SPACE SWEEPERS (승리호) (NETFLIX) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: Chasing after space debris and faraway dreams in year 2092, four misfits unearth explosive secrets during the attempted trade of a wide-eyed humanoid.
Space Sweepers marks the second collaboration of Song Joong-ki and director Jo Sung-hee after A Werewolf Boy and also Song’s first movie after his much-publicised divorce. Touted as Korea’s first big budget space epic, it was delayed by Covid-19 but was subsequently acquired by Netflix for a worldwide streaming. Not a bad deal considers the somewhat mediocre result.
In the year 2029, Earth has become so polluted that the rich and smart have all allocated to an orbiting home in space led by the head of UTS corporation, James Sullivan (Richard Armitage from The Hobbit). In the meantime, a crew of junk collectors, Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu) and Robot Bubs (voiced by Yoo Hae-jin) discovered a young android girl nicknamed Dorothy, a mass destruction weapon wanted by both radicals and Sullivan in a cargo compartment.
Tae-ho proposed to sell away Dorothy in order to earn enough cash to search for his missing adopted daughter and the same time pay for the maintenance of their spaceship, Victory. But as the story goes, the crew members start to develop a liking for Dorothy especially Tiger Park and when they discover the dark secrets behind Sullivan and his intention to detonate Dorothy, the crew of Victory decides to bend together to fight against the advancing enemy force and reunite Dorothy with her scientist father.
For a sci-fi piece which Jo Sung-hee has planned for more than a decade, it does seem kind of dated with more than half of the ideas being done to death in other similar movies. Dying Earth? Checked. Egomaniacal billionaire. Checked. Brave ragtag crew? Checked. A wisecracking robot? Checked. For a movie that runs more than two hours, you can’t help feeling it’s just old stuff recycling. Hilariously in Jo Sung-hee’s planet, all the Koreans in the movie are somehow the good guys and the foreigners on the other hand, well you know who you should avoid in space.
To their credit, the writers did provide a decent background to the various crew members with Tae-ho having a more substantial backstory than the rest. It turned out Tae-ho is a former commander of UTS space force but was forced to leave by Sullivan after refusing to kill. Captain Jang is also a former space force member but left to become a pirate. Tiger Park is a wanted criminal on earth though he has a heart of gold and Robot Bubs being the comical element wishes to earn enough money to undergo a skin transplant to become a true human lady.
For an action sci-fi flick, Space Sweepers has no lack of dogfights and gunfights. While the effects are reasonable well-done by local VFX company, Dexter, it often lacks clarity, tension and overwhelmingly busy for audiences to catch what’s happening onscreen. Consider these with scenes that feature the interaction between Dorothy and the crew, the latter is more emotionally rewarding and satisfying.
Despite the anticipation, the storytelling is hardly inventive and it never feels like a sci-fi movie that came out of the usually reliable Korean movie industry. You know like how they shake up the monster genre in The Host, zombie genre in Train to Busan or even the disaster genre, Ashfall. Space Sweepers is simply too safe and way too long to make an impression. Similar to what the crews of Victory did for the living, this is merely collecting and recycling space junks.
Review by Linus Tee