"Norwegian Ninja" is a hallucinogenic reinterpretation of Scandinavian history -- and it is utterly awesome
When you review straight-to-DVD movies, you see a lot trailers built around Kimbo Slice fighting Rampage Jackson in a cage intercut with shaky cam footage of strippers working the pole. But every so often I run across one full of nothing but sheer, unadulterated WTF. If trailers like these are the precious metals of the video world, then the one for “Norwegian Ninja” is pure gold valued at nearly $1,900 an ounce.
In a little under two minutes, the “Norwegian Ninja” trailer combines the Scandinavian martial arts madness that the title suggests and footage of miniatures set ablaze with flames that look like they’re coming out of a Zippo lighter. And there are crazy-looking amphibious assault vehicles and sheep — lots and lots of sheep — and a synth score that resembles the repetitive triumphalist theme to the Chuck Norris epic “Delta Force,” only more somber and European. “Be one of us,” a stern blond man wearing glasses and a black karate uniform urges, “Be a Ninja.” I am so there.
With “Norwegian Ninja,” first-time writer-director Thomas Cappelen Malling somehow, against all odds, delivers a film that’s even stranger than its boffo trailer suggests. Malling bases his hallucinatory mishmash on the biggest case of espionage and treason in his country’s history. Arne Treholt was a Norwegian diplomat who was busted for passing secrets to the Soviets in 1984, but here he is reimagined as the patriotic commander of a crack team of ninjas dedicated to guarding “the Norwegian way of life.”
“No one will occupy us,” the heroic Treholt vows through subtitles, “neither Russians nor Americans.”
As it turns out, protecting Norway’s “sovereignty and self-sufficiency” seems to involve lots of philosophical discussions held around campfire barbecues, all in an island compound that looks like a petting zoo and is protected by Feng Shui. “System disharmony halts the flow of energy, slowing down intruders with illness and bad luck,” Treholt explains. When the ninjas do go out on missions to find marauding Russian subs or stop oil derricks from blowing up, they always seem to come up short. Mads Ousdal of Norway’s National Theater holds the lunacy together by playing Treholt with utter seriousness — even when he’s appearing and disappearing in puffs of smoke like a low-rent magician or flicking cigarettes into his mouth with action hero aplomb.
Squaring off against Treholt is Hans Otto Meyer (Jon Øigarden), another shadowy figure lifted from the annals of Norwegian conspiracy theories. Here, as well as certain corners of Wikipedia, Meyer works for Stay Behind, a CIA-backed covert op that stages train station bombings in Italy and other acts of terror all around Europe, and then blames it all on Soviet partisans to get these countries to allow U.S. bases on their soil. “Would you kill one person to save a thousand?” the Stay Behind field manual reads during a sequence of visual exposition. “Then you’d kill 4,500 to save all of Norway,” is the grim answer. Meyer even resembles G. Gordon Liddy and has a framed 8×10 of Ronald Reagan on his desk as he plots plane crashes and sabotage to “scare voters into the lap of the powers that be” and demands “war against an innocent scapegoat.”
The influence of Wes Anderson’s kooky visual and storytelling style is undeniable here (especially “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”), but the seriousness of “Norwegian Ninja’s” source material has it sharing common, albeit less bloodstained, ground with Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” (2009). While Tarantino clings to the “Dirty Dozen” paradigm of a band of gun-toting sociopaths shooting their way to freedom, Malling shows its absurdity by infusing the mundane and somber world of espionage with ridiculous amounts of hyper-macho super spy mythos. The real Treholt was just a bureaucrat attempting to pass some folders pulled from a ubiquitous gray file cabinet to other bureaucrats over a brunch of sausages. In the end, he was apprehended by airport police.
To illustrate his point, Malling intersperses scenes of ninja ass-kicking with old television news reports on the real Treholt and Meyer. And while this may be a silly movie, this disregard for nationalistic masculine fantasy goes at least a short way towards explaining Norway’s sober response to the recent massacre. After the attacks, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for “more democracy, more openness and greater political participation” — a stark contrast to American politicians’ response to 9/11.
“A real ninja wins without fighting,” the fictional Treholt tells us in between explosions that look like sparklers. Now there’s a piece of chop-socky zen to think about.
More Related Stories
- Mary Karr: "Infinite Jest" was unkind
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- J.J. Abrams reveals deleted shower scene with Benedict Cumberbatch
- Is the anti-gay backlash on?
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11