Lasers, robots, dogfights and a charmingly rogueish cast make for a wonderfully over the top space opera epic.
“No more crazy jumps!”
It’s no secret that I love big, bombastic action blockbusters. Cinema can be a lot of things and among its many forms the spectacle of sight and sound is one of my favourites. It’s a tricky balancing act through: on the one hand, filmmakers have to provide palpably realistic characters and a logical but out-there premise. On the other, they need to back up the story with the impressive visuals and soundscapes that will permit the audience to be transported into the action. Sometimes all I ask for is a cast of loveable scamps, some good action and a cool plot. I enjoyed the absolute hell out of Ashfall, arguably LKFF’s only film from last year that wasn’t a drama and Korea’s latest big blockbuster – Space Sweepers – is just as fun.
The setting is nothing you haven’t already seen before: in the future, the Earth is too polluted for people to live on, and many of the populace now live and work in satellite districts. However, Earth’s orbit is too littered with space trash that a new industry has cropped up. The titular Space Sweepers are mercantile folk who take on this dangerous work for little pay. Our heroes Tae-ho (Song Joon-ki), Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Park (jin Seon-kyu) and the robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin giving another spot-on performance) are a rebellious group of misfit sweepers working aboard the Victory who come across a ruined spaceship carrying some very important cargo: a hydrogen bomb.
This bomb is known as Dorothy (Park Ye-rin) and is currently being sought after by James Sullivan (Richard Armitage), CEO of a company seemingly dedicated to rehabilitating Earth but with the actual goal of abandoning the planet and selling residences in their upcoming Mars colony. From there, you can take a few guesses where the story will go: Armitage is immediately outed as the villain, the crew of the Victory learn to care for the girl-bomb and plenty of chasing and fighting happens. It’s the sort of premise that can go the way of Elysium if handled badly, but thankfully the cast elevates some of the more uninspired moments with excellent chemistry and snarky delivery.
Interestingly Space Sweepers biggest issue is also one of its best features. It suffers somewhat from being on the overstuffed side, having to build its world more or less from scratch: introducing us to the waste disposal satellites, nanobots, Sullivan’s magic Mars tree, and all the little details needed to make the story believable. It’s a movie so rich with lore and ideas and that I was sure this was based on a graphic novel or something, like Snowpiercer or Wolf Brigade. It’s not, and the comic book nerd in me appreciated the level of thought that was put into everything, from the rusty, strewn-together designs of the ships and space facilities, to the fact that everyone speaks their native tongue via translator.
The best way I can sum it up by to call it Cowboy Bebop by way of The Mandalorian with only a slight (but just enough) pinch of Guardians of the Galaxy. Space Sweepers was the sort of fun I wish Valerian had been and in fact did remind me of the work that Luc Besson used to do back when Bruce Willis still had hints of hair. It might not be the most intellectual 135 minutes (although it does feature some heavy-handed commentary, if that’s what you’re into) but it’s certainly enjoyable, starting at its exposition-heavy opening through to its ludicrous but bombastic third act climax. It exactly the sort of dumb nonsense that from time to time have to – forgive the pun – get swept up in.
Verdict: Space Sweepers shows us that Korea is capable of releasing highly enjoyable Hollywood-style blockbusters that – best of all – aren’t a part of pre-existing franchise.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Tragic backstories: 8/10
Red veins of crazy: Did they ever explain what that was about
Sullivan’s age: If he was 150-odd in 2092, doesn’t that make him 80 now?
Best shirt: Bub’s upside down violin print
Space Sweepers (2021)
Also known as: 승리호 (Seungriho), lit. Spaceship Victory
Korean, English, every other language on Earth
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Writer: Yoon Seung-min, Yoo-kang Seo-ae, Jo Sung-hee
Song Joong-ki – Tae-ho
Kim Tae-ri – Captain Jang
Jin Seon-kyu – Tiger Park
Yoo Hae-jin – Bubs
Richard Armitage – James Sullivan
Kim Mu-yeol – Kang Hyeon-u
Park Ye-rin – Dorothy
Carla Fernanda Ávila – Camilla