A scene from “New York Ninja,” playing Friday at the Apohadion in Portland. Photos courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome Pictures/Abraxas

It takes a lot these days to get me to actually attend a movie in person. I’ve (largely) resisted the lure of two years worth of big, visually stunning spectacles. Sorry, “Dune,” “Tenet” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the sad fact is that I’ve resigned myself to watching even the most cinematic works at home, at least until the unpleasantness is well and truly over (which it is, empirically, not).

But I might go to see “New York Ninja” on Friday at the Apohadion Theater.

Never heard of “New York Ninja”? Don’t beat yourself up – virtually nobody has. In fact, “New York Ninja” barely exists.

Brought to us by the fine, fine folks at Portland’s Apohadion Theater, “New York Ninja” is a brand new entry in the “so-bad-it’s-good” genre of movies. You know, the sort of film where the entertainment value exists in inverse proportion to the amount of filmmaking skill on display. Others in the genre include the sordid likes of “The Room,” “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” “Miami Connection” and (the unrelated to “New York Ninja”) “Samurai Cop.” Movies where what’s on the screen evokes squeals of wonder and delight that such an incompetent mess ever made it to any screen, anywhere.

Of course, you can watch bad movies for fun on your own. (God knows I do, but I’m a hopeless case.) But the true joy in watching a film like “New York Ninja” or the entire oeuvre of Las Vegas auteur Neil Breen (look him up, I dare you) is in the sharing. Shows like “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and podcasts like “How Did This Get Made?,” “The Flop House” and Portland’s own “Fun Box Monster Podcast” amp up the fun by riffing with some like-minded pals, the unanswerable questions posed in every frame of a bargain basement dud like “Manos: The Hands of Fate” inspiration for contagious and participatory mockery.

Now, is this fair to the no-doubt hard-working filmmakers and actors involved in “New York Ninja”? Probably not. Goodness knows I respect anybody able to pull together the will and resources to actually produce a finished film. And yet, the true “so-bad-it’s-good” film is so misguided, so packed with inconceivably bad ideas, and executed with such breathtaking inelegance that it takes on a life the poor filmmakers never could have imagined.


It actually becomes entertaining. Even beloved.

Enter “New York Ninja.” Shot in 1984 by minor Taiwanese martial arts actor John Liu, this gritty tale of “Death Wish”-style revenge (in ninja garb) was never actually completed. Found rotting in film cans in 2021 by the other fine, fine folks at home video restoration heroes Vinegar Syndrome (named for the odor of film left rotting in cans for decades), the film was turned over to director Kurtis M. Spieler. Spieler, sensing a particular sort of cinematic goldmine, pored over the six to eight hours of raw footage (bereft of sound, storyboards or any sort of editing) and hired beloved B-movie veteran actors like Don “The Dragon” Wilson (“Bloodfist”), Cynthia Rothrock (“China O’Brien”), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”), Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”) and Leon Isaac Kennedy (“Penitentiary”) to dub the voices of a cast who, apart from Liu, are all but lost to time. (Seriously, nobody’s tracked down their names.)

Fights in “New York Ninja” consist of the hero standing in the center of a mob of bad guys.

The resulting film is a hot 93-minute mess of then-popular ninja antics (“Ninja III: The Domination” is playing in the film’s decrepit Times Square), nonsensical plot twists (in addition to the muggers that stalk literally every street corner, there’s a plutonium-addicted serial killer and sex trafficker – who may be working for Interpol?), and some of the creakiest fight choreography outside of a grade-school production of “The Karate Kid.” Star/director/visionary Liu is a lithe little guy, and he sure can fill out a floppy ninja outfit while standing on one leg. His many (many) fights consist of the traditional martial arts strategy, where our hero stands in the center of a mob of bad guys who all patiently wait their turn to get kicked in the kisser. So far, so normal for a bad movie.

But you really have to see “New York Ninja” to comprehend the earnest awfulness at play here. New director Spieler’s cut wouldn’t have been the same as Liu’s, to be fair. But, with the footage he had to work with, it’s unlikely that Spieler did any violence to Liu’s vision of a New York City hellhole plagued by gangs cobbled together from other, much better movies. Apart from “Death Wish’s” roving, surprisingly multicultural thugs, look for “The Warriors” (all thugs must wear makeup and masks), “A Clockwork Orange” (codpieces everywhere) and maybe a little bit of Village People.

Our titular ninja uses all the traditional ninja tricks. You know, like ceramic eggs? That sort-of explode in a puff of debilitating chalk? (While “New York Ninja” hasn’t yet accumulated a “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-esque chorus of audience participation, shouting out “Egg!” every time NYN goes to that well all but guarantees mass laryngitis.) Meanwhile, the cops are comically useless, the female hero gets abducted about every 10 minutes, a press conference with the mayor (of New York City) is attended by three people, and when cornered, our hero employs the most lethal ninja tactic of all by running the film backward so he can leap out of frame. And he needs it, as our hero is stopped in his tracks by a guy with a gun so many times, it’s truly not a great advertisement for ninja-ing as a whole. It’s a hoot. (Here I will warn viewers that there’s a lot – I mean a lot – of implied and attempted sexual assault in the movie. As ineptly as they’re staged, these scenes might be a deal-breaker for some.)

My relationship with the “so-bad-it’s-good” movie is an affectionate one. I watched “New York Ninja” at home, alone, and could only nod along in admiration at Liu’s two separate wails of “Whhhhyyyyyy!!!???” to the clouds. And you can see it on Turner Classic Movies (which, thankfully, has an elastic definition of the word “classic”). But a movie like this can only truly be enjoyed in a crowd. A rowdy, happy, vocal crowd of like-minded film fanatics and assorted weirdos. Luckily for Portland, The Apohadion is just the sort of place where such people congregate, and where long-forgotten treasures of trash like “New York Ninja” are brought to us in all their bafflingly bananas glory.

Watch “New York Ninja” at 7 p.m. Friday, I dare you. Tickets are $8 and can be bought through theapohadiontheater.com or at the door, with a Q&A following the film from director/editor Kurtis Spieler. Apohadion policy requires masks and proof of vaccination for all events, because The Apohadion is responsible and not stupid.

Dennis Perkins lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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