As your standard self-centered American, I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about Norway. I know it’s cold there, I know that Minnesota named it’s football team after the country’s most famous inhabitants, and I know that ninja assassins are not it’s biggest export (I assume that would be fish of some kind, followed closely by bikini-clad supermodels). Other than that, I know Norway is little more than one of those countries up by Sweden and Finland and maybe Belgium, if anyone actually knew where that was located. So going into Norwegian Ninja, all I knew was that the very concept of a Norwegian ninja was funny in and of itself. And I was right, as I, an overly-confident American, knew I would be.
The film begins in an undetermined time period, but, based upon the fashion and technology displayed, it appears to be the late-1970s or early 80s. We’re introduced to Arne Treholt, the head of Norway’s Ninjatroppen (in American, that translates to Ninja Force!). Treholt and his non-Asian ninja warriors reside on Grassy Island, one of the half-billion islands off the coast of Norway, a place blanketed in wide meadows, glorious mountain ranges, and where the ninjas live in absolute harmony with every type of animal you can possibly imagine. Ninja Force is a group of hand-picked commandos who use the ancient ways of the Far East to complete their mission of keeping Norway safe from enemies, both foreign and domestic.
After we’ve met the team, Ninja Force heads out on a mission in coordination with Stay Behind, a shadowy NATO organization whose official mission is to act as a lookout for any Communist factions that might try to gain a foothold in non-Commie countries. However, some members of Stay Behind, including Otto Meyer, a former applicant to Ninja Force that didn’t make the cut, have a different agenda in mind. They plan to carry out terrorist attacks on their own soil and then blame them on Soviet cells in order to drum up voter support for stronger anti-Communist government policies.
When Treholt refuses to go along with their scheme, Meyer threatens him with trumped up charges of treason, which could put Treholt in prison for 20 years. When he doesn’t back down, Meyer ups the ante by trying to pin Stay Behind’s terrorist activities on Treholt and his ninjas. Knowing that Meyer will stop at nothing to disgrace Ninja Force, their only option is to fight back.
Norwegian Ninja is a very unique film. It’s not slapstick or a full-on, wink-wink spoof like Austin Powers. There are a few ridiculous moments (Ninja Force uses smoke bombs to appear/disappear from impossible locations, and Treholt uses powers akin to The Force to pull objects to his hands), but for the most part it’s dry humor that gets laughs from the film’s tone. The actors play it completely straight in a manner comparable to Black Dynamite, but the film is not as intentionally unprofessional. In a lot of ways it feels like the kind of movie you’d get if Wes Anderson made an action movie, minus the complex family relationships and the anachronistic retro stylings (this is actually supposed to take place in the past, not just look like it to be quirky). For example, the film uses miniatures for its establishing location shots and makes no bones about it. When a new object is introduced — like the Ninjatroppen Starter Kit — we cut away to the object spinning on a pedestal under a spotlight as text describing it floats off to the right. And despite being an action film, the photography is beautiful, with really great lighting and nice directorial choices from first time writer/director, Thomas Cappelen Malling. Long story short, it’s a different kind of action/comedy that is played for a different kind of laugh. You’ll get a kick out of it no matter what language you speak and no matter how much you know about Norway.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of this movie. I highly recommend you check it out. But let me tell you why it has become my current cinematic obsession:
It’s all true.
Well, from a certain perspective, anyway.
You see, Norwegian Ninja is a parody revisionist history film. Arne Treholt was a real guy – a Norwegian diplomat and journalist, making him quite possibly the most boring man on the planet. So the idea that he was actually the head of a covert ninja strike team is the equivalent of Al Gore being Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe. Treholt was actually convicted of espionage and sentenced to 20 years in prison for sharing secrets with the Soviet Union and Iraq. But in Norwegian Ninja, rather than a public traitor, he’s made out to be a secret hero who was setup by a corrupt government. Otto Meyer, Treholt’s nemesis in the film, was, in reality, a Norwegian businessman who was found to have an arsenal of weapons hidden in his home. He claimed the weapons were supplied to him by Norwegian intelligence agencies, leading many to believe he was the head of the regional Stay Behind operation, which, yes, was also a real thing (Google “Operation Gladio”). There are other examples of real Norwegian Cold War history scattered throughout, usually integrated as newsreel footage from the time, but thanks to the film we’re finally getting the “true” story behind these events. The more you dig around on Wikipedia, the more you realize how fascinating and brilliant this film with a silly title is. I mean, there aren’t too many films we review around here that require footnotes for you to fully appreciate.
In summary, come for the funny idea of ninjas in Norway, but stay for the way too smart premise and storyline. Not only will you be entertained with ninja shenanigans, but you just might learn something about Norwegian history. However, I still can’t verify that fish are their number one export; it could very well be supermodels.
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Written by Rob Lammle (@spacemonkeyx)
Rob became a geek at a very young age. Growing up on a farm, with the nearest kid his age living five miles away, Rob had a lot of time to watch movies, read comic books, and play with his Star Wars action figures. He now finds time to write for a few… More »
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