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New York Ninja (2021) February 13th, 2023

40 years ago a group of young filmmakers in New York City shot a film about an rollerskating urban ninja vigilante but never finished it. The reels sat in a seclusion until the company that owned them was bought wholesale by the great people at Vinegar Syndrome. The original production ran out of money before shooting the final sequences that would’ve brought their intended narrative together leaving behind four or five reels but none of the original audio recordings. They could’ve thrown it out, dumped it in the garbage and moved on, but they didn’t. Instead they wrote a script, hired legendary schlock actors like Cynthia Rothrock and Ginger Lynn Allen for voice over, and stitched together the remaining film elements into a somewhat cohesive story culminating in the improbable home video release of New York Ninja.

That’s a wild origin story and it couldn’t have happened to a weirder movie. A rollerskating ninja, a gang of perpetually bandaged NYC thugs wearing electrical tape over their sweatshirts, and a villainous radioactive date-rapist aren’t creative choices one makes on a whim. There’s too much weird shit happening in New York Ninja to list and the disjointed nature of the film’s creation makes it difficult to analyze.

Can we separate judging the actors and director who shot the original material and the producers, editors, and voice actors who completed the project? I think so. Unless the original crew was a making a proto-Everything Everywhere All at Once where chaotic disjointed fantasy worlds collide in a perfectly balanced ADHD opus we have to assume their vision would be remarkably close to the final film. The one exception to that assumption is the obviously mismatched dialogue. Perhaps Vinegar Syndrome should’ve taken a cue from the NFL and sprung for the talented team at Bad Lip Reading to better translate the original script from the abandoned reels. That wouldn’t have helped make a more coherent movie, but I couldn’t help being distracted by the inconsistent lip-synching.

Despite all those challenges, New York Ninja became what its original creators intended, a weird schlocky action movie in the low budget 80’s action style. Who knows how many more unfinished gems are stuck in storage waiting to be uncovered? I’m glad to know heroes like Vinegar Syndrome are out there, rescuing long lost schlock and serving the bad-movie novelty market.

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