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New York Ninja (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • New York Ninja (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome Pictures
    Released on: November 1st, 2021.
    Director: John Liu, Kurtis Spieler
    Cast: John Liu, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Linnea Quigley, Michael Berryman, Ginger Lynn, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Adrienne Meltzer
    Year: 2021
    Purchase From Amazon

    New York Ninja – Movie Review:

    New York Ninja was directed by Taiwanese born martial arts star John Liu in 1984 but due to production and budgetary issues, it was basically abandoned after principal photography had wrapped. Between then and now, all of the original sound elements, credits and script materials have vanished but the untouched negative somehow wound up in the hands of Vinegar Syndrome, who have edited the film together, brought some noteworthy voice actors in to dub the film and created an original soundtrack for the picture. Now, after almost four decades of languishing incomplete in various film storage facilities, the film, which was originally produced by Arthur Schweitzer, finally gets its debut courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome’s latest imprint, Vinegar Syndrome Pictures, which is “dedicated specifically to the production and distribution of carefully curated, often daring, first fun, genre-based feature films exclusively photographed on motion picture film.”

    As to the movie itself, it opens when a man named John Liu (played by John Liu himself) meets his wife on her birthday. She tells him she’s pregnant and he’s clearly stoked that he’ll soon ‘be a daddy!’ Unfortunately, this happiness is short lived, as the streets of New York City in 1984 were seemingly overrun with strangely dressed gangs abducting women left right and center. When his wife witnesses one such altercation, she’s pays the ultimate price and is left dead in the entrance to a lower Manhattan subway station, the victim of a street thug referred to for the rest of the movie as Cufflinks! John gets words of this and, having set up a special table on the roof of what we assume is the building he lives in, he flips out! He smashes the table and the glass frame with their picture on it, and then crushes the glass with his hands!

    To earn a living, John works as a soundman for a TV news crew made up of a cameraman named Jack and reporter Randi Rydell (played by Adrienne Meltzer and voiced by Linnea Quigley), but when he isn’t doing that, he’s running around New York in a white ninja suit, and sometimes on roller skates, kicking the shit out of many of the aforementioned strangely dressed gang members. When he saves a kid from getting roughed up, they become best friends, which definitely comes in handy later in the film. However, John’s real mission is to try and figure out who killed his wife and to exact proper revenge. A cop (voiced by Leon Isaac Kennedy) and his partner Detective Janet Flores (voiced by Cynthia Rothrock) are working the case but John doesn’t want the killer alive. It turns out that the guy behind the abduction rings is ‘The Plutonium Killer’ (voiced by Michael Berryman) and after some sort of weird radioactive experiment caused him to go crazy, his only weakness is light (this part of the movie isn’t explained particularly well but it doesn’t matter). The Plutonium Killer, who is driven around by a deadly chauffeur named Rattail and who deals with a mysterious client referred to as The Pale Man, is awesome. He wears dark shades, interacts with newspaper headlines in strange ways and has a habit of leering over a suitcase with glowing green stuff inside while he mutates and growls a lot. Anyway, John eventually makes the connection to the Plutonium Killer’s connection to his beloved wife’s untimely demise, and chases him down.

    We’ve already said too much, but the ending to this film is amazing.

    Killer stunts! Crazy outfits! Gratuitous Sharon Mitchell cameo! Speedo-clad spearfishing! An underage sidekick! Gratuitous boobs! A radioactive mutant villain! A guy who chews on his own rattail! Vintage eighties Times Square footage! Roller-skating! Rapping over the end credits! Calculator watches! Unique branding opportunities! Strange fighting styles! New York Ninja really does have a lot going for it and while obviously everyone would have preferred that this have been released with its original sound, if that original sound is missing what is a label to do? Honestly, the dubbing here works really well about 99% of the same, with Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson in particular having the perfect voice and delivery style to bring John Liu to life for this project. Michael Berryman is also great as the heavy in the film, making The Plutonium Killer just animated enough to work without overdoing it, which would have been very easy to do with a character like this, given how wonderfully ridiculous he is. Cynthia Rothrock and Leon Isaac Kennedy also do pretty good work, as does Ginger Lynn and the rest of the crew. It feels authentic enough to work and clearly that’s very important to the film’s success. The soundtrack from Voyag3r also works quite well, it feels like something pulled out of an eighties martial arts B-movie, and as such, suits the tone of the picture very well.

    Kurtis Spieler has done a solid job of putting this together. The extras go over his efforts in an insane amount of detail but he’s assembled the footage in such a way that the pacing is quick and the movie flows nicely. Yeah, find, it would have been nice to maybe get some background detail on any of these characters, we don’t really get that, but Spieler and company were working with Liu’s original footage here, adding only the credits (which were shot on film), they didn’t add anything else. And the movie is, really, better for it. By the time things start moving along, character development almost doesn’t matter, this one is all about the goofiness and the action and the crazy, colorful characters. On that level, it’s super enjoyable.

    New York Ninja – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings New York Ninja to region free Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with the ninety-three minute feature taking up 29.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Presented “restored in 4k from its 35mm original camera negative” and it looks fantastic. There’s pretty much no print damage here at all, the image is spotless, while the transfer retains some natural film grain as it should. Detail is very strong in pretty much every frame and the colors look excellent. We get nice, deep black levels and accurate looking skin tones as well. There are no issues with any noticeable noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine the picture quality looking much better than it does here.

    Audio chores are handled by your choice of two different English language DTS-HD mixes, one in newly created stereo and one in ‘analog mono’ ("transferred to and from 1/4" analog tape') Optional subtitles are supplied for both tracks in English only. The stereo track has, obviously, a bit more range to it while the mono track does a pretty solid job of replicating a vintage eighties sound mix without even intentionally degrading it to the point where it sounds artificial. Both tracks are nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion.

    Vinegar Syndrome’s Kurtis M. Spieler offers an optional introduction to the movie that starts off the extras. He talks briefly here about how he came to put the film back together and the voice work that was required to make it happen. From there, check out the commentary track with Spieler who gives a very detailed talk about the film's history and how Vinegar Syndrome came to complete and release the film. He talks about how he came to be familiar with the movie, getting the owners to let him finish the project, having to essentially write a proper script for the movie, trying to keep the credits and score as in the era of the eighties as possible, getting the different actors on board to do the voice work for the picture, what was involved in the ADR and dubbing for the different characters, the tone of John Liu's performance in what would be his last film, how much of the film was shot the way that it's edited in the final version of the movie, attempts to get Cannon to fund the finishing of the movie once it ran into trouble, how it took months of working evenings and weekends to get the footage to work, getting Voyag3r to create a score for the movie and the importance of striving for authenticity when working on a project like this.

    After that, be sure to check out Re-Enter The New York Ninja, a forty-nine minute featurette directed by Michael Gingold that is made up of interviews with Chris Poggiali and Grady Hendrix (co-authors of 'These Fists Break Bricks'), producer Arthur Schweitzer, editor Jim Markovic, makeup effects creator Carl Morano, actress Adrienne Meltzer, Vinegar Syndrome's Ryan Emerson, Ralph Stevens, Brandon Upson and of course Kurtis M. Spieler along with producer Brad Henderson, Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock and Michael Berryman. This covers how the movie was shot on location in and around New York City guerilla style, the style of martial arts used in the movie, how Taiwanese John Liu got his start in the martial arts film industry after undergoing 'two years of crotch Hell', some of his noteworthy earlier films, how Liu wound up fighting Chuck Norris and how after experiencing some success overseas Liu came to make a movie in America. From here we learn how Schweitzer and 21st Century Distribution got involved, the minimal effects required for the film, shooting with a very tiny crew, shooting without a full script, the mystery of Meltzer's terrible wig, what Liu was like to work with and how many hats he wore on the production, how great Liu was around the kids on the set, the stunt work and how and why the production ceased and wound up as a bankruptcy asset. The second part goes over bringing the film back to life as it covers how Vinegar Syndrome got it, how Spieler spearheaded finishing the movie, having to go through many hours of footage to find what would work, tracking down John Liu (who apparently lives in a shack in Vietnam!) who did not want to be involved with this release, trying to keep the tone of the original film without a script of any audio, casting the voice actors, challenges of doing the voice acting, creating the score with Voyag3r and more.

    A theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection finish off the content on disc one.

    But there is a second disc included here! Extras on disc two start with Re-Directing New York Ninja, an interview with Kurtis Spieler that runs eighteen minutes. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary track but it goes into a fair bit of technical detail on how he had to go about organizing the film elements, scheduling the scanning of the film, editing the picture, creating a new version of the movie, balancing the tone of the film, fixing the mistakes in the movie, writing new dialogue, dubbing the voices, scoring the movie and releasing the movie.

    The Music Of New York Ninja interviews with members of Voyag3r - Steve Greene, Aaron Greene, Greg Mastin - that lasts eleven minutes. Here they discuss how they came to be approached to score the picture, trying to keep the music in the spirit of the movie, their appreciation for ninja movies of the eighties, the gear and equipment that they used for score the movie, some of the inspiration that worked its way into the score, their thoughts on the movie and some of the characters in it and more.

    Locations Unmasked is a fourteen minute piece where Mike Gingold visits a lot of the locations used in the film and compares them with how they appear in real life today. Here we get to see headquarters for 21st Century Distribution, the midtown Manhattan locations were many of the scenes with the goons were shot, some of the locations north of Times Square, Times Square itself, Washington Square Park, the alley where the roller-skating fight was shot, some of the subways that are featured in the movie, some of the Brooklyn locations that were used in and around the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Hunter's Point Park and some of the Staten Island locations used as well.

    The disc also includes Deleted Scenes With Commentary, twenty-seven minutes of full aperture material that was edited but cut from the movie prior to the restoration. Spieler's commentary explains why they didn't make the final cut of the movie and provides some context as to what they're all about. The material, like everything else, has no sound for it. The scenes included here are Park Fight (where Liu fights some bad guys who assault Randi in a park), Randy's Apartment (where Jack meets Randi at her apartment after the park incident only for John to show up right after - and The Plutonium Killer too!), Alley Attack (a rape with Sharon Mitchell that looks like it's just outside of Times Square), Street Performers (a bizarre scene with costumed street performers and The Kid handing out - some great breakdancing here! - that turns into a fight), Drunk Gang (some inebriated villains goofing around), The Pale Man Meeting #2 (more with The Plutonium Killer meeting with his client), News Boss (a bit with the news team and their boss), Beach Fight (some drunken bad guys start trouble with John and The Kid on a beach), Refrigerator Thug (John comes face to face with an armed baddie hiding in a fridge), Good Fight (John... fights some random goons!), Basketball Court (John fights more goons, this time on a basketball court), Bad Dream (John wakes up from a bad dream to be comforted by The Kid) and last but not least, Rattail In The Trunk (the deadly chauffeur emerges out of a trunk with the ninja and a machine gun). Spieler's reasoning for excising this material is sound but some of this material is pretty great.

    From there, dig into the ten minute B-Roll And Outtake Montage which is made up of unfinished scenes, outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage taken by the camera crew during the production. This material has no audio for it and is presented with some of Voyag3r's score overtop in fullframe. It gives us an interesting glimpse at what it was like on set during the shoot, it's pretty cool stuff - it's pretty neat to see John Liu zipping around the Halloween Parade and the outtake footage from the helicopter dangling scene is impressive!

    Finishing up the extras on disc two are the film's nine minute Original Sizzle Reel VHS, a pretty extensive Still Gallery and some cool animated menus.

    It’s also worth taking a minute to discuss the packaging for this release, as it’s very impressive. The clear keepcase features some nice reversible cover sleeve art and fights into a fancy slipcover that in turn fits inside an even fancier hardbox package with a magnetic closure. Also included inside the box is a full color insert booklet containing an essay on the film entitled A Tale Of Two Ninjas: The Story Of How New York Ninja Came To Be by Spieler. It’s illustrated with some nice behind the scenes photos and also includes some technical information about the presentation of the feature.

    New York Ninja – The Final Word:

    How very cool to have this oddity rescued from obscurity! The vast majority of New York Ninja really does feel like an authentic eighties ninja movie despite the fact that it was put together only recently. The end result? It’s a lot of fun, a crazy mix of action, colorful characters, awkward comedy and nonsense with some great footage of New York City and some impressive stunts and fight sequences. Vinegar Syndrome’s two-disc special edition Blu-ray is absolutely stacked with extra features and presents the film in beautiful shape. Highly recommended, this movie is a blast!

    Click on the images below for full-sized New York Ninja screen caps!




























































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