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‘New York Ninja’ review: Amazing restoration from Vinegar Syndrome showcases the Golden Age of ninja cinema

Move over, Batman.

New York Ninja is a gem that could only have been made during the Golden Age of ninja cinema in the 1980s. Directed, written by, and starring John Liu, photography wrapped in 1984 before the project was abandoned unreleased shortly after. Using the unedited reels, Vinegar Syndrome has managed to put together a cut that was as close to the Liu’s original vision as possible.

(The original audio was lost necessitating the lines be re-recorded. Voice actors include Don “the Dragon” Wilson and Linnea Quigley. Period appropriate music and sound effects were also included.)

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The movie starts with John and his wife Nina celebrating the news of their impending baby. They are madly in love and excited for the future. As was often the case with 80s films, this meant someone had to die soon. In this case, Nina is quickly murdered while inexplicably interfering in a daylight kidnapping. A short scene of John practicing karate follows, and New York Ninja is off to the races.

'New York Ninja' review: Amazing restoration from Vinegar Syndrome showcases the Golden Age of ninja cinema

There is little in the way of actual comedy in the movie, but it is hilarious. From John’s dirty and ill fitting ninja costume to main villain the Plutonium Killer’s weakness being light to a chase scene in which the Ninja is on roller skates, New York Ninja is filled with laugh out loud moments. Yes, there are kidnappings, murder, and a prostitution ring involved, but it all takes a backseat to the film’s endless camp.

As is often the case with similar films from the era, it is hard to understand what is happening. Alliances are formed, broken, then mended without any explanation. There are subplots involving street urchins, a sex dungeon, and popular opinion of the New York Ninja versus what officials think of the vigilante. None of them are explored, making the movie indecipherable at times. 

'New York Ninja' review: Amazing restoration from Vinegar Syndrome showcases the Golden Age of ninja cinema

This is best seen in the end when the police are ready to take the Ninja in only to be stopped by a mobbed of the Ninja’s young fans. This diversion allows him to escape, but this does not seem to matter since the cops are willing to let him go. It is all very confusing, but at this point, the Ninja had his own branded shurikens. All of this only adds to the movie’s charm.

New York Ninja is a hilarious trip back to a time when ninjas were all the rage. The choreographed fight scenes show off amazing balance, even if they are painfully slow. Its nonsensical plot will keep audiences engaged the whole time. Things even end with a classic freeze frame. Vinegar Syndrome did an amazing job. If only there were that promised L.A. Ninja.

New York Ninja is available on Blu-ray for the first time

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