In 1984, famous Taiwanese martial artist John Liu filmed New York Ninja. No post-production was completed, however, and Liu soon retired from acting, leaving the film permanently on the shelf. The canisters of film were discovered by Vinegar Syndrome in 2019, but the audio recordings were long gone. Two years later, they have released their freshly edited, restored, and dubbed final product, and it is an absolute delight. A gang of sex traffickers has been abducting women in New York City. John (physically portrayed by John Liu) sets out on a quest for revenge after a gang member kills his pregnant wife for trying to protect one of the abducted women. He dons the identity of the “New York Ninja” and slowly brings the gang members to justice. Will he be able to stop the sex trafficking ring and its ruthless leader, the Plutonium Killer?
When it comes to film restoration, I have always found the work done by Vinegar Syndrome to be incredibly impressive. Whether it is a lesser-seen slasher film like Graduation Day or a cult classic like Tammy and the T-Rex, the restorations completed by Vinegar Syndrome are always refreshingly respectful to their source material. New York Ninja is no exception. The restoration maintains a lovely film grain to it that pairs perfectly with the stunning shots of early 1980s New York City. The colors are incredibly vibrant and the film is just humming with life. It is hard to imagine that a film which was never released and that sat dormant in a warehouse for nearly forty years could look better than this.
Aside from the tremendous film restoration work that went into this project, the most engaging element has to be the voice cast that Vinegar Syndrome employed to dub over the film. Among the cast are iconic 80s actors Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Michael Berryman, Cynthia Rothrock, Linnea Quiqley, Ginger Lynn, and more. The cast do a great job of personifying the characters in the film that have been left voiceless for 37 years. For the most part, the voice actors do a great job of syncing their dialogue with the physical lip movements of the actors on screen, but occasionally it will fall out of sync a bit, which only adds to the camp charm of New York Ninja. The voice actors have done a fantastic, but also very fun, job of breathing new life into the never-before-seen performances of these characters.
One of the elements that makes Liu’s film so exciting is how he chose to showcase the various landscapes of New York City. Whether it is the subway entrance where John’s wife is murdered at the beginning of the film or the various back alleyways where the gang members are attempting to abduct women or the beautiful spots where John is shown practicing his martial arts while he mourns his wife, New York City is just as much a primary character in New York Ninja as the film’s protagonist. Anyone who longs for more images of a grungier and grittier NYC need look no further, as New York Ninja showcases a great deal of the city as seen in 1984.
I thoroughly enjoyed every campy minute of this lost 80s action masterpiece. If you are a fan of cult films from the 1980s, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. The impressive work that Vinegar Syndrome put into the restoration of the 35mm film footage, the tremendous voice actor performances, and the over-the-top action sequences prove that New York Ninja is a must-watch for any genre enthusiast. Vinegar Syndrome will be releasing New York Ninja theatrically in 2022, and honestly, I can’t think of a more enjoyable midnight screening in a crowded theatre. Seeing this film with an audience would just be the best time. So, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where they screen the film next year, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket. The blu-ray which is packed with exciting special features about the restoration and voice work is available to buy directly from Vinegar Syndrome HERE. I would love for more films that were abandoned to be lovingly restored like this in the future!