With ‘New York Ninja’, Lights, Camera and, Finally, Action

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With ‘New York Ninja’, Lights, Camera and, Finally, Action

Kung Fu Fights on Roller Skates! An Ex-CIA Plutonium Killer Who Can Peel His Own Face! A battalion of baby ninjas! As an outrageous police detective promising himself dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore!

In 1984, audiences had never seen anything like the low-budget epic “New York Ninja”, in which Taiwanese kung fu artist John Liu directs himself as a high-kicking sound man who avenges his wife’s death. Takes.

And despite “coming soon” commercials in trade magazines (“When You Back a Tiger in a Corner He Comes Out Fighting!”), audiences never saw it in 1985. or 1986. Or in the next three decades.

“It was one of those things that was on my resume for years, but I never thought it would see the light of day,” special effects artist Carl Morano said of “New York Ninja,” which runs its distribution company, Disappeared after the 21st. Century, went bankrupt and sold its assets.

Only one set of film reels was left with six to eight hours of footage. No sound No credit or call sheets. No storyboard. There isn’t even a script to explain exactly who the New York ninja was fighting and why, let alone how roller skates came into play.

Those reels eventually ended up in the vaults of the film distribution company Vinegar Syndrome, known as “Christmas Evil” and “Don’t Answer the Phone!” Known for controversial titles like It took two years of resuscitation for vinegar syndrome to bring the “New York Ninja” to life. The results came out on Blu-ray earlier this month after some raucous appearances at genre film festivals, and a theatrical release is expected in early 2022.

Most of the reconstructions were done by Curtis M. Spieler, who is credited as the “re-director” and editor of the new iteration. “What I tried to do was do the most consistent thing with the footage I had,” said Spieler, who spent the evening and weekend editing workable pieces together and then creating a new script to match his cut. Wrote.

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Looking at the source material it took some effort. “They had zero resources,” said Morano, who spent most of his projected special effects budget of $100 on the melting face of the plutonium killer. “Different people appeared on different days. We met every morning at Howard Johnson’s where John was staying and then drove a van to the location. ,

When he arrived in New York, John Liu was already a cult figure in martial arts circles, known for his high kicks and his collaborations with fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who worked on films such as “The Matrix” and “The Matrix”. Worked. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

According to film historian Chris Pogiali, co-author of the new book “This Fists Break Bricks: How Kung Fu Movies Swept America and Changed Thee”, Bruce Lee’s immense popularity limited the number of viewers familiar with Liu’s name. World.”

“At the time, studios were doing just about anything to get Bruce Lee involved,” Pogliali said. This meant changing the name of Liu on the posters. For example, the poster for the movie “Hammerfist” depicts Liu as Marty Lee.

By the time “New York Ninja” began shooting in late 1984, one actor no longer associated with the project (if that was really the case in the first place) was Rudy Ray Moore. But Morano’s original shooting script, the only one in existence, still pointed to “Detective Dolmite”, which left Morano wondering how faithfully the script was being followed. “My feeling is that they just winged it,” he said.

Pogiali described the end result as “very different from other ninja films of the time”. As Liu’s character often slips away from his coworkers to wear his New York ninja garb and then returns as if nothing had happened, “it’s like Clark Kent and Superman in a crime-fighting superhero movie.” kind of.”

Most of the original cast and crew names have been lost over time, and Spieler stated that Vinegar Syndrome tried to find Liu, but was not able to do so. It gave Spieler a chance to start fresh with audio, commissioning a synth-heavy retro score by Detroit band Voyag3r and fielding an assassin’s line of genre-film veterans to dub actors.

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Joining the likes of Don Wilson, aka The Dragon, and Cynthia Rothrock in the recording booth was 1980s scream queen Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), often here, voiced by TV reporter Randy Riddell. dubs it. “He said, ‘You play reporter, do whatever you want with it,'” Quigley said. “It looked like fun — which is wild because I think they wanted it to be serious.”

Or, if not serious at all, at least not overly campy. “We’re playing it straight,” said Spieler, who compared the end result to “Miami Connection,” “Samurai Cop” and other not-so-bad-they-kind of extravagant titles. “We’re not trying to play up the stupidity because it already comes naturally.”

While it’s impossible to know for sure, Spieler said he suspects Liu wasn’t able to complete filming before production stopped. “The end doesn’t look like it was ever finished,” he said. Vinegar Syndrome originally floated the prospect of filming new scenes, but Spieler intended to work with what he had.

“I asked myself, ‘If my job was an editor in the 1980s, what would I do?'” he said. “That way I could maintain the feeling of the original.” (In fact, he didn’t let Morano see the original shooting script until he had completed his version.)

Spieler believes the intervening decades may have actually done “New York Ninja” some favors. “We knew it was campy and silly and over the top,” he said, “but we also knew it could be appreciated in a different way than modern-day sensibility.”

“It’s finding its right audience now.”

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