Once in a while, a movie comes along that are so different, innovative and absurd that it defies description. Norwegian Ninja is clearly an example of that.
Some topics are just too big, too serious or too boring to make films about. The real-life case of Arne Treholt, a diplomat convicted to 20 years in prison for providing top secret Norwegian documents to the Russians, may qualify on all accounts. His work, life and crime has never been filmed. But he did give permission to make this genre-crossing semi-mockumentary; a fictional truth-bending time-twisting action spoof about the Royal Norwegian Ninja Squad, created and protected by King Olav V and led by Arne Treholt. While neither horror nor fantasy (nor action flick in the traditional sense), the story is so absurd and twisted and meta that it’s hard to not look upon the film as “fantasy” – after all, it is based on a book called Ninja Technique 2: Invisibility in combat and set in a parallell past universe.
Of course, there never was such a squad, or any other group like it, but in the universe of Norwegian Ninja (original title; Arne Treholt og Ninjatroppen) this secret group of specially trained peasants not only protected Norwegian interests, but also directly had a hand in several real-life incidents that most Norwegians remember from TV. Set in the 1980s, Norwegian Ninja compresses time and shows us what the Ninja squad was, how it operated and what its impact was on Norwegian politics, security affairs and national industry. Everything is “evidenced” by real TV news footage mixed into the fictional story, leading up to the capture of Treholt at the airport. While Arne Treholt himself never achieved hero status in Norway and possibly did not deserve it, he is portrayed as an action hero in this film and this is where it begins to feel absurd. While Treholt was a spy, real-life spies were not like James Bond; most of the time, they simply had access to documents, and action hero is the opposite of how Norwegians look upon Treholt. But here he is the good guy, collaborating with King Olav the 5th (real-life King of Norway from 1957 – 1991). As if this is not weird enough, the entire film is jampacked with 80s retro imagery, props, old-school graphics and special effects. Intentionally hokey, cheap-looking, referential and self concious. Awesome!
Norwegian Ninja is not just one of the most innovative entertainment films from Scandinavia, it is also great fun and succeeds in every conceptual department, as well as being technically spot on. It’s quite possible that foreigners without all the Norwegian references will not “get” the film (also because it is not an hommage to grindhouse films and not a traditional ninja actioner, so it can’t be viewed from that perspective either) and there are in fact some plot holes (that can be easily overlooked, thanks to everything else going on) but even if you only like 1980s video aesthetics, you will find plenty to love here. The film’s only relative in Norway is possibly Svidd Neger, so if you want to see how vivid imagination nunchucks the crap out of big budgets and CGI overload, buy Norwegian Ninja today!
Rated 9 of 10.
Directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling.