New York Ninja (2021)
Film review #578
Director: John Liu, Kurtis M. Spieler
SYNOPSIS: John, a sound technician at a TV station learns that his wife is pregnant. Shortly after, she is killed after witnessing a kidnapping. Determined to take revenge, and with the police investigation going nowhere, John becomes the “N.Y. Ninja,” and take down the bad guys on the streets of New York while searching for his wife’s killers…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: New York Ninja is a 2021 martial arts film. The story behind this film is very fascinating, and should serve as a backdrop to any analysis of the film: all of the footage was shot in the 80’s under the direction of John Liu, who also starred in the main role (also named John Liu). The film was never released, and the footage went unused until it was acquired by the film preservation company Vinegar Syndrome. The footage had no credits, audio, storyboards or script, so the six to eight hours of footage had to be cut down into a coherent film, dialogue written and recorded, and a soundtrack written. Thus, we get New York Ninja: a “new” 80’s movie in 2021. The plot itself concerns a sound technician whose pregnant wife is murdered because she witnesses some sort of kidnapping. From here the story gets completely wild: John becomes a vigilante ninja to bring criminals to justice, and hunting down the men who killed his wife, who apparently work for a serial killer called “The Plutonium Killer” who is somewhat mutated from radiation exposure or something.
As mentioned, the film’s footage was discovered with no script or audio, so the editors had to somehow make a coherent story out of the hours of footage they had. To the editors credit, they do manage to make something coherent. However, just because it is coherent doesn’t mean it makes any kind of rational sense: the film is absolutely all over the place even with the editing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, that’s what makes the film so fun. This film is genuinely a case of not knowing what happens next, because nothing you see is a logical precursor to what will happen. you can have a ninja on roller skates fighting crime, then there’s “The Plutonium Killer,” whose origins are never explained. At one point, The Plutonium Killer manages to take someone else’s appearance by burning an photo of them: the whole thing has no rhyme or reason, and it’s glorious.
You can tell that a lot of heart and good will was put into this movie, even if nobody had any idea how to make a film, and that’s part of its appeal. There’s some attempt at choreography in the fight scenes, but nothing overly spectacular, and there’s some effort put into the make up on The Plutonium Killer as his face melts off, but there’s nothing else really noteworthy about the effects or the production. This film shines through at being a fun “so bad it’s good” film, with over-the-top performances, quotable dialogue, fun fights and just being so damn unpredictable that it’s a riot to watch alone or with friends: probably both, because it’s perfectly rewatchable too.