Space Sweepers review: A thrilling outer space escapade

Song Joong Ki (left) and Park Ye Rin in Space Sweepers. (Photo: Netflix)
Space pilot Tae Ho (Song Joong Ki) has to figure out what to do with android child Dorothy (Park Ye Rin). (Photo: Netflix)

Rating: NC16
Length: 137 minutes
Director: Jo Sung Hee
Cast: Song Joong Ki, Richard Armitage, Kim Tae Ri, Jin Seon Kyu, Yu Hae Jin and Park Ye Rin

3 out of 5 stars

The year is 2092. Earth is in a catastrophic, post-apocalyptic state where mass desertification has rendered its landscapes barren, blotting out the sun and killing all plant life. Humanity is forced to flee the dying planet and create a new means of living in the form of outer space colonies.

Sound familiar? Space Sweepers does feed somewhat on the dystopian earth/space tropes, birthing a hybrid of the 2013 film Elysium and Guardians Of The Galaxy (sans mouthy raccoon and grunting sentient tree) which follows the motley crew of space junk sweeper, Victory.

Director Jo Sung Hee has had Space Sweepers stowed in his hangar for a decade, having floated the rough story idea with Song Joong Ki 10 years earlier. The 35-year-old Song shot to immense fame through the acclaimed K-drama series Descendants Of The Sun (2016), and this is his first cinematic work since his divorce with actress Song Hye Gyo in 2019.

The rest of the cast features Kim Tae Ri, Victory’s macho female captain; the heavily tattooed engine master Tiger Park, played by Jin Seon Kyu; and Yu Hae Jin as the gutsy token robot pal, Bubs. Also embellishing the line-up is Richard Armitage, who played Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit trilogy and the adorable Park Ye Rin as Dorothy, a weapon of mass destruction disguised as a little android girl.

Spoilers ahead:

Tae Ho (Song Joong Ki) is the churlish pilot of Victory, desperately scrounging and scavenging whatever he can get his hands on to sell to dubious buyers – be it rice, magnetic boots or dangerous floating space junk travelling faster than speeding bullets – in his mission to find a certain person.

On the other side of the spectrum is James Sullivan (Richard Armitage). He is revered and treated with almost god-like respect for having founded UTS, the company that created the paradisiacal orbit platform in space where humans can live in lush greenery and absolute luxury. Think Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg all rolled into a 152-year-old man’s body (yes, he is that old in the movie).

There is a problem, though; only elite humans selected through an unknown vetting process are able to become UTS citizens and enjoy exclusive privileges. These comprise only 5% of all humankind. There is definitely something shady at work here.

The world of Space Sweepers is a diverse one. As we follow Tae Ho and his crew of misfits trying to strike it rich and pay off their bills, there are other sweepers who trawl the space around Earth’s orbit, whose nationalities include Korean, Chinese, French, and Russian.

Yet, it can be difficult to understand what many of the characters are saying, even though they are speaking in English, if not for the subtitles.

Things take a turn when Tae Ho and co. discover Dorothy in the wreckage of a shuttle. According to news reports, Dorothy is supposedly an android which contains a weapon of mass destruction, and has a huge bounty on her adorable head.

No expense has been spared to create the intricate CGI graphics that depict the vastness of space and the numerous other UTS orbital platforms that surround Earth, as Tae Ho decides to bargain with a group of terrorists known as the Black Foxes to sell Dorothy off.

But their negotiations go awry as the UTS Special Force Squad show up, forcing both parties to flee and recalibrate their approaches. Victory’s crew find themselves getting more attached to Dorothy’s cuteness, much to the chagrin of Tae Ho, who finds himself spiralling deeper and deeper into debt.

Our embattled junk crew finds themselves in a deep dilemma, as they learn that UTS’s James Sullivan and the terrorist group, Black Foxes, are not really what they seem. Will they succumb to the allure of money to pay off their debts and trade in Dorothy, who might hold the key to saving Earth?

The Verdict:

Space Sweepers does well as an extremely fast-paced movie, with impressive graphics, a stellar cast and Michael Bay-esque action sequences. Credit also goes to director Jo for incorporating an inclusive supporting cast and charting a thrilling galactic escapade.

It is unfortunate that he’s waited 10 years to helm such a movie, when many other similar movies have come and gone. For someone who really enjoys intergalactic warfare flicks like Star Wars and Star Trek and similar titles, Space Sweepers’ premise might seem tired, overused and even a little predictable in our current day and age.

Nevertheless, it’s a huge step for South Korean filmmakers who are taking a page from Hollywood and using CGI to much greater cinematic effect. We can expect Space Sweepers to set the standard for more filmmakers in South Korea to produce bigger blockbusters and set the stage for even more impressive titles to come.

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