Space Sweepers

A South Korean science fiction epic about humanity in the distant future where the Earth has been ravaged by acidic soil turning the planet into a hazardous, poisonous wasteland. The elites of humanity live in orbit around the planet in habitation stations that are protected by domes which allow for artificial gravity and the possibility for air, water, and plants. 95% of the human population is trapped on the dying earth, while a corporation known as UTS controls who lives in orbit and for the eventual colonization of Mars which has been turned into a tropical utopia via a genetically enhanced super tree known as the Tree of Life. The founder and creator of these inventions is James Sullivan (Richard Armitage), a 152 year old megalomaniac, who has his own misguided views on what it means to be a good human being.

The rest of humanity that lives in orbit but not as a part of the habitation stations, live in squalor and are subject to ridicule and being poor. They find jobs as space sweepers; that is, they have their own ships acquired through loans (debt on debt), and collect space debris for recycling to earn what little money they can. The story focuses on one such crew, on a ship called The Victory, with Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), pilot Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), mechanic and engineer Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin), and a robot called Bubs (Hae-Jin Yoo). Each one of these characters has their own little story that is revealed through the 136 minute adventure, some being tragic and some not, but overall, human stories. The crew comes across a 7 year old child (Ye-Rin Park) who is a wanted bounty by the UTS corporation. Hoping to score some money by ransoming her back, the crew of the Victory find themselves in a fight for the future of humanity.

I really enjoyed the philosophical debates and pandering found throughout the movie, especially when the main villain, Sullivan, would preach about greed yet failing to acknowledge how he himself is just as fallible. The use of mass media to disillusion and manipulate the population to further the whims of the UTS corporation hits a little too close to home and current events. The divide between the rich and the poor, and the visual representation of dirty folks versus clean, or having broken down shoes, is also quite relevant. Despite being set in the not too distant future, the idea that these issues would still remain has been long engrained in the minds of many writers and helps ground the story. Some of the events and technology that exists in the movie is straight up fantasy and the story gets around that by stating that it can’t be explained by anyone and that it just is. At its basic core, the movie is about different people coming together, of all nations, and working to achieve unity and peace while being beset by those that wish to covet power all to themselves. It’s about a family of misfits putting aside their differences to save the life of a child, and in turn, save themselves from their past misdeeds.

The CGI was phenomenal, and I really enjoyed the action scenes in space. In one particular battle scene, near the end, my mind went to the recent season of the Expanse and I couldn’t help but think how that show failed miserably to convey any sense of action or ship battles – and Amazon supposedly supplied it with a larger budget, ha! Anyways, Space Sweepers, is a thoroughly enjoyable ride and for being the first Korean space blockbuster, it is quite a good start. Some minor nitpicks here and there, like some of the actors or actresses felt like they were plucked from the street, but it’s all good. I recommend watching it, and I hope to see more science fiction movies like this from South Korea.

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