New York Ninja (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

New York Ninja is a very special film, one that was almost tossed out with the trash. Thankfully, the wonderful people over at Vinegar Syndrome saved it, put it together for the first time ever, and now we all can watch this lost film with a damn near perfect blu-ray release. 

Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: November 1st, 2021 (both video premiere as well as blu-ray)
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes 17 seconds
Region Code: FREE
Picture: 1080p (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Slipcover: Yes (along with a big box to put it in)
Digital Copy: No
Starring: John Lui, Don "The Dragon", Cynthia Rothrock, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Linnea Quigley, and Michael Berryman
Written by Kurtis Spieler (rewritten 2021 script)
Directed by John Lui (original footage), Kurtis Spieler (2021 edit)
Rating: Not Rated (bloody martial arts violence, a strong sex scene, nudity, and language)




What's It About?

John is just an average man working as a sound technician for a New York City news station, until one day his pregnant wife is brutally murdered while witnessing the kidnapping of a young woman in broad daylight. Turning to the police for help, John soon learns that the city is overrun with crime and the police are too busy to help. Dressing as a white ninja, John takes to the streets as a sword wielding vigilante hell bent on cleaning up the streets of the city he once loved by ridding it of muggers, pickpockets, rapists, and gang members. However, in John’s quest for justice, he soon finds himself the target of every criminal in the city, including a mysterious villain known only as the Plutonium Killer. Will John survive to become the hero that New York City so desperately needs?

Film Review

So, I am going to say this upfront so that no one can accuse me of not saying it: "I liked NEW YORK NINJA, but I did not love it." I was hoping for an experience on par with MIAMI CONNECTION, but this turned out to be just a bad film with some awesome scenes in it. The film is not finished. Meaning that not everything was shot that was supposed to be. The company that was funding the film just stopped paying the bills that the production sent over and everything just stopped. This means that we don't have everything that was included in the script. The problem lies in the fact that we don't have a script so we don't even know what is missing. When you watch the film you have a feeling that things are missing, but we will most likely never know what those missing things are. 

So, what about the film we have in front of us? It's fine. It's bad in all the right places, but it never fully commits to being a bad film, so it feels like it is stuck between being a shitty film that everyone likes to watch and make fun and being a terrible film outright.  We can't really talk about the acting as there is no sound available to us, but we can tell through many of the actions of characters and through the editing that the acting probably wasn't very good. The deadpan delivery of the voice actors (including Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock) makes this very clear. 

The action scenes aren't even handled all that well and this thing was directed by a pretty big Hong Kong star. The action is clunky and stiff with even star John Lui not doing all that well in the action scenes. There are some big laughs during these action scenes, though. The first time we see Lui as the titular ninja, he arrives on roller skates and proceeds to fight everyone while trying not to fall flat on his face. The ninja also thinks about his branding early as he already has at least one shirt and button created before he even throws his first punch. I love at the end of the film, Lui is standing on a bridge I think as he admires his brand new New York Ninja button, complete with a copyright notice right under the logo with the film's production company named as the copyright holder.

The film starts out great, though. Within the first 8 minutes, we meet our hero and his wife. We find out that she is pregnant, and then she dies. He vows revenge and then the opening credits play. This film packs so much into the first 8 minutes, that anything that comes after doesn't compare. The rest of the film is good, but it never lives up to the opening 8 minutes. 

I will give NEW YORK NINJA another watch soon as I think it has more to it than what I am seeing on this first watch. The film is a fun watch, but it kind of loses it in the middle. It does get back to basics by the end, but the middle part is kind of rough. 

I do want to give a massive shout-out to the team that put this together for the first time. It's not the film that was intended, but it is something complete and that shouldn't go unnoticed. This team wrote a new script for the film, had to figure out how to fit the dialogue in, and figure out how to make this a watchable film. They had almost nothing to work with so their accomplishments are even greater had they had a script to work off of. That is the biggest thing about this release.


Sourced from a brand new 4K scan, and presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, NEW YORK NINJA looks amazing. When we marvel at the stunning picture quality, we have to remember that this film had not really been seen by very many people. There are stories that the film was being shopped around to different independent companies like Troma, who would ultimately pass. This is when the film went into the 21st Century Film Corporation library and was forgotten about. There doesn't seem to be any damage whatsoever, so there was not really anything to fix. Grain can be heavy at times, but it is always there in some compacity. Colors are vibrant and true. Skin tones look great and accurate. This has to be one of the best looking transfers of 2021.

There are two tracks here. Both of them are technically the same track with one being a stereo mix, full and robust, while the other track is the same track transferred to and from 1/4 analog tape to give the soundtrack more of a nostalgic feeling.


Disc 1:

Introduction with Kurtis Spieler (2m 2s, HD, 1.78:1) Gives us a brief history on how New York Ninja came to be.
Re-Enter the New York Ninja (48m 44s, HD, 1.78:1) A Making-of documentary with the cast and crew. Starts with an opening text crawl like Star Wars, for some reason. We are given a nice history of the martial arts craze as well as one for John Lui. Some of the people who worked on the film (actor, special effects artist, etc) talk about how the film was made for no money. The effects cost less than $100. Adrienne Meltzet talks about the wig she had to wear in the film. Everyone interviewed who worked on the film has nothing but nice things to say about John Lui. 21st Century Film Corporation decided to stop funding the film and everything just stopped. The film then sat unfinished for decades. At one time, Troma had been offered the chance to finish the film and they declined. Vinegar Syndrome acquired the 21st Century library and they got New York Ninja through that. The film canisters were going to be thrown out and thankfully, Vinegar Syndrome decided to keep the reels to see what they could do with it. They had no sound, scripts, notes, or anything. They had the film and that was it. The people working on this massive project had to try and track down John Lui. Lui lives in Vietnam and lives a very modest life. Mr. Lui was contacted but wanted nothing to do with the project and wish them luck. The decision was made to make the film how they thought it would have been made after they put it together and found it didn't make any sense. They then brought together a cast of actors who Vinegar Syndrome had worked with before to dub the new script that had been written to fit the footage with people like Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock to headline the cast. 
Theatrical Trailer (1m 27s, HD, 1.78:1)
Audio Commentary with writer/director/editor Kurtis Spieler

Disc 2

Re-Directing New York Ninja (18m 33s, HD, 1.78:1) An interview with Kurtis Spieler. This interview covers the same material found in the making of and documentary found on disc 1.
The Music of New York Ninja (10m 43s, HD, 1.78:1) Interviews with the members of Voyag3r. SOme great stories here about how the group came to the project and what they wanted to accomplish with their score. 
Locations Unmasked (13m 59s, HD, 1.78:1) Revisiting the locations of New York Ninja with Michael Gingold
Deleted Scenes with Commentary (26m 59s, HD, 1.33:1) Presented in it's full aperture aspect ratio, these deleted scenes are a very nice inclusion. They, however, don't really hold as much weight as other deleted scenes found on other films. I guess that maybe it's because the whole film is a deleted scene, I don't know. They are cool to see though. 
B-Roll and Outtake Montage (10m 18s, HD, 1.33:1) Presented in it's full aperture aspect ratio, this is a reel of outtakes and behind the scenes footage shot during the making of the film. 
Original Sizzle Reel VHS (9m 27s, SD, 1.33:1) Taken from a VHS that was shopped around to potential buyers, this video is a montage of footage and scenes shot for the film. There was music that was used to make the reel shine, that was replaced here due to copyright. I don't know why dialogue wasn't included with this when they sent it out in 84 because this just makes the film look like a mindless action film. Dialogue would have made it better. Still, a great inclusion.
Still Gallery (4m 23s, HD, 1.78:1)

NEW YORK NINJA comes packaged inside of a magnet clasp case that Vinegar Syndrome designed. It is the same kind of packaging that BEASTMASTER came in. The artwork is very striking and done by the same artist who did the artwork for Vinegar Syndrome's MARTIAL LAW 1 AND 2 blu-ray release from last year. The artwork doesn't really sell the film that we actually got. It sells me something completely different. Inside the box is the blu-ray case with a slipcover on it. The slipcover looks fine although there is no title on the spine, so some out there might be disappointed by that if they wanted to display the slipcover without the outer box. A booklet is also included that goes over the story of NEW YORK NINA, it's discovery, and the work that went into it to get this release. The blu-ray case features the artwork that adorns the outer box and on the reverse is the real treasure of this release, the Kung Fu Bob artwork. Man, Kung Fu Bob does some wonderful work and this is no exception. It is truly gorgeous and should have been the main artwork as it fits the tone of the film better. The other artwork tells me that NEW YORK NINJA is some edgy, dark crime thriller. There are two discs with one featuring the Kung Fu Bob artwork and the other disc featuring the main artwork. This is a really impressive package and I am proud to own it. 


NEW YORK NINJA is a miracle of a release, a film that wasn't really ever known, about to be thrown away and lost forever. Thankfully the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome decided to check the reels beforehand and they now have their first in-house release of a completed film. The blu-ray is just amazing with perfect picture and sound and some great extras. This belongs in the collection of anyone who calls themselves a "kung fu fan".

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