"New York Ninja" Flips the Script
A film that was never completed, has now been assembled into a new kind of 80s b-movie beast.
Existing for me in the same Universe as Troma films like The Toxic Avenger, the newly discovered, re-written, re-directed, and finally completed New York Ninja - released by Vinegar Syndrome - is of the same elements that cinematic dreams are made of. Granted, it doesn’t dive into over-the-top vulgarity and satire like Lloyd Kaufman’s classic, but the spirit of 80s style in-over-its-head street fighting nonsense and Death Wish 3 villainy is vibrant and irreplaceable here. All style and all about its style, New York Ninja is super camp and super sincere.
The film’s footage was found unedited and without sound, score, and script materials. For those who sought to finish it now, they must’ve loved this peek into the NYC of their retro imaginations. New York Ninja is all imagination in fact, crafting audio, dialogue, and music nearly from scratch, with ideas borrowed from genre pictures of its decade’s ilk. It’s pasttime informed time travelers fixing the past with their tools of tomorrow. An amazing feat.
The story is pretty classic: A man loses his wife to street thugs, vows revenge in the face of police indifference, and becomes a marketed hero to the common citizen. Martial arts, throwing stars branded with the hero’s name, "I Heart New York” stickers adorned over dead bodies, a human slavery ring being run by a plutonium-powered sicko, and more make up the meat and bones. It’s a peculiar flick even for 1984, but with wide eyes gazing back to the days the producers wish they had lived in, New York Ninja is treated both with reverence and laughs.
Everyone in post-production is clearly having fun, following the lips and expressions of the on-screen actors for some divine inspiration. This comes out in the cutting and the voice direction, which clearly highlight the silliness the completists see today. The bad guys grunt and laugh like maniacal Beavis and Buttheads, and the chosen footage goes at length on odd visuals - like holding on a scene where cops leave a corpse in the trash. The movie has the same attitude as kids overdubbing commercials with their camcorder pointed at a TV set. It’s childish, but still pretty fun. What would you expect?
While there is a seriousness to the love being had for New York Ninja in our world, it feels like the original filmmakers wanted a major hit in yesterday’s life. That’s the dream for all, of course, and it just makes the creators all the more like dreamers of dreams. Seeing merch and swag within the story and winks being tossed through the camera is adorable, especially when played up as sweet and plausible. When Ghostbusters did it with balloons and toys in their movie, the joke was clear. Now, as a mega-franchise that’s been marketed to death, it’s more mouth-watering than funny. Did Gordon Gecko win?
It’s very interesting as New York Ninja - this mad monster of b-movie creation that shouldn’t be - is presented after all of this time with the true romantic notions for an era gone by that studios are now trying to capture (and usually failing at) for films the likes of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. We’ll wait and see on that one, but the trends aren’t in its favor.
Some things just can’t be repeated or duplicated, and sometimes trash can hold treasure. It’s true. 3/5