Heralded as the primary blockbuster Korean house opera, Jo Sung-hee’s Space Sweepers shortly strikes to undercut any grandeur that may come from that assertion. During the launch of the spaceship Victory, Jo turns the digicam downward to the pilot’s ft to notice his utterly worn-out socks, instantly undoing any attainable glamour from the thought of house journey. That’s the place Space Sweeper’s pursuits lie: with the scrabbling, needy individuals who would fall between the cracks in its hypothetical courageous new world.
The 12 months is 2092, and Earth is borderline uninhabitable, overrun by arid deserts and the dry orange colour grading of Blade Runner 2049. Everyone who can afford it has moved off the ruined planet to reside in orbit on a seemingly utopian colony named Eden, constructed and dominated by a megacorporation.
Jo’s movie is anxious with the individuals who can’t afford the advantages of the brand new world, together with Victory’s eponymous “space sweepers.” The protagonists make their dwelling as a crew of freelance interplanetary rag-and-bone males who collect the scraps the rich utopians go away behind. The sweepers are perpetually broke, as destitution looms much more ominously than the chilly vacuum of house. (“Between repairs and fines, we just pay debt with more debt,” one of many crew complains early on.)
Their precarious however simple existence is interrupted by their unintended discovery of a younger baby named Dorothy, who seems to be an android supposedly containing a nuclear weapon. The crew initially sees Dorothy as a golden goose, they usually shortly look to ransom her to the best bidder to purchase themselves out of poverty. But they after all heat to her, and take the movie down a fairly predictable however genuinely transferring found-family arc. Though it’s predictable, it’s nonetheless pleasant to see this forged of hardened inventory sorts soften to Dorothy’s presence, unable to masks their glee at being included in her drawings, or known as “Uncle.”
At first, the crew merely focuses on accumulating sufficient cash to purchase their approach to achievement, no matter meaning to every member. To former authorities operative Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki, a frequent collaborator with director Jo), it’s paying the authorities to search out and determine the lacking physique of a member of the family he misplaced way back in an accident. Effectively, he’s being charged for closure. There’s rather less to be taught in regards to the cool and conceited Captain Jang, Kim Tae-ri of The Handmaiden fame, whose need for revenge is stored imprecise till late within the movie. Meanwhile, Jin Sun-kyu (The Good, The Bad and the Weird) will get to have enjoyable mugging as former gang chief Tiger Park, who merely finds the blue-collar work humiliating and needs to purchase his manner out. He relives his glory days by bragging about what number of fingers he chopped off in his prime.
The interaction between these characters is the movie’s saving grace, and the rationale it’s nonetheless principally a pleasure to look at, even when its designation as “the first of its kind” regularly turns into an albatross round its neck. Though the characters and situation are acquainted, the movie continues to be at its finest when observing the antics of the misfit crew, whether or not they’re getting in outrageous fistfights over low-stakes poker video games or giving one another makeovers. Ironically, regardless of its supposedly lofty standing, Space Sweepers is finest as a hangout comedy.
That mentioned, the crew’s vaguely sketched motivations generally threaten to change into the movie’s undoing, as the method of attending to know them is its biggest energy. Entertaining as they’re, outdoors of Tae-ho, they’ll really feel one-dimensional. There’s one exception: a navy robotic named Bubs. Bubs’ need to assimilate with their human crew members is implicitly informed via offhand dialogue and their amusingly cozy-looking loungewear. Their arc is surprisingly light, and whereas its (transient) exploration of gender identification principally exists on the movie’s fringes, it’s a pleasing deviation from the frequent navel-gazing and pseudo-profundity of most “AI that wants to be human” tales.
Outside of Bubs’ story, there’s little subtext to Space Sweepers, which wears most of its implications and class-warfare messaging on its sleeve. It’s filled with narrative beats that’ll be instantly acquainted to anybody, not simply science fiction fanatics: it wraps a reasonably conventional found-family plot inside a grander conspiracy to wipe out the poor individuals nonetheless stranded on Earth. In competition with the crew of the Victory is a seemingly benevolent CEO (Richard Armitage), who shortly reveals his true nature as an eco-fascist and misanthrope. While it’s hardly an authentic position, it considerably advantages from Armitage’s signature ferocity. The viciousness he delivered to his half as Francis Dolarhyde in Hannibal provides just a little extra punch to strains like “I hope you carve this deep into your heart!”
Between bursts of originality, Space Sweepers often seems as a group of tried-and-tested ideas. The billionaire survivalists particularly would possibly remind some movie followers of Neil Blomkamp’s flop Elysium. But the humorousness units this other than different post-apocalyptic sci-fi. The movie isn’t too po-faced to be above the occasional fart joke or pratfall. It additionally incorporates shades of Ad Astra, which had its personal amusingly mundane presentation of what the colonization of house would genuinely look like, as merely extra of the identical however elsewhere: the Applebee’s on the moon phenomenon. Aside from this, one of many movie’s most putting components is its informal multiculturalism. Characters from presumably dissolved nations communicate to one another in a mixture of their native languages, whereas English principally seems because the language of energy and of the movie’s white antagonists.
Through that multiculturalism and the droll observations on the each day trivialities of life sooner or later, Space Sweepers tends to come back throughout as a live-action riff on Shinichiro Watanabe’s well-known anime collection Cowboy Bebop. Bebop’s DNA is seen all through Space Sweepers, from its clunky, characterful ships to its scrappy crew making an attempt to make their manner in a future gig financial system.
But the place Bebop married its vignettes into a bigger tapestry, the massive conspiracies of Space Sweepers really feel like they’re in competition with that shaggy-dog environment, they usually drag the movie past its pure endpoint. The mixture of SFX and complex set design are at the very least spectacular to witness, each of their presentation of large-scale house battles and in cinematographer Byeon Bong-seon’s dynamic capturing of opulent future nightclubs, dingy again alleys, and the detritus outdoors the shelter of Eden’s walled-off paradise. Director Jo is commonly artistic and concise in developing motion sequences, with some enjoyable visualizations, akin to Bubs swinging between pursuing spaceships like a space-faring Spider-Man. The work is distinctive and well-directed, even when its most vital strengths lie extra in its characters’ charms than any of its sci-fi grandeur.
Space Sweepers manages to rise above the familiarity of its ideas, bolstered by its forged’s sheer charisma. Its most enjoyable and transferring moments are discovered within the back-and-forth between its ragtag forged of characters and the minor particulars of its near-future world. Imagining house as an extension of earthly capitalism definitely isn’t new, however at the very least Space Sweepers’ forged has the collective allure to make the fabric really feel like recent, worthwhile viewing among the many growing detritus of streaming content material.
Space Sweepers is now streaming on Netflix.