DVD Review: Norwegian Ninja

Hi all…

First, let me say that I usually love parody and films that are over the top. When I saw Dead Snow last year, I was overjoyed. Nazis and zombies in the snow seemed a perfect fit, and Norweigian director Tommy Wirkola treated that combination with the humor it so richly deserved.

So when I saw a press release for Norwegian Ninja from the producers of Dead Snow, I hoped it might have the same energy and humor of the Nazi zombie movie. I was very wrong. And I won’t say that it was a bad film, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t at all what I expected.

Norwegian Ninja promotional shot, showing Jon ...
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In 1984, Arne Treholt – a high-ranking Norwegian diplomat – was tried and convicted as a spy for the Soviet Union. This much appears to be true. Norwegian Ninja takes this premise and explores a bizarre “What if?” scenario that shows Treholt as a hero, not a traitor. And in this bizarre alternate universe he was the leader of a secret group of ninjas working for Norway’s King Olav. And to top it all off, there’s a secret CIA-led group running around the world performing terrorist acts and blaming them on the Soviets to encourage the eventual destruction of the USSR.

Though I found certain scenes funny, I’m honestly not sure how much of the film is meant to be amusing. Some parts hit me in the vein of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me while others hit me like the old action movies of the 1970s like Death Wish with Charles Bronson. The use of ninja abilities (like appearing and disappearing in a cloud of smoke), feng shui (as a magical shield to keep unwanted visitors from their island) and enlightenment (shown by an absurd inner light glowing from the person’s head) were mixed with eastern philosophy, explosives, and a bizarre ideological battle between hidden para-military operations…

As icing on this strange cake, the whole film is tinted to make it look like it was made in the 1970s or 1980s, with the early washed out colors in every scene. There were multiple scenes that used obvious models (for the ninja island and their mountain hideaway), which might have been meant in homage to those 1970s action films but I just found them obvious and a bit jarring.

I can’t say I really enjoyed the film as a whole all that much, but I did enjoy certain scenes. The use of kite-suits as two ninja apprentices battled while climbing majestic mountains to gain the right to the title of “ninja” was amazing. Other than the scenes from Transformers: Dark of the Moon where squadrons of soldiers glided out of the sky, I’d not seen these suits used anywhere. But it was fun to see the final scenes in Norwegian Ninja as well as the raw footage in the extras to get a sense of the speed they were traveling at and how close they were to rugged mountain cliffs.

Included along with the film on the DVD are many special features. The three deleted scenes were definitely unnecessary and a bit verbose in spots, so I could see why they were cut. The bonus scenes include quite a bit of extra footage that didn’t make it into the film, including the kite-suits and footage of the explosions done. I actually preferred the clean footage to the tinted footage used in the film for most of these. Also included are six featurettes, featuring interviews with actor Mads Ousal (who plays Arne Treholt in the film), writer-director Thomas Capplen Malling, and producer Eric Vogel.

I anticipate that Norwegian Ninjas will become a cult classic to some people, especially if those folks like bizarre alternate histories. Perhaps if the writer-director Thomas Cappelen Malling had added a bit more obvious humor it would have stuck, but this film didn’t do anything for me. Maybe next time.

Instead, I recommend you take another look at Dead Snow. 🙂

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

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DVD Review: Ninja Assassin

Hi all!

Ninjas. They capture most young men’s attention at an early age. And some of us never outgrow that fascination. With 2009’s Ninja Assassin, those of us bitten by the ninja bug get a bit of an adrenaline boost. Ninjas plus decent story, fair acting, amazing choreography, buckets of blood, and more decapitations, lost limbs, and stabbings than you can count makes for a great movie about these tightly wound assassins.

The movie follows the life of Raizo (Rain) as he learns how to be a ninja at a school run by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society of trained killers. His master is Ozunu, played masterfully by Sho Kosugi, who has played ninja masters since the early ’80s with Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and many others. Clearly Ozunu’s school is one of hard knocks – learning not only how to become a killing machine but how to control your fear, pain, and even your rate of healing. There is no coddling here.

Raizo is treated kindly by Kiriko (played as a young girl by Kylie Goldstein and as a teen by Anna Sawai), who helps him through some tough times. She tends his wounds and opens his heart with a little kindness. When she refuses to hurt another student after winning a training bout, Ozunu cuts her as punishment and she starts seeking a way out of the school. Unfortunately, her exit plan doesn’t work well and she pays the ultimate price…

When Raizo himself is tested, he finds that he can kill at Ozunu’s command, but that he can’t stand himself after he’s done it. He rebels and starts a campaign against the clan.

Bring into this the investigations of Europol agents Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) and her superior, Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles). Mika stumbles across a mystery she can’t resist and the two begin investigating killings around the globe seemingly paid for by 100 lbs. of gold.

To say the least, the ninja clans are not happy with being investigated and try to stop the agents dead in their tracks…

Ninja Assassin was a fun ninja movie. Not since films like Enter the Ninja and American Ninja have we seen these denizens of the night really cut loose in a big way.

If you don’t like blood, I’d advice that you skip this one. It flows freely. And if the blood doesn’t get to you, the unbelievable beheadings, chopped limbs, and generally being stabbed, sliced, or diced in myriad ways might. Definitely not what I’d recommend as a family film.

However, the story worked for me. Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Matthew Sand, the script has a solid beginning, middle, and great ending. The end answers the question that many of us ask as kids – who wins a battle between a group of ninjas and a bunch of heavily armed and armored commandos. Director James McTiegue did a great job weaving past and present into a seamless narrative that propels us into this violent but very cool world.

Overall this was a fun, violent movie about ninjas in the modern world. Throw in some blood, amazing fight choreography, and a decent story and it holds together nicely.

Also included on the DVD were some deleted scenes. Like many collections of such scenes, quite a few were cut with good reason and a few I might have left in. But it’s always interesting to see what doesn’t make the final version.

Be sure to check out Ninja Assassin at your favorite rental or retailer counter!

Catch up on your favorite shows and watch full length movies online.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out this and other great ninja movies at Amazon!

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DVD Review: Ninja (2010)

Hi all…

Do you remember the 1980s? It was an era of action movies from Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and Steven Seagal. These were not the best actors, but they didn’t try to be. Their films were meant to entertain us with fight choreography, slow motion, and tough guy characters. Movies like Bloodsport and Hard Target, Above the Law and Marked for Death, Universal Soldier and Showdown in Little Tokyo – they all had a simple premise and you knew what you were in for going in.

Now we live in an age where Direct-to-DVD isn’t necessarily the kiss of death. Movies like Fight Night and Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball prove that you can produce great movies without having a huge budget and still get them out to an audience that will appreciate them. Unfortunately, not every movie can be a masterpiece. And the Direct-to-DVD market still has some stinkers.

Ninja stars Scott Adkins as Casey and Tsuyoshi Ihara as Masazuka – two martial arts students learning the ways of the ninja in a remote dojo in Japan. When Masazuka breaks the rules and attacks Casey with a real sword (not a wooden one) during a demonstration, he is kicked out of the school to find his own way. Like any bad seed, he finds his way back again to take his revenge and take the ancient ninja treasures locked in an ancient box. Casey must stop his old school mate from taking what isn’t his.

The plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, going back to the Ninja and American Ninja movies of the 1980s, which I have to admit I watched as I was growing up. Back then the good guys even wore white ninja apparel sometimes to set them apart from the bad ninjas, who always wore black. No such luck in this film.

I think that the lack of any originality was my biggest problem with this incarnation of Ninja. There just wasn’t much to hold on to. The plot could come from any bad martial arts movie of the 1980s. The fight choreography was ok, but not spectacular. The gratuitous blood spraying everywhere as limbs and heads were sliced off was pushing it a bit too far. One bright spot was the use of a crutch as a staff during a fight on a subway where Namiko (Mika Hijii) broke a guy’s arm. Pretty sad when that was the high point.

Adkins isn’t the best actor, but he was certainly in amazing physical shape for this movie. He did his level best during all the fight scenes to make them exciting. And it was difficult to fault all the Japanese-speaking characters for their performances as the typical staid, strong, silent warriors they portrayed. But as I sat through this movie, the lack of emotion from everyone involved almost put me to sleep.

There were no extras, just a few trailers for other First Look Studios films on DVD such as Lost City Raiders and Triangle.

If you’re in the market for a ninja movie, I’d look for 2009’s Ninja Assassin on DVD (March 16, 2010) from the Wachowski brothers and director James McTeigue. The fights were even more bloody, but much more original in their choreography.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other Ninja movies at Amazon below!

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