Space Sweepers, the new South Korean sci-fi movie airing on Netflix, is much more than the colorful title suggests.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Space Sweepers, which is now streaming on Netflix.
Directed by Jo Sung-hee, Space sweepers is Netflix’s first Korean science fiction project set in outer space. With the inclusion of likable and unconventional characters and many aesthetically satisfying images, the film successfully paints a colorful dystopian landscape.
The movie’s simple and endearing premise, coupled with a self-conscious but cheesy execution, makes for a wonderfully unique sci-fi experience. Right off the bat, Space sweepers it’s presumably a bit different from what most K-horror / drama fans expect.
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It’s the year 2092 and, as the movie explains at the beginning, “the earth was still breathing, but it was alive.” Under the circumstances, a corporation (which turns out to be corrupt) called UTS builds an “orbital home for humanity.”
The film centers on the crew of Victory, a ship made up of misfits who travel around collecting space junk. Included are three humans in search of fortune, Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and Kim Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki). In addition to the diverse trio there is a sarcastic reprogrammed military robot named Bubs (voiced by Yoo Hai-jin).
While traveling through space, the Victory’s crew bumps into a crashed shuttle. Inside the shuttle is Dorothy (Park Ye-rin), an apparent child android. Dorothy (aka Kot-nim) is circulating in the media and is known to be wanted by UTS, as well as a terrorist organization called the Black Foxes.
Initially, they agree to sell the boy in exchange for a ransom, as each member on board the Victory requires money. For example, Tae-ho is desperate to find his daughter and needs money to do so, while Bubs plans to buy skin grafts to appear more human. Over time, Dorothy grows into the crew, eventually causing them to band together in an attempt to protect her.
It would be quite simple to cancel Space sweepers like another ordinary dystopian space opera. At first glance, the film’s most notable achievement is its impressive special effects. But upon closer inspection, Space sweepers it has a lot to offer in terms of cultural perception.
For starters, while it may show life in the future, the film also focuses on the current issue of class inequality. The scenes in which people run out of money and resources and at the same time have to wear gas masks when entering for a day of work, are strangely reminiscent of modern times.
During a scene, teammates search for food and reflect on the question, “Do you think poverty makes us bad or that we are poor because we are bad?” As time goes by Space sweepers it makes it known that poverty does not make a person “bad”, but it does deprive one of the “good” alternatives, leaving them simply options.
On several occasions, the film also delves into gender politics. This is best shown through one of Space sweepers meatier and more compelling characters, Bubs. Although they were never explicitly assigned a gender, Bubs’ teammates use he / he pronouns when talking about the robot (Bubs is also voiced by a male actor). Without revealing the full ending, the ending scene is a remarkably refreshing display of gender nonconformity, one of which has rarely been so well addressed in Korean cinema or on the blockbuster front, for that matter.
Space sweepers It has its fair share of predictability, goofy altercations, and eye-rolling witty phrases. But the addition of genuinely heartfelt moments helps balance the action-packed movie and really makes it worth watching.
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