STUDIO: Dark Sky (BUY IT FROM CHUD.COM)
RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes
- TV Interview
- Promo Spots
Thomas Cappelen Malling (director).
Mads Ousdal, Jon Øigarden, Linn Stokke, Amund Maarud (stars).
Thomas Cappelen Malling (writer).
The ravings of a lunatic? Filmmaking perfection? The best cult movie in years? A dash of all three, maybe a heaping spoonful if you’re mindset is right.
In future years when people are asked “when was it that you first saw Norwegian Ninja“, people will be able to pinpoint that date as they do the births and deaths of loved ones, tragic events in history, and when they discovered their first gray pube.
It’s that colossal an experience.
Well maybe not, but Norwegian Ninja is a special movie. A very special movie. Watching it I felt a very rare sensation, one that I distinctly marry to a few other movie-watching experiences in my life. I saw Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste way before most people in North America, having hunted down a VHS bootleg at a fantasy convention shortly after it reached video in its native country. We sat there in front of the television (the other two guys who now are a very successful television screenwriter and a member of the Department of Justice stationed in Germany, which should indicate the impact) mesmerized by the freshness of the filmmaking and the ballsy confidence on display by a filmmaker to watch. It was a perfect blend of old and new. Weirdly enough another film which connected me on a similar level was Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (and much more so with his Fantastic Mr. Fox, a movie which now resides in my top ten of all time). It just seemed like the doors of filmmaking had opened just a crack wider to allow a little more of that golden light in.
Norwegian Ninja feels like an action/espionage film forged out of a similar fire. It’s so out there, so brash in its convicition, and so willing to bounce between inventive filmmaking and goofy techniques that it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. There are some really fun and clever uses of craft here and taken at face value it showcases a very interesting foreign filmmaker to watch but where the movie really shines is in its willingness to go way over the deep end. Models which are obviously models. Very analog approaches to special effects. Delightfully old fashioned computer screens and tech. It’s both playful and respectful towards the old school, and the balance is phenomenal. This is a period movie (taking place during the Cold War) but it’s not of the precious and showy approach to retro a lot of recent ‘Grindhouse’ films have embodied. This feels in many ways like a film pulled from a time capsule.
But all of that is moot if it’s not funny. And fun. Norwegian Ninja is both.
Filmed for around two million American dollars, the film is the debut of writer Thomas Cappelen Malling. His satirical alternate history book/combat manual of real-life spy and traitor Arne Treholt posited that the man was not a traitor but rather a ninja and leader of a secret fighting force. It was a hit and Norway’s filmmaking powers that be granted the man the tools to make a movie version. Even though the author had never even tried to make a movie previously. The result is an absurdist kitchen sink masterpiece that somehow manages to feature motorcycle submarines, people having clothing thrown onto them, lynxes, and mind powers NOT be the most fun parts of the movie. In many ways the lack of planning and savvy behind the lens is why it feels so fresh. It’s as much a distillation and regurgitation of pop culture (in this case circa the 1970’s and 80’s) as any major geek benchmarks but there’s an honesty and tenderness to it all that amplifies the jokes and softens the rough edges.
Arne Treholt is a really fun character, especially played with the conviction Mads Ousdal invests in him. It’s like having Russell Crowe playing Nick Rivers in Top Secret!. The film begins with Treholt being incarcerated for treason and quickly introduces us to his team of ninjas as they train on a secret island where they learn techniques, hang out with animals (hilarious), and engage in all sorts of activities. To become one of Treholt’s finest is to undergo many trials. Luckily as an audience, we get to see one and it doesn’t disappoint. Flying is involved. Clothes being thrown onto a human as well.
Of course, as is the case with most films about Norwegian Ninjas, it’s not all fun and games. It’s the Cold War and spies are everywhere. What unfolds is a very formula plot that is executed straightfaced and breezes by to a fun conclusion that ties up the behind the scenes story of what really happened to lead to the arrest of Treholt. Sacrifices were made. People died, and sneaky ninjas did sneaky work in the night.
It’s just so damn fun watching it happen. The film loses a little of its tempo in the middle but for the most part I can’t endorse this film enough. It’s a celebration of filmmaking and freedom and such a nice antidote to the bullshit we’re given as moviegoers.
See it. Buy it. Share it. Gift it.
KEEPER, RENTER, or AVOIDER?
Keeper. Watch it with your best friends over many drinks and fall a little in love with Norway.
It’s one of those rare hidden flicks that will at the worst provide a couple of hours of truly counter counterprogramming and at best add another staple to the rotation amidst other great cult flicks.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars