Back to Scandinavia for this week’s WTF Sunday flick. For the title alone, this is not to be missed.
Funnier than it first seems.
The as-yet-untold true story of Norwegian diplomat Arne Treholt, convicted of high treason in 1985 after apparently selling secrets to the Soviet Union and Iraq. As it turns out, Treholt was not a spy, but a patriot and the commander of a top secret Ninja Force working directly for King Olav to protect Norway from her enemies, both seen and unseen…
Norwegian Ninja is the first film from writer/director Thomas Cappelen Malling, and is a loose adaptation of his own 2006 book Ninja Technique II: Invisibility in Combat (I haven’t read it yet myself, but I’m thinking it’s more Max Brooks than Dan Brown – no bad thing really). The gag of the book was that it was allegedly written by Treholt himself back in 1978 and only recently made available to the general public. The same gag underpins every frame of this flick.
Stage actor Mads Ousdal plays Treholt as a cross between Bruce Lee and Bruce from HR; a rather dull looking, bespectacled, middle-aged white man who can kill you 101 different ways before you can even blink. His straight-faced performance sets the tone for the absurdity this film is going to reach, and all the other actors play along. Jon Øigarden is another stand-out as Otto Meyer, leader of the conspirators (and another real-life person)
Malling has shot the movie to feel like it was made back in 1984, particularly when it comes to the special effects. Here you will find all the classics: rear projection; miniatures; blue screen matte pictures; even models on strings. These all come together to create a sense of nostalgia that really helps sell the mood. Combine this with the complete absurdity of the story and you get a Cold War spy thriller unlike any other. Of course all gimmicks get old eventually, but this one only sticks around for less than 80 minutes. The film isn’t long enough for the gag to wear too thin.
Norwegian Ninja could rival Zucker/Abrams/Zucker (in their day) when it comes to taking refuge in audacity. If it isn’t a feng shui security forcefield then it’s a ninja appearing at a restaurant booth in a puff of smoke, but underneath all that Malling is actually making a point about Norwegian sovereignty at the height of the Cold War, and how a country is better served by befriending its neighbours instead of the alternative. The film has just as much scorn for American warmongering as it does for Soviet communism. In fact, the bad guys of the story are the instigators of a NATO Stay Behind plan (modelled on Operation Gladio) who intend to carry out acts of terrorism in Norway to frame the USSR and increase public support to make it the Tepid War.
Is the flick ambitious? Certainly. Successful? That one’s a bit harder to answer. If you have problems wrapping your head around all the throwbacks and the deliberately crap effects and fight scenes, then you will have a problem with the whole film. If, on the other hand, you can appreciate it when a filmmaker goes a little further out there than usual, then step right up. I have a winner for you.