detective Jimmy Williams, and Ginger Lynn Allen and our beloved Cynthia Rothrock have small but important roles. Matt Mitler and Vince Murdocco are here too, and Linnea Quigley as Randi Rydell is the icing on the cake.

New York Ninja is off-kilter and has a screw loose, which sets it apart from the pack, and is so colorful (just look at what all the goons are wearing), it's impossible not to love. But then Vinegar Syndrome comes along and breathes new life into the film, which was just magical. This project really shows the increasing strength, confidence, ingenuity, and creativity of Vinegar Syndrome. They were the perfect company to shepherd this lost sheep of a movie and add it to the rest of their flock. What they did here was truly special, and it gets our highest recommendation!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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