The Weekend Watch: "Space Sweepers"
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
The highly-anticipated film has finally landed on Netflix after a months-long pandemic delay. Is it worth the hype and your time? We share our take on Korea’s first space blockbuster here.
The year is 2092, and Earth has become almost uninhabitable. The wealthy few have migrated to an orbiting home in the sky built by UTS corporation, while the 99 percent struggle to survive. Among those barely making a living are the crew members of a space junk collector ship called The Victory—Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), pilot Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and Robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin).
When they find a humanoid child robot named Dorothy among the junk floating in space, they think their problems are finally solved—they can sell her to pay off their seemingly insurmountable debts. But things, of course, are never that simple in movieland. Dorothy’s arrival on The Victory triggers events that force the crew of four to face their past and test their values, with the fate of Earth at stake.
This is a timeless conflict where the underdogs are made to choose the fate of an entire world.
I like some Easter eggs where a few Filipino lines pop up, “O-order ba kayo? Kung hindi na naman, umalis na kayo.” ("Are you going to order? If you're not going to order again, leave," 30:19) and “Sino 'tong batang ‘to?” ("Who's this kid?" 42:29) In addition, the presence of Black Fox, classified as a terrorist organization, eerily reminds me of certain groups in the Philippines tagged as communists.
I watched the movie only for the novelty of Korean sci-fi, but the movie prompted some existential, ethical and philosophical questions: Who gets to choose what is moral? If one is deemed immoral, does the person deserve death? If technology can extend life, where does "the real" end and "the artificial" begin? Can a superior intellectual (or big tech) be given so much power after harnessing technology that can potentially save a whole planet?
Liam Yeong Kimin
Is it too much to ask for South Korea’s first attempt at a sci-fi blockbuster set in space to feature a strong but innovative plot, flawless performances from a multicultural cast, and Marvel-level CGI? Probably.
Despite seemingly taking notes from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), director Jo Sung-hee still deserves props for delivering a pretty enjoyable space flick that can hold its own against many of the bigger budget attempts from Hollywood. Sure, there are points to criticize—like the cartoonish characterization of the villain and a few unanswered questions—but on balance it’s still a fast-paced action film with a sprinkling of laughs and enough heart to make for an enjoyable two hours of your Netflix time. If you want to enjoy it, don't overthink it.
Space Sweepers takes viewers through an adventure set in galaxial dystopia.
I approach my sci-fi films ready to suspend my disbelief for as long as the made-up science can hold its own in the realm of its own fiction. This film delivered on that front, using familiar concepts (nanotechnology) and themes (a ragtag crew of unlikely heroes) in a new way. Slow to gain this viewer’s fondness, the protagonists did eventually find their way into my heart with varying degrees of emotional investment.
The plot plays out a little predictably, especially if you’ve watched your fair share of movies from this genre. I also felt that some backstories could have used either a little more exposition, or complete omission altogether.
But all in all, this was an entertaining movie with some room for improvement. The characters were engaging, the few plot twists were quite surprising, and the production value can hold its own amongst its peers in the industry. Well-paced, well-shot, and well-worth two hours and sixteen minutes of your day.
Unpopular opinion: For something so visually elaborate and chaotic, I had the hardest time staying awake past the 45-minute mark. Sadly, this comes as no surprise since the “amazing CG-but-draggy-story” combo has long been a weak point in Korean sci-fi (see Jin-Roh the Wolf Brigade, Fabricated City, the k-drama SF8, and dare I say it? Peninsula).
The messy Cowboy Be-bop ride will appeal to those looking for a family-friendly weekend watch, while the international cast (even if some of them are pretty bad) does infuse the film with a familiar “Hollywood” feel. As Korea’s first space blockbuster, it’s passable for a casual watch, but sometimes the clunky script and the criminally-underutilized cast can get in the way of making this film more fun and memorable. It also strangely lacks warmth and humor, two elements that Korean blockbusters usually have in spades.
Despite this hiccup, k-cinema is nothing but aggressively innovative, and Space Sweepers is but a harbinger of all the Korean sci-fi programs yet to come. Gong Yoo’s A.I. movie Seo Bok and his upcoming dystopian k-drama Silent Sea will enter the race soon, and three other sci-fi k-dramas with major Hallyu stars (L.U.C.A.: The Begining, Sisyphus: The Myth, and Times) are coming out this year. So if Space Sweepers disappointed you as it did me, it’s good to remember that the movie is from the same industry that adapted Snowpiercer brilliantly. They’re only bound to get better from here.
Watch this (Korean) space.
Space Sweepers may be a mishmash of the most popular space operas (I can already imagine all the English-language reviews calling it "derivative"), but as long as you go into this with level expectations, it makes for some fun family-friendly weekend entertainment. It's a real pity that we won't get to see this in cinemas, as the visuals and effects were quite impressive and clearly meant to be enjoyed on the big screen. One of the details I really appreciate about this film that sets it apart from its Hollywood predecessors is its multilingualism----while of course the crew of The Victory speaks in Korean, all the other characters speak in their native language, so we get to hear Chinese, French, Spanish, and yes, even Tagalog! (Make sure to check your audio settings before watching to get the full experience).
STREAM: If you can manage your expectations and shelve your tendency to nitpick, then this is a good option for a night of Netflix and chill. Or, if you simply miss Song Joong-ki.
SKIP: If you have high expectations for this heavily-hyped film, you might be in for a disappointment.