Neal Molyneaux reviews Norwegian Ninja, the new film from the producers of Dead Snow.
Released By: eOne
Price: £12.99 approx
Availability: 18th April
Norwegian and Ninja are not two words you often see together on a printed page – they’re certainly not two words you expect to see as the title of a movie… Then again, Norwegian Ninja is not your everyday action flick… The film posits that Arne Treholt – who was in real life a former Norwegian social democrat politician and diplomat who, in the 1980s, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for high treason and espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union before being pardoned and is now living in exile on Cyprus – was in fact Norway’s top Ninja and headed up a secret Ninja society endorsed by the King of Norway to carry out counter espionage. It’s a leap, but there you go – as the basis for a movie, you could do much worse…
Shot in a faux ‘80s documentary style by the folks responsible for bringing Nazi Zombies back to life in Dod Sno [Dead Snow], Norwegian Ninja takes everything which was cool about old-school Ninja films, amps it up to the max, runs it through a filter of Norwegian-ness, eightifies it and then sets it loose on your screen to run rampant in a shower of bad hair and shurikens. Mads Oussdal stars as Treholt – no politician or diplomat, but a key player in Norway’s security at a time when fear of a Soviet invasion was very real. Treholt is a proper Ninja – he can teleport in a cloud of smoke, throw pointy things at enemies – hell, he can even throw clothes at naked people with such accuracy that they are suddenly dressed… He and his Ninjas live on a Ninja colony based on an island in a fjord where they are protected by an esoteric form of Feng Shui that strikes potential attackers with instant bad luck.
Their idyllic Ninja existence is threatened by a plot which sees his arch rival in the intelligence service, Meyer [also a real life character, caught with a secret stash of weapons once], plot to destabilise Norway by launching terrorist attacks that will be blamed on Russia, thus allowing the US and the CIA to gain a greater foothold in Norway. Treholt and his Ninja force is the only thing standing in the way of such a heinous plot and, after the King despatches them to investigate the alleged Soviet activity, Meyer launches a counter operation to frame Treholt as a spy.
This film is as mad as a box of frogs… The idea of a Norwegian Ninja force is strange enough in itself, but, when combined with the documentary styled filming and matter-of-fact acting, Norwegian Ninja almost becomes weirdly believable. This spell is then sharply broken by an incongruous stop-motion scene using miniature models or a vastly over-cranked driving scene… Added to that is the rarely [outside of Norway – and certainly not often in action films] heard strains of Norwegian dialogue that serve to add an extra layer of surrealism to the whole…
Surreal and absurd though both the premise and setting might be, the potentially Python-esque excesses are, for the most part, reined in by the director, Thomas Cappelen Malling. An excellent cast also gift the film with some likeable, oddball characters to inhabit this strange world of Shinobi subterfuge and Cold War shenanigans. Malling’s work here has been likened to that of Wes Anderson [think Life Aquatic] and the comparison is very apt – both share a similar eye for eccentricity and the inherent humour therein.
A bizarre but thoroughly original piece of film-making, Norwegian Ninja deserves every chance to become the massive cult classic it ought to be. One can only wonder what the real-life Arne Treholt would make of it…