Director Jo Sung-hee’s (A Werewolf Boy) Space Sweepers has landed, albeit a little late after production delays. The highly anticipated blockbuster can be thrilling at times, a little predictable and conventional in others, but stays entertaining throughout. For a feature billed as the very first Korean sci-fi epic, the movie makes frequent use of familiar genre tropes. Specifically, it is the latest release in the popular subsection of environmental dystopia futurism.
In this instance, the year is 2092 and 95% of the human population is stranded on an ecologically ravaged Earth. Like an Elon Musk scheme-in-the-making – or a Trumpian fantasy gone awry – the planet’s resources are spent and a mysterious, eccentric billionaire has decided the remedy is to build vertically. The solution is space, where a lucky (read: well-off) few have been invited to an Eden in the sky which resembles a boring snow globe.
Some of the majority still marooned on Earth travel past the atmosphere to work as space sweepers, whose job spec – and spacecraft – resemble the street cleaners seen in the UK. The numerous teams vie to salvage floating debris, stopping it from causing harm to Eden and the minuscule monetary reward it delivers. The most successful at the job is the crew of the Victory, comprised of Captain Jang (played with recalcitrant coolness by Kim Tae-ri), the avaricious Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki), boisterous Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin) and a sassy robot named Bubs.
As viewers are introduced to the team, a space chase exhibits the film’s considerable budget and its adept use of dynamic graphics. Tight, exhilarating action sequences are commonplace and always complemented by CGI effects. These chase scenes and explosive battles never get tedious, or last too long.
The Victory are a motley bunch sticking together for the money and a familial affection for one another that they’re all too stubborn to acknowledge. In this sense, there’s a comparison to be made to Guardians of the Galaxy. The four have chequered individual pasts, but combined have strong chemistry with snark, wit and affection. Their loyalty and love are tested when they discover Dorothy, a little girl they suppose is an android. The discovery sets them on a path to confronting their own pasts, their morality in a virtue-depraved world and the deep compassion they have for each other.
It’s a high-octane, breathless adventure, with a simple enough plot that doesn’t overcomplicate the universe it’s set in. Space Sweepers by no means an earth-shattering first leap into the sci-fi realm for Korean cinema, but it’s an entertaining – at times enthralling film – with a good mixture of laughs and gasps.
Space Sweepers is released on Netflix on 5th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Space Sweepers here: