The future of space does not just belong to big Hollywood studios. In case you haven’t already figured it out, anything that Hollywood can do, the Korean film industry can do too – and sometimes better. Dubbed as the popular Asian film industry’s answer to Star Wars, Space Sweepers is Netflix’s new sci-fi film from South Korean director Jo Sung-Hee. I had pretty high expectations for the film given that comparison along with the excellent trailer released for the movie. Does it live up to my lofty hopes though? Well, mostly. Provided you can put up with some cheaper visual effects and campy humour.
Space Sweepers is set in the year 2092. The human race hasn’t quite been able to successfully combat pollution and climate change on Earth and as a result, humanity is now looking to greener pastures (quite literally) by living on purpose-built massive space stations with environments all of their own. The only problem is that this future is only available to the few rich people, with the majority of Earth’s population left to eke out a slow death. That leaves the scramble for resources among these destitute pretty high. One job some of these desperate folk have turned to is clearing up all the leftover space wreckage and waste (C’mon, Elon Musk! Clean up after yourself!) to prevent them from damaging these elite space colonies.
This is where we meet our rag-tag team of heroes, as they take on this dangerous job, constantly looking for the next big piece of space debris while battling personal demons and trying to eventually get enough money to live the lives they want. During one of these missions though, they stumble upon some precious cargo that effects the fate of the world, which puts their lives on a completely different path than they ever imagined.
Space Sweeper is a simple story, but one that works because of the incredible depth of its characters. At first, the main characters all appear quite cliched and generic, but the more you travel through this journey with them, the more you get to realise how deeply complex they are and fall in love with them because of it. The best comparison I can provide is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in how the narrative unfolds through all the action and you are left with characters that you deeply care about. There are a lot of similarities in the humour too, though many of this film’s laughs are a little bit too campy for my taste.
As I mentioned already, the production values on offer here don’t quite live up to those shiny big-budget Hollywood visuals, but they are more than capable enough to still immerse you into the world. And Space Sweepers does a good job in providing you with action sequences that remain pulsating regardless. The joy in a film like this though is really in the deeper details of the story and this is where the film shines. There is so much of this story to like, from the way each character develops to the deeper societal topics at play which resonate with the world we live in today. This is a movie that features action as bombastic and ridiculous as a Michael Bay film, but with the brains to back it up.
The core cast of Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Yoo Hae-jin, and Park Ye-rin also play their parts well. You’re not going to find masterful performances here, but if you can get past some of the campy parts, they bring the required depth to their characters. And whenever you fall in love with a character, you know the actor has nailed their job. Same can be said for the director who keeps things fun and light-hearted but ensures the story stays firmly focused on its set of heroes and balances the action, comedy, and drama well together. If any weakness can be ascribed to Space Sweepers’ characters, it’s something which is, unfortunately, commonplace for the genre with the primary villain played by Richard Armitage not being particularly memorable. This is largely down to the script rather than anything to do with Armitage’s performance though.
And yes, that is Richard Armitage, star of The Hobbit. Which leads to another aspect I really enjoyed about this film, and which you don’t get from many similar Hollywood blockbusters: Just how international it is. Although the majority of the leads are South Korean, and that’s the film’s primary language, Space Sweepers features characters from all over the world, speaking their own languages, including French, Spanish, Russian and the obvious English. At least those are the ones I could identify. How they all can speak and understand each other is built into the narrative, but it was nice to see the movie try and portray the international nature of this future human civilisation that helps you get even more invested into it all.
Perhaps that is where the “realism” ends though because not only in this film true to its sci-fi roots in featuring big bold outrageous futuristic ideas, it also defies the laws of physics and believability several times in its world-saving endeavours. Not all of these moments pay off and you are left shaking your head at the screen at times, but if you embrace Space this as a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you can enjoy these moments of pure escapism.
At the end of the day, a film like Space Sweepers all about having fun and it certainly provides that handily. I can easily see people giving up on the film at the start as it might come across like a cheap imitation, but the film very quickly shows it can battle with the big boys and will leave you enjoying its story beats, lovable characters, and wild action sequences. It’s an infectious recipe for a movie that is certainly worth watching.
So no, Space Sweepers might not be the next Star Wars, but it is a highly enjoyable sci-fi film that you will likely fall in love with and wish you could see more of.
Last Updated: February 12, 2021