Space Sweepers 승리호 (2021) Review

Initially scheduled for last year in South Korea during the Chuseok holiday, Jo Sung-Hee’s highly-anticipated Space Sweepers was forced to postpone its theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, Netflix came to the rescue and acquired the global streaming rights for the movie.

The story takes place in the year 2092, where we learn that planet Earth is dying and severely polluted to the point it’s barely inhabitable. The only chance for humanity to survive is moving to a cleaner and habitable world in outer space. However, not everyone gets the same privilege as the new world controlled by UTS Corporation’s James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) only selected a group of chosen ones from the upper-class society.

Most of the unfortunate ones are left behind while others such as the spaceship crew of Victory — Captain Jang (Kim Tae-Ri), Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki), Tiger Park (Jin Seon-Kyu) and Bubs the humanoid robot (voiced by Yoo Hae-Jin) — spend most of their time in outer space and make a living by scavenging any valuable junk and debris. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to earn much until one day, they discover a cute humanoid little girl named Dorothy (Park Ye-Rin). But beyond her adorable outlook and personality, she is actually a weapon of mass destruction. Or more specifically, a walking timebomb in disguise. What’s more, she also happens to be worth a fortune since there’s a large bounty on her.

Thinking this would be a great opportunity for them to earn some big money, they decide to make a bargain with a terrorist group called the Black Foxes. Long story short, things do not work out smoothly as planned.

A scene from Netflix's "Space Sweepers" (2021)

First things first, it’s worth noting that Space Sweepers happens to be South Korea’s first outer-space sci-fi blockbuster ever made. And for that, they succeed in both production values and visual effects department. The movie certainly goes all out to make the visuals as stunning as possible, which even rivalled the ones seen in Hollywood’s big-budget sci-fi spectacles. Yoo Hae-Jin’s motion-capture performance, coupled with the CGI humanoid robot Bubs is seamless.

Action scenes are just as engaging and even though we only get to see them every now and then, it was both well-staged and thrilling enough. This is particularly evident during the final 30 minutes, as Captain Jang and her crew engage in an impressive Star Wars-like dogfight. At one point, there’s a cool scene, where Bubs swinging like a Spider-Man and takes down a few enemy spaceships by throwing a harpoon.

And yet, for all the stunning visuals and exciting effects-laden action sequences, Space Sweepers mostly misses its mark. The plot, which is also co-written by Jo Sung-Hee, lacks a fresh perspective other than recycling themes and ideas seen from the likes of Star Wars, The Fifth Element, Serenity, Guardians of the Galaxy as well as Cowboy Bebop and even Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The latter is especially true, given both movies’ multicultural similarities.

The movie also feels overlong, with its 136-minute length tends to overstay its welcome and could have used some serious trimming. It doesn’t help either when Space Sweepers fails to develop its characters surrounding the otherwise colourful crew of four. And despite enlisting the likes of Song Joong-Ki of TV’s Descendants of the Sun fame and acclaimed actress Kim Tae-Ri (best known for her groundbreaking role in Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden), their performances are disappointingly average. Frankly, they deserve better than this.

Perhaps, if only Jo Sung-Hee isn’t so restrained his creativity on sticking close to the conventional sci-fi/space-movie formula, we might have something uniquely Korean flavour here.

You can stream Space Sweepers on Netflix beginning February 5, 2021 onwards.