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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: New York Ninja

January 18, 2022 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
New York Ninja

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #603: New York Ninja

Ninja New Year

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never had to have my voice dubbed for any reason whatsoever, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number six hundred and three, I celebrate Ninja New Year with a look at the insanely great ninja action flick New York Ninja, which was originally shot in 1984, abandoned, then rescued by the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome and released to home video in November 2021 (it has also played in actual movie theaters at film festivals and whatnot).

New York Ninja


In order to fully grasp New York Ninja you first have to delve into its production backstory so you have the proper context for the movie. Back in 1984, John Liu made a low budget ninja movie called New York Ninja. Liu directed the movie, co-authored the screenplay, and starred as a mild mannered TV news sound technician who becomes a vigilante ninja after his wife is killed by a gang of scumbag human traffickers. The company funding the project, 21st Century Films, started having financial difficulties and, as a result, New York Ninja was never completed. In 2019, the boutique home video outlet and film preservation company Vinegar Syndrome acquired what was shot for New York Ninja during a big hooha film sale. Then Vinegar Syndrome employee Kurtis Spieler was tasked with figuring out what to do with the NYN footage. What, exactly, was on those newly acquired film reels? After watching everything, Spieler figured that he had around eight hours of shot footage. The footage had no sound, though, so Spieler didn’t really know what the heck was going on. So Spieler went about figuring out how to make something out of those eight hours of soundless footage. Unable to find any solid information about the movie (Spieler was able to obtain a shooting script from special effects technician Carl Morano but it didn’t really match with anything he saw in the footage. There was also no cast list available, so outside of Liu, actress Adrienne Meltzer, and a few other people listed on imdb, no one knows who any of the actors are in the movie), Spieler pieced together something as best he could. From that reconstruction, Spieler then put together his own script and story. Vinegar Syndrome then hired multiple B-movie legends like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Michael Berryman, Cynthia Rothrock, Leon Isaac Kennedy, and Linnea Quigley to provide voices for the characters onscreen. That, essentially, is how New York Ninja was created (all of this and more is covered in the excellent special features on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray package, which you can get at the Vinegar Syndrome website).

Now, knowing all of that, how is the finished product? Is New York Ninja something you should track down and check out? Does New York Ninja deserve to be celebrated in any way?

New York Ninja is awesome. It is absolutely something you should make an effort to see and experience. And B-movie nerds and ninja movie fans should celebrate it wholeheartedly. New York Ninja is an event.

New York Ninja stars John Liu as John, a TV news sound man in New York City. At the beginning of the movie, John’s life is pretty good. He has a stable job, a loving wife (Nita, apparently played by Nita Liu, who, I assume, is/was Liu’s wife at the time the movie was shot), and he finds out that he’s going to be a father. John’s good life comes crashing down, though, when Nita is attacked by a band of street thugs after witnessing a kidnapping. Nita is slashed across the neck and stabbed in the gut and left to die. John goes to pieces after finding out what happened to his wife. John goes to the police for help, but they’re essentially useless (the cop character, known as Detective Jimmy Williams and voiced by Leon Isaac Kennedy, is pretty dismissive of John’s anger and rage as crime is rampant in New York City and there’s only so much he can do). John decides that he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands and avenge his wife, his unborn child, and New York City as a whole. John decides to become the New York Ninja.


Now, while all of this is going on, the Plutonium Killer (voiced by Michael Berryman), a sort of crime boss/serial killer that needs to be periodically exposed to nuclear radiation in order to survive, meets with a weird Englishman known as the Pale Man (voiced by Bill Timoney) about kidnapping women so he can then sell them into sex slavery (or something like that). They meet in abandoned industrial fields and talk from limo window to limo window about what needs to happen. The city is terrified of the Plutonium Killer (we see the Plutonium Killer admiring the various newspaper headlines that feature his exploits) and that’s the way he likes it.

We then see John as the New York Ninja in action, taking out various thugs and criminals via his vast array of ninja weaponry and martial arts skill. It doesn’t take long for the New York Ninja’s ninja vigilante action to attract the attention of the city’s media and the police and, eventually, the Plutonium Killer (you get the sense that the Plutonium Killer is upset that the New York Ninja is stealing his headlines). The media doesn’t know what to make of the New York Ninja, while the police want to stop him because the cops aren’t fans of anyone taking the law into their own hands. The city, though, loves the New York Ninja and is all for him taking out the bad guys.

So then some stuff happens, John befriends a kid he rescues from street violence (the kid is voiced by Zihan Zhao), and he gets to be a father/big brother for a little while. John teaches the kid how to fish with a spear (I’d like to know why Liu decided to wear the red Speedo he wears in the spear fishing scene. Did he plan on wearing it or was it a sort of last minute decision? Did Liu have other clothing options for the scene and he actually picked the red Speedo?). Meanwhile, the Plutonium Killer’s henchmen continue to capture women and prepare them for sale, and the Plutonium Killer plans his next move.

New York Ninja is, ultimately, multiple things at once. It’s a ninja martial arts action movie, a kind of superhero movie (the Plutonium Killer is very much a comic book type villain), a comedy (there’s an inherent goofiness to what Liu originally did in 1984 that “re-director” Kurtis Spieler manages to find in the footage he chose), and a kind of Death Wish type revenge movie, and it manages to excel at all of them fairly well. The movie isn’t polished like the Cannon ninja movies from the 1980’s (there’s a theater marquee sign for Ninja III: The Domination) and it has that mega low budget kung fu look to it (it also looks like a low budget Italian genre movie), but that’s all part of the movie’s charm. And check out the New York Ninja’s white ninja outfit; it looks like something someone with scant resources but a burning desire for revenge cobbled together at the last minute and it works. It doesn’t look weird or out of place. That “homemade” aesthetic also gives the movie a kind of fun joy that it might not have had if it had been a bigger, more “Hollywood” sheen to it.

The martial arts action is generally good throughout the movie. Based on the footage Spieler had to work with and his general assumption that some of the fight and action sequences may not have been completely finished/shot due to the production shutting down, it’s amazing that there are as many coherent action scenes in the movie. And, again, some of the fights and action scenes are kind of goofy, but that just makes you like the movie more. It’s fun and, despite some of its dark and disturbing subject matter, the movie is meant to be fun. Liu is a talented martial artist and fighter and it’s awesome to think what else he could have done had he had the money and time to do more of what he wanted. There are also some nifty weapons in the movie, like the ninja dust ball things that the New York Ninja uses on most of his enemies, the ninja stars that have “N Y Ninja” on them, and the collapsible sword/knife that the Plutonium Killer uses is nasty as hell. I will complain about the various firearms on display in the movie, though. Most of the bad guy thug criminals have the smallest, wimpiest, least threatening looking handguns I think I’ve ever seen in a movie. And because the guns, while no doubt deadly as hell in real life, look ridiculous in this movie, the thugs that use them aren’t as threatening as they should be. I get it, Liu and company likely had to make do with what they were able to obtain, and everyone does what they can with the guns, but they, again, just look absurd most of the time.

The soundtrack, performed by the group Voyag3r, is absolute perfection. Chock full of synth heavy themes, it’s the kind of music you would expect to hear in a low budget movie from the 1980’s. The music doesn’t feel like a parody of 1980’s music, which is always a plus (I’ve heard far too many “1980’s inspired synth scores” that sound like a bunch of people fucking around. That kind of thing needs to stop). I wonder if Voyag3r, based on the greatness of its New York Ninja score, will get more movie soundtrack work? Hopefully, they will.


The movie’s main performances are fun to watch and experience, but outside of Liu it’s hard to connect with most of the actors overall because we don’t know who most of them are. They’re just people acting in a movie. The assembled voice actors give the performances life, but even with the earnestness of Don “The Dragon” Wilson as Liu and Michael Berryman giving the Plutonium Killer that extra bit of sleaze, it’s still a jarring situation to watch. Because, really, who the hell are all of these people? Did any of them do other movies? We know John Liu did other movies, both before and after the making of New York Ninja, but what other movies did the actor portraying the Plutonium Killer appear in? What about the kid? Or any of the other people that we see act in the movie.

I will say this, though. I can’t quite decide who is sleazier: the actor portraying the Plutonium Killer or the actor portraying the Pale Man. They will both give you the creeps, but who is creepier? I’d suspect that most people will say the Plutonium Killer and his main henchman Rattail, but I think a good argument can be made for the Pale Man. From the voice work by Bill Timoney to the way the actor smiles when talking, the Pale Man will freak you the hell out.

As for the voice actors brought in to do the movie, no one does a bad job. Every actor picked to do a voice fits and no one phones it in (although, based on the Blu-rays special features, some of the actors did phone in their performances. You have to watch the special features to totally “get” this).

New York Ninja is a movie that ninja nerds, martial arts movie nerds, and B-movie nerds the world over should have in their lives. From the actual movie to the making of the movie and subsequent saving of the movie by Vinegar Syndrome, it’s a movie watching experience of the highest order. I know I am ecstatic that it exists, that I’ve seen it, and that I will be watching it alongside my other favorite ninja movies for years to come.

Now bring on the teased L.A. Ninja! I have no idea how that can happen, but it’s something that absolutely should happen. The world needs more heroes in it, after all.

See New York Ninja. See it, see it, see it!


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 20.

Explosions: One. It’s pretty spectacular.

Nudity?: Briefly.

Doobage: A cool opening crawl, good news, a gang of men kidnaps a woman in broad daylight, neck slashing, knife thrown to the gut, helicopter hooey, serious mourning, table breaking, deliberate hand cutting, postcard reading, poison dart fly killing, rattail chewing, talk of human trafficking, child assault, newspaper hooey, a guy throwing things off a boat, a weird mugging, a seven-on-one brawl, deliberate hand slicing, a getting ready to fight training montage, more street crime, ninja star to the back, purse snatching, roller skate hooey, street recording, some bullshit where a guy needs to expose himself to nuclear radiation in order to stay alive, a double gang rape, multiple ninja attacks, cardboard knives (maybe), wood plank to the head, a woman being prepared for sale, car window smashing, total car destruction for no reason, metal trash cans, ninja star to the neck, a clear plastic mask, more ninja attacks, grown men beating up a child, kid saving, a ninja star necklace gift, fishing, a Halloween street fair, hypnotism, dangling breasts, car rape, burning hand prints, attempted carjacking and mugging, double finger poke to the eye, a dead body left in a barrel, more kidnapping, a gang of kids, dart shooting, Interpol hooey, a nifty coincidence/”almost” meeting, some of the last convincing handguns in movie history, net attack, an awesome reverse leap, even more kidnapped women, a double sword fight, gut slicing, photo burning, skin mask hooey, poison dart hooey, chain cutting, a karate woman, ninja mirror attack, melting face, melting face removal, grappling hook hooey, ninja dragged behind a moving car, multiple helicopters, multiple throat slashings, ninja fan attack, attempted helicopter escape, a collapsible sword, the ultimate ninja decapitation block, attempted sunglasses removal, ninja dangling underneath a helicopter, exploding helicopter, ninja arrest, a gang of protesting kids, and a wonderfully odd ending that’s also incredibly uplifting.

Kim Richards?: Attempted.

Gratuitous: John Liu, guy in a hat smoking a cigarette, an “I Heart NY” sticker, an obvious rubber knife, a single rose, a framed picture of John and his wife with broken glass, John Liu cutting his hand, a Camel Lights billboard ad, the Staten Island ferry, a guy reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar and the cigar going through the newspaper, John Liu walking back and forth between two wooden poles and wondering out loud why all of this is happening, a Buddha statue, subway assault, the New York City subway in 1984, a ninja on roller skates, Ninja III: The Domination on a movie theater marquee, a guy putting a candle out in his hand, ninja powder to the face, a guy throwing a knife to his buddy and his buddy failing to catch it, a T-shirt that has “I Heart NY Ninja” on it, bullet removal, one of the skimpiest Speedo bathing suits ever seen in a movie, John Liu fishing with a spear, a Halloween street fair, drunken sword technique, women warming themselves by a barrel fire, ninja vs. a car, grappling hook hooey, a ninja being dragged behind a car, helicopter hooey, a wonderfully odd ending that’s also incredibly uplifting, and a dancing Indian.

Best lines: “Happy birthday!,” “Wait! I love you!,” “I’m gonna be a daddy!,” “I can’t believe that John’s wife was murdered! It’s terrible!,” “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! Why? Why? Why?,” “Just leave me alone,” “We’re finished here,” “What’s the problem?,” “Hey, Chinatown, what you offering?,” “Wait. What? This city owes me. What’s that? Justice,” “Wow. Look how big the buildings are,” “Tell the others. I’m coming for them,” “So interesting,” “Oh my God! Those guys are crazy!,” “Let’s show this bitch who is boss!,” “Hey, did I miss anything? Yes, you did,” “These guys are probably on drugs,” “New York ninja?,” “Well, if it isn’t the ninja,” “Hey, are you really the ninja? Shhh! Will you be my friend?,” “I like your mask. Happy Halloween!,” “Oh, Christ,” “New York Ninja? Really? Not this,” “Shut the fuck up or I’ll slit your throat!,” “Honey, you’re so fucked,” “What are you going to do now?,” “Where’s your boss? I don’t know,” “Hey! The ninja!,” “Don’t move, ninja. Put your hands up!,” “Let’s make a deal. Kill that ninja and I’ll make you a rich man,” “Ah! My face!,” and “The New York Ninja is a real hero. Yeah, right.”

Rating: 10.0/10.0




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Things to Watch Out For


Halloween Kills: This, of course, is the sequel to the 2018 movie that I absolutely despised then and still despise now (check out what I thought about the 2018 Halloween here). I had planned on seeing this in a movie theater but that plan didn’t work out, and since I refuse to pay for Peacock I still haven’t seen this sequel. I should see it, though, just so I’m “current” and won’t feel out of place in the event I venture into a movie theater this fall for the third part. Anyway, this sequel seems to have divided horror movie and Halloween franchise nerds where some people really liked it, some people absolutely despised it, and some people were generally indifferent to it. I’m hoping that, when I do, eventually, see it that I like it or don’t hate it. I also want to really understand the whole “Evil dies tonight!” thing that everyone repeated online when the movie came out. I mean, I get that it’s a line that multiple said in the movie, but I want to fully grasp what it means. This home video version apparently includes a different ending or an “extended ending” or something. So who out there reading this liked Halloween Kills? Who hated it? Who was indifferent to it?


Raging Fire: This was a big hooha Chinese action flick starring the great Donnie Yen that came out last year and was directed by Benny Chan (the man behind multiple action flicks that I still haven’t seen, including Gen-Y Cops, which featured Paul Rudd. I hope to review that at some point this year). Chan died before the movie was released but, according to what I’ve read, he completed most of the movie’s post-production before he passed. Raging Fire, which is such an awesome title, looks very exciting and badass, which is what you expect to see from Donnie Yen. And based on the trailer, we’ve got gun battles, explosions, car chases, and loads of martial arts brawling. What more could an action movie nerd want? Anyone out there see this?


TC 2000: This, of course, is the classic early 1990’s sci-fi action flick that was a vehicle for the great Billy Blanks when he was “just” a real deal martial artist and low budget action movie star and before he became famous for Tae-Bo. The movie also features Bolo Yeung, Jalal Merhi, Mathias Hues, and Harry Mok, which is just a dynamite cast. The fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome have released this in a breathtaking Blu-ray as the movie has never looked better. A definite must see for early 1990’s low budget action movie nerds, some people think the movie is terrible and some people adore it. As for me? I will tell you when I do my full on review in the next few months (on top of the other sci-fi action flicks I plan on reviewing for the column). I will tell you to purchase the Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome regardless of whether or not you like the movie because the release is just, again, breathtaking. Amazing stuff (buy the movie here. Get it and New York Ninja and whatever else you can afford to get at VS’s website).


Next Issue: It’s the low budget action flick Moscow Heat starring Alexander Nevsky, Michael York, Adrien Paul, and Richard Tyson!


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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

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New York Ninja

John Liu– John
Adrienne Meltzer– Randi Rydell
Nita Liu– Nita
Don :The Dragon” Wilson– John/New York Ninja (voice)
Michael Berryman– The Plutonium Killer (voice)
Linnea Quigley– Randi Rydell (voice)
Leon Isaac Kennedy– Detective Jimmy Williams (voice)
Cynthia Rothrock– Detective Janet Flores (voice)
Vince Murdocco– Jack the Cameraman (voice)

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by John Liu
Re-directed by Kurtis M. Spieler
Screenplay by Arthur Schweitzer and John Liu, with new dialogue by Kurtis Spieler

Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome

Not Rated
Runtime– 93 minutes

Buy it here

All New York Ninja images from Vinegar Syndrome website