New York Ninja

NEW YORK NINJA, which had its world premiere at Beyond Fest earlier this month, is a b-action miracle: a previously unknown and unfinished vigilante ninja vs. street punks film accidentally discovered by just the right people who would know how to treat it like a lost Orson Welles film. Shot but abandoned before completion in 1984, it was an American production starring and directed by Taiwanese-born martial arts star John Liu (SECRET RIVALS, SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION).

Luckily, the footage happened to be included in a library acquired by Vinegar Syndrome, the excellent blu-ray label that started out restoring vintage porn movies before becoming one of the premiere curators of cult horror and action (PENITENTIARY I & II, DOLEMITE, MARTIAL LAW I & II, THE BEASTMASTER). According to Re-Enter the New York Ninja, a 48-minute featurette that will be included on physical releases of the movie, when they asked what the reels were they were told they could throw them out if they wanted. Instead they watched them and found a movie you can imagine the company acquiring intentionally, had it previously existed: a pulpy, somewhat campy but very sincere revenge movie with Liu battling cartoonish gangs and a mutated serial killer on the streets of New York (sometimes with noticeably unsuspecting extras).

But many of the scenes were unfinished, and the soundtrack was entirely gone. So they scanned all the film, edited in the order it was numbered, then reshaped it into a form they could make sense of. New dialogue was written and recorded with a cast including Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Linnea Quigley, Ginger Lynn Allen, Michael Berryman and Leon Isaac Kennedy (!), and the band VOYAG3R created a great synth/drums/guitar score. While not running from the fact that much of the content is goofy, this all done straight and sincere, even in two melodramatic scenes where he yells “WHY?!!?” about his murdered wife.

So NEW YORK NINJA was reborn from the ashes.

It seems incredible to me that a movie like this would 1) exist and 2) be discovered and rescued in this manner, but it’s even more miraculous from my perspective because a few years ago I became obsessed with the very obscure directorial works of Liu after renting a VHS tape titled AVENGING NINJA. It, too seems unfinished (he’s on a mission to save his kidnapped father, but gets distracted and never finds him), and yet they released it. I was fascinated partly because he plays himself in the movie, is supposedly a graduate of Washington State University (not true, as far as I can tell) and shamelessly promotes his Zen Kwan Do martial arts school (that part is real). So I watched what at the time were thought to be the only other movies he directed, NINJA IN THE CLAWS OF THE C.I.A. and DRAGON BLOOD, both interesting in their own ways, both starring John Liu as John Liu (even though the third one is a period piece).

I spent a long time on those reviews (cutting myself off when I was about to order vintage martial arts magazines on ebay for research) and then sat on them for a while because I doubted anyone would be as excited about a guy they never heard of whose movies they probly wouldn’t be able to find. So imagine my shock when I saw the trailer for this!

Liu once again plays John Liu, this time not a film star, but a humble soundman for a NYC news crew. After his pregnant wife is murdered on the street for witnessing an abduction, he becomes frustrated with police inaction and starts dressing up in an off white ninja outfit to wage war on the rampaging muggers, rapists and kidnappers who terrorize the city.

I love cataloging the different fashion items these thugs put together to represent their status as Street Tuffs: spiked collars and wristbands, leather jackets, berets, Adidas track suits, handkerchief headbands, camouflage pants, ski goggles, face paint, Halloween masks, nylons over faces, checkered painter’s caps, muscle shirts, knee pads and jock straps over jeans, a samurai helmet, cowboy hats, a black trenchcoat with a military braid and a Van Halen patch on the same shoulder, but also a surprising amount of comfy-looking sweaters and winter gloves and hats. There’s a pair of security guys at the abducted-woman-warehouse who carry bullwhips; one is a leather daddy with an eyepatch and the other sports a nice red pants/white cable knit sweater/baby blue ski mask/green visor ensemble. Another scene has a guy who looks like a traditional biker except for the addition of green tanning booth goggles

These are adult men with nunchakas in their back pockets who pin a little boy to a wall to demand money. John later rescues the boy and agrees to be his friend, inspiring the boy to lead an army of child ninjas who successfully stand up to the punks.

John does flips off of chain link fences, kills people with swords, blowdarts and (poisoned?) throwing stars emblazoned with “N.Y. NINJA” (that would’ve been a great promo item), throws chalk in people’s eyes, does tons of Liu’s trademark high kicks. In on scene he rollerskates in the ninja garb – he doesn’t seem as agile on skates, honestly, but it’s a cool idea. He’s also dragged from a moving car and a flying helicopter. “The Ninja” is often filmed by his own crew (he does a Clark Kent routine to explain his absence) and becomes a local folk hero complete with t-shirts, like Billie Jean or The Toxic Avenger.

When the crew come across some punks smashing a parked car with crowbars and bats, cameraman Jack stops to film and doesn’t listen to reporter Randi that it’s his car until they’re rolling it upside down. Then he tries to intervene and they kidnap Randi. The shadowy ringleader, introduced as mysterious leather-gloved hands in the back of a Cadillac firing a sewing needle out of a pen into a fly, parks next to another car whose occupant sips champagne while browsing photos of women he may purchase for his “clients.” The fly-impaler also moonlights as “The Plutonium Killer,” who gets off on opening a container of radioactive materials (he makes orgasmic faces and moans as it melts his skin) and using the heat to burn his hypnotized abductees. Also he has a driver/bodyguard who enjoys fencing, drunken sword style, and compulsively sucking on his long braid (the credits call him “Rat Tail”).

Movies this pulpy can be fun in any cheap ass form, but the fact that much of it was filmed on location in 1984 New York City gives it production value and makes it a great time capsule. There are scenes filmed on crowded 42nd Street sidewalks at night, so you see marquees for Cats and La Cage aux folles, and a theater showing a bunch of kung fu movies (RAGING MASTER, TIGER CRANE, KUNG FU WARRIORS) with a full banner for NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. There’s a scene filmed at a real Halloween parade (I spotted a kid in a Masters of the Universe Beast Man costume). But most of it is actually filmed in broad daylight, which is cool since you’d normally see these heightened WARRIORS-esque villains in dark alleys next to flaming oil barrels.

At least in its current form, one of the only John Liu traditions the film continues is him using his own name. But he doesn’t mention Zen Kwan Do and does not meet various sex partners, as in his other films. Usually he at least gets seduced and drugged by random hotties. (He does reject a flirtatious visit from a friend consoling him about his wife’s death.) And I didn’t notice his usual co-star Roger Paschy being in it. One thing that’s cool within the body of work is that he actually is playing a ninja this time. Two of his other three movies were marketed as ninja movies in the U.S. but feature no ninja-related content.

So far there’s no way to know what Liu (who reportedly lives with no phone in a shack in Vietnam, and gave his blessing but no participation) would think of the movie in its current form. With Vinegar Syndrome’s pristine restoration and the way they put it together (with Kurtis Spieler credited as new co-director), it looks much better and makes much more sense than Liu’s other films. And VOYAG3R’s soundtrack, while faithful to the time period, is likely stronger than what Liu would’ve had access to. (There’s also an end credits title song from rap pioneer Bronx Style Bob that does seem to have been made for the movie at the time.) Crucially, they did a really good job with the dubbing, which sounds very legit for those of us versed in dubbed Hong Kong or Italian movies of the ‘70s or ‘80s. They’re never making a joke out of it, and I thought it was easy to forget whose voices they were and not be distracted.

This seems like a really good movie to see with an audience (save for an uncomfortable scene of violence against women) – I’m sure it played well at Beyond Fest, and maybe it will get some other chances, if the fuckin pandemic ever allows it. But whether in theaters or the eventual VOD and blu-ray releases, it’s guaranteed to find a larger and more appreciative audience than Liu’s earlier films were ever afforded. And that’s a beautiful thing.


P.S. One tidbit in the documentary is that Rudy Ray Moore had at one point been cast in the movie. That would’ve been amazing, though also a challenge if they’d had to dub him for this.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 11th, 2021 at 7:02 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “New York Ninja”

  1. I recently discovered that Vinegar Syndrome (my current favorite video label) operates out of their own video store only about an hour from me in Bridgeport, CT, generally considered Connecticut’s shittiest town and often pretty high up in the rankings for shittiest towns nationwide. But I guess it’s gotten to that perfect nexus of shittiness where it’s cheap enough for cool niche businesses to operate there but not so dangerous or broke that they can’t stay in business. I have said some hurtful things about Bridgeport in the past but I take them all back. The Archive (as it’s called) is officially the best thing about Connecticut. I went in there for the first time this August and immediately knew where I wanted my ashes scattered. They sell all kinds of movies but best thing is that all their original releases are a lot cheaper in-store than online—but still not exactly cheap, so I have to stop myself from driving down there every chance I get. I’m actually grateful it’s not closer. I’d starve.

    All that to say I know what I’m getting next time I make the trip.

  2. Mr M, they are opening a store here on Aurora, co where I live. They already have a hub to distribute to the west coast there so it makes sense. Talked with them this weekend and I may try to work their part time. At the very least a cool place to go to buy movies.

  3. Their website says they had something opening in Colorado but it’s been pending for so long that I thought maybe the pandemic killed that idea. Glad to hear they’re still expanding. There might be legs in this whole physical media thing yet.

    I considered seeing if they needed someone to work a shift or two a week but it’s always the same dude in there every time I go in so I figure it must be a pretty small staff. Also that dude has Bam Bam Bigelow tattoos all over his bald head so I don’t think me and my tie collection are the right look for the place. Might scare off the millennial girls in leggings buying used records who seem to be a good chunk of their business.

    Dammit, now I really want to go there but they’re closed Mondays. Fucking Mondays. Now I finally know what that asshole cat was always complaining about.

  4. Really looking forward to this, Liu was a super kicker and did make some wacky movies, Zen Kwun Do in Paris aka Kung Fu Leung Vs Emmanuelle i think was the wackiest, John Liu founder of Zen Kwun Do plays John Liu founder of Zen kwun Do and fights everybody while various women fall for him including a Nun! And at one point several porn starlets shall we say pleasure themselves while he performs a martial arts form……

    Looking forward to seeing New York Ninja, and as i’ve said, I wish they had shot enough of Taimak’s abandoned BLACK NINJA movie that someone could finish that off….

    Nice work by Vinegar Syndrome

  5. You all sound too respectful of John Liu, with makes me think that you have seen a censored copy of Ninja in the Claws of the C.I.A. aka Made in C h I n A (actual on-screen title http://photos1.blogger.com/img/115/1634/640/03titulo.jpg ) as no one has mentioned the reason why that movie is relatively infamous in the spaniard scene of the so-bad-that-is-good movies, since in the final scene with the plane in the Spanish version (it´s a co-production shot in Spain, where he lived for a decade) after the offscreen explosion we suddenly jump to a handheld camera showing the remains of the plane, with a lots of smoke and some charred bodies, which seem too well done for the value of this movie … BECAUSE THEY ARE THE REAL REMAINS OF AN ACCIDENT THAT JUST HAPPENED NEXT TO THE SHOOTING. THOSE ARE THE BODIES IN FLAMEs OF SOME TOURISTS WHO JUST HAVE DIED.

    You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eeIK3PrrhQ

    Oh, and that voiceover at the end is saying “This plane crashed during filming. The crew of this film pays its utmost respect to them ” Yeah, really respectful.

    And before elevating him as a goofy DIY cinema icon like the Miami Connection guy or something, maybe the Vinegar Syndrome guys should do some research through old spanish newspapers on John Liu, because a few years later he was arrested for “alleged corruption of minors and crimes related to pimping. Those arrested prostituted the girls after recruiting them in “castings” to participate in martial arts films to be filmed in Taiwan … The girls ended in Taiwan shooting pornographic films. The average age of the girls was between 15 and 17.”
    http://absencito.blogspot.com/2008/10/siguiendo-el-rastro-de-john-liu.html He spent several years in prison awaiting trial but fled the country before the verdict.

    So, yeah, better let him be on his jungle with no cellphone before there is another Richard Stanley like embarrassment.

  6. Oof, Mario, that’s absolutely horrifying.
    (I’ve just read the blog and the newspapers it links to, and while they could be fake I see no reason to doubt their legitimacy.) That’s some truly horrifying stuff – among other things, he’s directly implicated as having abused some of the young women himself and running the “castings” out of his house in Spain.
    I also hadn’t heard about Richard Stanley, whom I was really happy to have been vindicated after all these years (I loved Hardware and Dust Devil as a teen… ugh. Maybe let’s not compare serial (horrific) abuse to being any part of an underage prostitution and human smuggling ring, but damn, that’s two (seemingly) bright spots that have been irreparably… curdled, to mix metaphors.

    Thanks for bringing this up. Damn. Any idea if this has been reported to Vinegar Syndrome?

  7. Yeesh. Thanks for the info, Mario. Maybe I’ll make a different choice the next time I visit the Archive. One that didn’t contribute to underage sex trafficking.

  8. I think my first post came out more antagonizing than i intended, i don’t want to blame anyone for not knowing this shit, it’s obviously quite obscure and i doubt Liu would get any money from this release, but i was really surprised that someone care enough to finish his unmade movie and tried to contact him yet never find about his criminal record or at least know that this guy sneaked a snuff scene into another kung fu movie, which again, was a relatively big preyoutube meme here in Spain* and the first thing that comes up if anyone talks about him.
    I didn’t think about contacting Vinegar Syndrome because I don’t know anything else about the case than what that blog says… And yes, the blog is one of those halfjokeys B-Movies reviewer of the early 2000s, but the newspaper is 100% real, it’s the official scanned archive of La Vanguardia, one of the oldest spanish newspaper and the dates seems to add up to the case.
    dreadguacamole: I’m sorry to sound too cynical, maybe it wasn’t the best comparison but it seems to me that every time that someone with some career in show business (and both Stanley and Liu had a career within their limited market) that seems to dissapears overnight it’s because they are either abusers or criminals who weren’t successful enough to get anyone wanted to be associate with… or victims from abusers who are successful enough to bury them.

    * Now that i think of there is another preinternet meme involving snuff, this one with greater scope: it´s one you heard from older kids in the schoolyard about that time that our public tv channel showed an italian cannibal film full of gore, nudity and real animals deaths at mid-afternoon, and back then there was only three or four channels so everybody in the country ended watching it. It´s sounds like bullshit but really happened and it ended up becoming a political matter in our congress:
    Although probably not everybody who says they watched it live actually did it.

  9. Mario – Oh, don’t worry, if there was any antagonism I think it’s completely justified given the content of your comment.

    It never hurts to be cynical of showbusiness, but there’s plenty of people who just decide to get out of film and never make movies any more, and Stanley had a better reason/excuse than most in Island of Dr. Moreau. About comparing him to Liu, it’s fine, sorry – of course you weren’t equating the severity of their crimes. Pet peeve.
    And just to make myself clear – the newspaper archive seems completely on the level and the fact that it’s two linked articles five years apart on the same archive… didn’t mean to cast doubt on that. The blog’s speculation is way more shaky, but their actual investigation is solid and the articles they supply as proof is all that’s needed. When I said “could be fake” I was referring to some of the speculation on the blog but that came out wrong, that was sloppy.

    I’ve sent an email to Vinegar Syndrome with a short description of the whole sorry mess in case no one has contacted them yet, with all the links including one here (I now realize I should have asked first – hope you all don’t mind!). Man, it really sounds like the whole restoration job was a real labour of love, too.

  10. Mario, the story about the cannibal movie reminds of how in the early days of German commercial television, one channel decided to show a movie named THE LITTLE MOTHER as special mother’s day programming, based on its title alone. Nobody checked what it was. Turned out it was a softporno. Not as outrageous as an Itallian cannibal movie, but pretty funny IMO.

  11. Mario, I also commend you on your post. I’ve turned into something of a voice of dissent myself in recent times and I truly appreciate your articulating when things are not worth it. It is not an easy thing to do.

    Though I cannot speak for Vern – and am worried this is going to sound like one of those moments when someone says they don’t want to do something obnoxious and then do something obnoxious – you are commenting on the website of a guy who is trying to not use mental-difficulty-or-difference-shaming language in his writing. If language is a matter of consideration (and considered to be an action), I’m sure Vern is of the same mindset as Majestyk, Dread and myself (and the many who surely are reading in silent agreement) that child pornographers, human traffickers and those who would exploit the images of violent death like that have no business being celebrated in any way, shape or form.

    Though they won’t read this, I wish the most sincere of empathy and healing to this inhuman monsters’ victims, those close to those who’ve suffered in the tragedy that he exploited (too gentle of a word, really), anyone traumatized by being unwittingly forced to see something of such a hideous reality. We all owe you the greatest of commendation possible to yourself for taking a stand. Vern is one of the most thorough researchers I’ve ever encountered and even this one slipped past him.

    I hope you will keep us informed as to what your writing to Vinegar Syndrome results in and also hope you will continue speaking up about such brutal evil and inhuman exploitation in forums other than this one.

    A lot of bad things have happened “in the name of” The Movies and so many people look the other way and then lie, which is why I keep repetitively writing posts about how I’m almost totally unable to enjoy movies now. I can no longer suspend disbelief.

    This sort of thing is so depressing, but I genuinely believe in the hope for the future of the “preachy” “woke” new generation that assholes like to complain so much about. It is one of my few solaces in this constantly-upsetting world, including the way I’m feeling in reading your informative comments.

    I wish I knew how to say this in a way that was more conversational or less self-important sounding. Thank you, Mario, you are one of the world’s good people, the world needs more people like yourself.

  12. Well, this whole thing is a tremendous bummer, because I sincerely took the existence of NEW YORK NINJA as a miracle and proof of beauty and hope in this world, and before it has even been released I’m told the guy who conceived the whole thing was a straight up human trafficker. I could’ve really used a hopeful sign right now and not more evidence that everything in the world is total shit, but it was not to be.

    But, though I know my friend A.L.F. will not like this, I don’t think that the accusations presumably being true (Google Translate only makes about 15% of the page decipherable, but I believe Mario’s description of it) means we’re not allowed to enjoy the movie, which is an artifact of another time and place and also the work of many innocent people including the ones who reworked it into its present state out of a love for art like this. I think it’s good to know the truth about the guy and not put him on a pedestal, and I don’t know whether or not I could’ve enjoyed the movie in the same way had I heard that before. But I don’t think we are required to throw away the art now. It took me a while, but I watched UNDER SIEGE again, and it’s still good, despite everything. I don’t think anyone has to separate the art from the artist, and I can’t always do it myself, but I do think it’s okay to do, unless there’s some reason to believe that watching this movie in some way supports those crimes that I’m not seeing.

  13. Also, I had misread who sent the letter to Vinegar Syndrome in my disgust for what had occurred. In any event, I truly hope to hear what Vinegar Syndrome have to say about this tragedy of child exploitation and sex crimes and that others will continue to contact them if they say nothing. There are a lot of companies that should not be profiting from the abuse of children in the way they are and that they refuse to acknowledge, and this is unquestionably one of those matters. I hope they will do the right thing.

    I spend a lot of time feeling aghast and horrified about the severe issue of child abuse in all forms – as it has impacted the lives of myself, those I care about and those I despise (who should not have been changed as people in the first place) and their victims – almost to the point of my being totally nonfunctional more often than not. The world’s selective attitude to social justice has to change. This thread is going to really stay with me for quite a while. Thank you, Mario. Every potential Jim Derogatis has a first moment of public outrage. I appreciate your decency and think it will change things.

    I know we’re all here for good times and insight, but maybe this review could be revised and turned into a good place for ourselves to discuss social matters related to human trafficking and ways we can take issue with child abuse in the future.

    Though I cannot articulate the horrors that plague me as a person at this time, I would like to say that Mars, Nestle and Hershey are all companies that abuse children. It is worth looking for those names on products that are so easy to buy – I was aghast to learn how many frozen food items I was buying unwitting of who was producing them.

  14. Hi Vern, I just saw your comment – it was posted two minutes before I had posted my follow up. The regard with which you’ve acknowledged the difference between ourselves is of a greater person-to-person decency than that of many who oppose or counter my beliefs (and it would be somewhat wrong to not acknowledge that I once shared your viewpoint). However, that regard pales in comparison to the moral issue.

    I will be taking leave from this community and no longer reading this website. I thank you for your great and intrinsic influence on myself as a person and your innumerable goodnesses otherwise. My thanks to many commenters (particularly Majestyk, CJ, Maggie and Pacman) who have helped me feel a lot less lonely in a time in which I’ve lost countless friends and have found myself in horrible states of personal and circumstantial distress due to my refusal to budge on the issue of child abuse and those who sexually abuse (and attempt to sexually abuse) people who are otherwise vulnerable.

    Goodbye, everyone.

  15. Well, now it’s even a more tremendous bummer. Sorry A.L.F., and sorry everyone for pushing A.L.F. away. I’ve known him over the internet forever, I really like him and I did not want to disappoint him like that.

  16. Gee thanks, ALF, but i didn´t intended to make a stand against the injustices of the world or something, and, again, i don´t blame anyone for watching Liu´s films, they are truly, umm… unique and the rights to this kind of movies are a mess, so i don´t think it would be profitable to him or his buddies in anyway (if he even still alive)
    It just that about 15 years ago i was deep into the Z-Movies world and it´s seems everybody has the same history with his movies, first getting flabbergasted at how ridiculous and distasteful they are, then investigating a bit about how there could be a Godfrey Ho-like-figure in our own country yet never hear about him in festivals or something, only to end up finding out about the arrest.
    So it was surprised that now he is getting slightly famous in the american revival scene in the middle of the “cancellation” age, but no one seems to know about his history.
    Here you can read a deeper and more serious article about his life, though the part about the arrest comes from the same newspapers articles:
    Feel free to contact Vinegar Syndrome if you or anyone wants, not sure if i could really add that much, maybe try contact @domingolopez72 and @absence on twitter first, those guys were the first ones to find about it, i think. And wasn´t one of the Vinegar Syndrome guys a regular commenter here?

  17. Oh, wow, i didn’t read A.L.F.s farewell before publishing, didn’t intended to provoke something like that, i’m sorry.

  18. Some days coming here is the most dramatic part of my week.

  19. Oh, wow, i didn’t read A.L.F.s farewell before publishing, didn’t intended to provoke something like that, i’m sorry.

    That’s on A.L.F., not you. You just wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting into.

    Everyone has different philosophies… Whereas I’m a “punish the artist but not the art” person (the artist may have destroyed lives, but the art enriched them. There’s a yin and yang to everything…), plus I’m old enough to remember a pre-internet time when it was impossible to know if “street punk #2” has a domestic violence rap sheet, therefore I really couldn’t base my viewing decisions on them (not to mention, the years have taught me that perhaps said rap sheet is a little more complicated than it initially seems. I do find it amusing that the ACAB set seems to believe all cops lie about absolutely everything EXCEPT domestic matters. But that’s another story…)

  20. This moment has provoked a lot of feelings in me which I may share in a few days when I have more time and am sure it’s not just a narcissistic self-indulgence in a thread dealing with far more important matters than anything I have to say (no “hot takes” or arguments, don’t worry), but for now, before I post more trivial shit about the symbolism about the American Express card in JASON LIVES or how the writer of THE NEW BLOOD seems like kind of a dick or whatever, whether they read this or not I just want to thank A.L.F. for his friendship and say that I will miss them and wish them the best from here. This has made me think about the impact of even well-intentioned, civil words exchanged online on sensitive issues can have on people, and I think is going to change them in a good way for me and I’m sure others here, so perhaps some good will come of this moment.

  21. 2 bombshells in the comments of a review of a restored and only partially finished B-Movie, is why things rarely get dull around here.

    Mario….echoing everything everyone else has said….Horrible and I sincerely hope this asshole gets not one iota of additional press. Ever. Except if it’s to inform the rest of us he’s getting life without parole.

    As for A.L.F…I have been a long time reader but only a recent commenter, but I always did enjoy his tangential trains of thoughts.

    Oh well….

  22. I realize buying NEW YORK NINJA in 2021 won’t put any money in the original abusers’ pockets. But I don’t think I can relax and enjoy a wacky so-bad-it’s-good romp knowing it was more or less just an Argo-style front for sex trafficking. That’s asking too much. Every time a young woman appeared onscreen, I’d be wondering what horrors befell her. It’s probably not gonna be a laff riot in that frame of mind. It’d probably be a different story if I saw the movie before I learned the truth.

    A.L.F, if you’re reading this, I hope you come back when you’re ready. You are weird and earnest and you clearly need a good place to vent. Thank you for your kind words but all I ever did was lend an ear. I’m happy to do it again whenever you want.

  23. I respect A.L.F.’s needs here and also Vern’s position. I think this comes down to the fact that each of us brings different personal experiences, life seasons/stages, and sensitivities/personalities to things. In my view, it’s okay for Vern to try to celebrate all the beautiful stuff, and it’s okay for A.L.F. to do what personal conscience (and trauma) dictate. Just one of those shitty, messy things.

    Don’t stop believing in and championing beauty, art, hope, and heroism. There are lots of all of the above that drew you to this, Vern. Your heart — and those of the more recent contributors — was in the best of places. If any badness irrevocably poisons every goodness, then everything is just fucked. I don’t think everything is fucked, I think the idea that everything is fucked is just a cognitive bias that is itself fucked.

  24. I wasn’t paying attention to this thread because I’ve been busy this week and now I see Shit Has Gone Down. A.L.F. if you’re still here, I appreciate the compliment and I hope you stick around. I’m so sorry for whatever you’ve had to endure that has made this topic so painful for you. Discovering more and more people in the movie industry are horrible, even monstrous, people has made the idea of separating the art from the artist a very complex and painful endeavor. We can only do our best in trying to navigate these things for ourselves. I think everyone here takes this seriously and thoughtfully but we are bound to disagree on the approach we are comfortable in taking. If you have to step away for your own well being I will only say I wish you the best and hope you are able to come back someday.

  25. Majestyk – It did not occur to me to question if this particular production was a front for something else. My understanding is that the allegations were that in the ’90s he recruited young women in Spain for an alleged martial arts movie that turned out to be porn. NEW YORK NINJA is not that. (Not trying to talk you into watching it, just clarifying why I defended watching it.)

  26. You watched and bolstered the movie in good faith, Vern, so I don’t think you have anything to defend. And maybe no one actually got trafficked on this set. I guess I just figure that nobody starts their sex crimes career with an international underage girl trafficking ring. You gotta work up to that. Based on your own description of this guy’s movies as little more than a scheme to put him in close proximity with as many attractive young women as possible, I’m gonna guess he’s got about a Rob Zombie movie’s worth of skeletons in his closet and I don’t think I need that kind of individual in my life in any capacity. I won’t judge anyone for doing the math differently.

  27. While I respect your decision, A.L.F., I hope you will come back at some point. If not (and you still read this), please know that you are a liked member of this little community that we have here and I wish you all the best.

  28. Funny, if you read this A.L.F., I was about to pick up our KNOCK OFF discussion by saying that I love Lou Reed’s work, but there’s a substantial body of evidence that says Reed was an asshole, and that’s another one of those things I’ve just had to learn to negotiate. Clearly, the situation here is a whole next level of bad, and part of me now feels bad dragging Lou Reed into the discussion. Anyway I have to respect your decision.

    What I do feel I know is that Vern’s promoting of this movie came, as ever, from a sincere place and out of love for this kind of film. Vern is not the problem.

  29. There’s now a statement on Vinegar Syndrome’s Facebook. They weren’t aware about any of this. The statement… downplays things considerably, to be charitable (I can’t see if anything’s clarified in the comments as there’s no freaking way I’m getting a facebook account). They’re within their right as this project has had no involvement from the man, it just would be really shit if VS got caught up in the backlash against Liu.
    I’ve asked them to review the newspaper articles in case they haven’t, which honestly is very possible; the whole sordid mess seems to be virtually unheard of outside of Spain, especially after more than 20 years. As Mario has pointed out, it might only be genre afficionados keeping the memory alive these days.

  30. Oh no. What you learn from the comments is that there are a whole lot of sorry shitbags who comment on Vinegar Syndrome posts on Facebook. Holy shit.

  31. Well, that was a disappointment.
    I also ended up writing an e-mail to Vinegar Syndrome after ALF posts, and i linked to them both the original newspapers and the blogposts that i posted here, telling them the same things i told you all. I told them that i don’t want them to cancel the release or anything, just to acknowledge it in some way but that posts it’s really misleading. “allegations of inappropriate conduct with actors” makes it sound like he touched actresses butts or something (which he also did, BTW), not that he was ARRESTED for HUMAN TRAFFICKING and UNDERAGE PORNOGRAPHY. It’s also really curious that VS posted that statement on Facebook just under their monthly newsletter, but not in any of their other social media or their official website, just the one that will be flooded with boomers complaining about “cancel culture”.
    Something that i think i didn’t make clear it’s that he was arrested with another 3 people and the second newspaper, from 1996, says: “The Tarragona Court yesterday sentenced a six-month fine, during which period it will pay a thousand pesetas a day in accordance with the new Penal Code, to Antonio Pérez Seguí from Barcelona for acting as an accessory to two crimes of sexual abuse of minors. The main accused and perpetrator of the abuses, denounced by six minors, is the Chinese John Chung Lian Liu, who is missing.
    The events date back to 1987, when John Chung arrived in Barcelona, where he commissioned Pérez to recruit young people, between 16 and 19 years old, under the pretext of turning them into movie stars. Ultimately, the girls, many of whom were minors, ended up in Taiwan to make pornographic films.”
    By which I mean that Liu was the ringleader and would have been convicted for sure, if he had not fled the country. (In some old forums people says that he taught Zen Kwon Do while he was in jail and thus reduce his preventive detention, which he used to escape during a permit, but i couldn’t find any official proof of this)
    I wrote all of this here because i’m a longtime reader of Vern, though i rarely has anything to add to the comments. Anyways, thanks to all of you, i don’t know what else to do.

  32. Shit like this is why you’ll never catch me being part of any kind of fan community. Scratch the surface and out cone the entitled man-babies who think empathy wants to take their toys away.

    You did everything you could, Mario. I’m proud to be part of this place where the exact opposite of the shameful sight I just witnessed can happen.

  33. Okay, my still warm takes and under-developed thoughts, with no particular essay-like cohesion intended or achieved …

    I don’t know if the Liu thing straight up ruins the film or not, but I think on the “it’s ruined” to “it’s fine” continuum, this one sits somewhere in the middling to iffy spectrum of “could watch for the cinema but would be somewhat taken out of things by this troubling knowledge.” I don’t have a great analogue or piece of case law, but the best examples I can come up with are things like Bill Cosby specials, Louis C.K. specials, anything Harvey Weinstein produced, shit Kevin Spacey was in, shit Byran Singer did, and Cannibal Holocaust. Most of those things I don’t really want to see, anyway — CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST not my kind of horror, and I always though Louis C.K. was gross. On the other hand, one of my favorite films is Weinstein-era Miramax, and I haven’t seen anything Spacey’s done in a minute, but I’m a big fan of USUAL SUSPECTS (double creeper whammy!) Honestly, I could watch ROUNDERS and not even think about Harvey Weinstein, but if I watched USUAL SUSPECTS, I’d probably have some moments of “Some creepers were enriched in the making of this film.”

    The right move for VS would be to donate a portion of any profits to a reputable charity, put out a less euphemistically disingenuous press release that is transparent about this guy’s shit (and VS’s own awareness / intentions), and just generally commit to taking an account of how this happened and how they might approach similar situations in the future.

    I’m honestly a little unsure about what the ethics would be if one were to make this film with full knowledge of this shit (i.e., would that make it an ethical non-starter?). I thought it was interesting that Ridley Scott was perfectly comfortable completely wiping Kevin Spacey out of that one film at the very last minute (#wedemandthespaceycut, lol). Also, did you read that story about what Ridley Scott pulled off, and then how-the-fuck-is-he-still-even-alive-and-working (at that time) Christopher Plummer got nominated for a fucking Oscar in the role. Not sure how much of that was box office / audience calculation vs. ethical heroism, but damned impressive either way. I guess if it were me, and I’d known about Liu, I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing it. But if they truly didn’t know, and now it’s a thing, it’s an interesting question of where to go from here.

    I think it’s some awesome citizen web activism on Mario’s part here. That’s cool. I’m not personally big on pressure campaigns and boycotts and demands and shit — not in the sense that I am against them but in the sense that I’m not the type to spearhead one — but I think it would be good for them (VS) to be pressured to take a bit less of a “a bummer, but not our fucking problem” stand. Honestly, I would not have watched this film anyway, so, like a Louis C.K. special, it’s not something where I have to personally struggle in how to approach it. But for someone who is invested in this space and VS, etc., I’d be frustrated with the response.

  34. It’s easy for me to take the high moral ground and condemn VS’s response, but then I haven’t spent a whole lot of time, money and effort on the restoration project the douchebag in question isn’t in any way involved with or will see a penny of. Any way you slice it, though… yeah, that’s a seriously weak and disingenuous response. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt- maybe they just haven’t looked into it, or haven’t taken it seriously due to the language barrier and it all being so obscure; Or given that it’s a small company, this may not have gone past the, I dunno, community manager. They don’t have the obligation to do anything, of course, but it wouldn’t reflect well on anyone to look into the information available and then choose to downplay it like this.
    Personally I’m all for separating art from the artist (with big caveats arising from when you’re actually giving them money or legitimacy), but I also think everyone should be aware of what they’re getting into.
    It also strikes me as short-sighted from a practical point of view: the higher Liu’s profile is raised, the likelier all this will come to light.

    Mario – yeah, I replied with some more detail too after seeing their update. Can’t see it going anywhere from here, at least on VS’s side. Thanks again for bringing (and following on) this up.

  35. I’m not sure if their post was intentionally minimizing it or if they were being careful not to overstate it – as a non-Spanish speaker, the links are very vague and though I think it sounds like something much worse than their statement implies, I really have no idea and would be more careful about it if I was the company not trying to sink their once in a lifetime dream project right before releasing it.

    At any rate, do not read the replies to the Facebook post if you don’t want to feel like enjoying the releases of Vinegar Syndrome gives you something in common with the absolute worst shitbag motherfuckers on earth.

  36. Do not read the replies to any Facebook post. It’s just a never-ending feedback loop of outrage, and Zuckerberg is laughing all the way to the bank. Deleting my Facebook account was the best social-media-related decision I ever made.

  37. I tend to become a member of communitys for obscure movies and TV shows I like, and more often than not I leave them again after a few days. But once in a while I get my faith in humanity somewhat restored and hit upon a nice group of people. Not the quality I find here on Vern’s sight, but cool enough to give me some new insights and perspectives. Face is what it is, but with a little effort you can groom it into what suits you. But sure, shitbag motherfuckers are everywhere.

  38. I still think Twitter is worse. At least Facebook has a pretext that it’s supposed to be rooted in connections you’ve made in the real world at some point in your life. Twitter seems partially designed for you to search out comments from people you’ve never met so you can argue with them. I know this is a huge oversimplification but the world would probably be better with neither.

  39. Kind of weary of reopening an old wound, but has anyone else noticed that NEW YORK NINJA keeps being covered by YouTube channels and other outlets as this “amazing discovery” with no mention of Liu’s disgraced background? Is it just that we’re a small enough community that comments similar to MarioSB’s aren’t being buried under a mountain of “lol 80s Ninja” comments, or has this somehow been effectively (in all senses) swept under the rug? Not sure if we can or should be doing anything about it exactly but, just wonder if anyone else had noticed.

  40. For what it’s worth, it took some effort for me to find this comment thread and I only did because I was curious about Liu’s involvement in the movie, since he didn’t seem to be credited at all after watching the movie. Several pages of Google results took me to a Reddit post and this thread was only referenced in the comments there, then from here it’s an old Spanish-language blog post that doesn’t translate well, which links to the original 1991 news article, and that news article is a broken link as of 2023 (I was able to pull it up with some further persistence on Archive.org). It also probably doesn’t help that some of the biographical information about Liu in the 1991 news article (year of birth, country of origin) doesn’t match any of the other bios on the web right now. I can see how a lazier or less persistent person couldn’t be bothered to get this far. I definitely don’t think it’s being swept under the rug as much as most people just aren’t that interested in the people who made the movies they’ve watched, especially what is basically being treated as a novelty like this.

  41. Welcome to the world of movie archeology, Some Guy.

  42. So Vinegar Syndrome launched their latest ‘Half Way To Black Friday’ sale, and there among their surprise new releases is NINJA IN THE CLAWS OF THE CIA, directed by and starring John Liu!

    What could their motivation be with this? Are they hoping the discussion of Liu’s alleged crimes is so under-the-radar that it won’t kick up dust or impact sales figures? Or are they hoping the release might bring the discussion further into the spotlight as a way of tracking him down and bringing him to justice? Given their Facebook response to the allegations when there NEW YORK NINJA box was released, I’m leaning toward the former, which could be troubling.

  43. dreadguacamole

    May 27th, 2023 at 6:27 am

    Ugh. Could be one hand not talking to the other, could be them choosing not to take seriously evidence that’s so localized to another country and hard to get to (as Some Guy mentioned above) and… it could be them deciding to go ahead anyways (they may have bought the rights to all his movies at once). Any of these are kind of understandable but yeah, really troubling, especially if all they’ve done is acknowledged the allegations in that half-assed facebook post. Would need to see if they mention any of it on the new material.

    *If* it’s true that Liu and his associates aren’t receiving any money or residuals from this, directly or indirectly (which… opens a whole ‘nother can of worms!) then the ideal solution would be to send/contract a local documentary crew to Spain, dig out what happened and release the resulting doc alongside the movie; There will still be families of victims, records in law enforcement, locals and possibly even people involved in the trafficking available. It’d be risky and expensive, but even without all the baggage I’d still be a LOT more interested in that documentary than on another Godfrey-ho-style halfway incompetent 80s ninjasploitation movie, no matter how accidentally entertaining it may be.
    And if they dig up nothing/disprove the allegations, they could still use the material on a more straightforward doc about Liu; as ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS proves, docs about cult directors can be pretty entertaining in their own right, if done by people passionate enough – which Vinegar Syndrome seems to have in spades.

    But yeah, given the severity of the allegations (and the fact that there’s an actual newspaper account of it, even when it’s hard to get to – that’s more proof than many allegations get) makes all of this pretty damn ugly.

  44. I’d be curious to see if any of the supplements on the NINJA disc — particularly the commentary — at least acknowledge the issues surrounding Liu and his colleagues, even if they have to emphasize the incomplete nature of it. The people involved in the production of supplements for VS are obviously aware of this — the Facebook post proves that — so at least addressing it via the supplements would be a start. And you’re right, there’s probably an excellent featurette in this story if it can be corroborated, if not a full length globetrotting documentary. John Liu might wish that never happens, but too bad.

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