I expected a lot from Space Sweepers, the latest South Korean science fiction movie about a crew of space janitors and their exploits. I don’t know why I thought this is going to be a low-key story and not some space epic. As you probably know by now, I’m fascinated by the regular jobs in the future, something stemming from the original Alien movie. What we got here is more similar to The Fifth Element or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a true space opera that’s not to be taken too seriously. It features some really interesting and creative futuristic concepts that are overshadowed by the main fairy tale story.
I guess I’m suffering from “The Expanse syndrome” where I expect that every next movie or television show will come close to this masterpiece. And while we’re on the subject, I really expected something like an expanded story about Belters and their dangerous missions to collect objects in space. Instead of that, we got a South Korean answer to Guardians of Galaxy that were just as silly. This is not the only movie that influenced it, like Elysium, Serenity, and Rogue One vibes are also present. One of the things you can do while watching it is to guess what movie this concept or scene reminds you of.
It is the year of our lord Satan 2092 and humans have managed to completely pollute and destroy the environment on their home planet. They sought refuge in huge stations orbiting Earth where you can live a blissful life. If you have money, of course, as UTS corporation is charging a hefty fee for it. Amidst all this, a maintenance vessel Seungri (Victory in Korean) with a small but dedicated crew of misfits is earning its living by collecting space junk. One day, on a routine mission, they will collect valuable cargo that will determine the future of humanity. A cargo that a lot of people are after, from the overreaching UTS corporation to a secretive group of rebels known only as the Black Foxes.
The best thing about Seungriho or Space Sweepers are the magnificent and eye-popping special effects. While we wait for the latest installments in the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, these will do just fine. From space battles to imposing interior sets, everything looks awesome. The cinematography has that mixture of crisp and hazy vibe mostly seen in cheap sci-fi flicks only cranked up to eleven. This goes hand in hand with sometimes cartoonish action sequences and somehow enhances them.
The switches between relatively serious scenes and silly action ones are quite fast. I mean one minute they’re adjusting they’re carefully adjusting their trajectory and the next one an android climbs the top of the ship to throw harpoons at space junk (we’re whalers of the Moon, and we carry a harpoon). All the while the engineer is “pumping” the engines like he’s shoveling coal on an ancient train. So, better check your brain out on this one right at the beginning and you should be fine. I should also mention the runtime of almost two and half hours, not unusual for what this movie set out to do. With a budget of just $22 million, it accomplished a lot and was far better than some of the latest entries in the genre (IO, Annihilation, Jupiter Ascending). All in all, I can’t wait to see the next South Korean science fiction movie. Until then, we can all enjoy this cute and stylish space opera.
Director: Sung-hee Jo
Cast: Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-ri, Seon-kyu Jin, Hae-Jin Yoo, Richard Armitage, Ye-Rin Park, Mu-Yeol Kim, Hyang-gi Kim, Nas Brown
Fun Facts: Jo Sung-hee started writing the story 10 years prior to the film’s release, after a friend talked to him about the dangers of space junk.
IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12838766/