From the hapless, jumpsuited victims of Alien to the Guardians Of The Galaxy, to the lesser known flicks such as Stuart Gordon’s Space Truckers and the phantasmagorical 2000AD comic strip Ace Garp Trucking Co., the notion of blue collar idiots in space has always been a fertile playground for filmmakers who like a ton of grit with their sci-fi.
The latest example of this to come sailing through the space ways is the Nexflix premiering Space Sweepers (aka Victory), a film that proudly self-promotes itself as being the first Korean space blockbuster and goes all out to square up to the flashy space operas that tinsel town produces all the time.
Can the Korean film industry, bolstered by such homegrown genre classics such as Parasite, Oldboy and Train To Busan, hope to measure up to the the genre that Hollywood has held dominion over ever since Star Wars released in 1977?
The year is 2092 and predictably, earth is proper fucked as it chokes on an atmosphere so thick you could chew on it. However, smug corporation UTS has created orbiting satellites that can sustain a picturesque life for the chosen few who match CEO James Sullivan’s high standards. As the rest of the world’s population works their fingers to the bone in rusty squalor, we meet the highly dysfunctional crew of the Victory, a group of anti-social “Space Sweepers” who battle each other in order to salvage all of the potentially dangerous space junk that’s whizzing around earth’s orbit. Constantly in debt and barely living above the bread line in their tricked out ship the crew is made up of the humourless alcoholic Captain Jang, tragic-ex soldier turned pilot Tae-ho, the hatchet wielding mechanic Tiger Park and their eccentric robot Bubs, who is saving up for skin grafts in order to appear human. Despised by other Space Sweepers for often being unrepentant dick heads, the crew of the Victory suffers a change in fortune when they discover a wreck that contains the person of Dorothy, a valuable droid in the shape of a little girl who should fetch a pretty penny when brought in for the reward. Of course, things just ain’t as simple as it first appears and “Dorothy” (aka. Kot Nim) comes complete with an unexploded hydrogen bomb that came with a refit from terrorist group Black Fox, hence why the authorities at UTS want her back. Being unfeasibly broke, the crew naturally see her as a walking, talking, adorable pile of money, but hatch a typically moral-free plan to sell her back to the terrorists for more cash than UTS is willing to pay.
After the first attempt turns into a chaotic firefight, the crew find themselves falling for the charms of the impossibly cute droid and realise that on closer inspection, things aren’t all that they seem. As the true plans of Sullivan’s ecco-loony are revealed, the Space Sweepers realise they’ll have to rebrand themselves into marginally more decent people in order to save the day…
Space Sweepers, while fairly derivative when compared to virtually every science fiction movie ever made, represents yet another step for Korea into becoming a major player in global cinema. Visually, the movie pops; with the design ethic and extensive CGI creating a tangible world that feels more lived in than Han Solo’s boxer shorts and for the first half, the movie is a genuinely refreshing remix of some familiar themes – however, as the stakes start to get ever greater, Space Sweepers oddly starts to drag. This might bizarrely be because the main characters come across far more interesting when they’re being avaricious examples of crap, desperately scamming everyone and each other to horde a quick buck, but after laboriously working through more tragic backstories than an extra depressing episode of X Factor, our leads start to lose their edge.
The leads give it their all, though; managing not to get lost in all the expensive looking shots of whizzing ships and harpoon flinging robots, but unsurprisingly the best character turns out to be emoji-mouthed Bubs; think Rogue One’s cynical K-2SO but with added identity issues.
Anyone who isn’t part of the main crew however tends to fade into the background and the furiously multi-national bit players shout out important plot points in wildly varying accents that offer require sub-titles even if their speaking English. Proof of everyone’s inability to make themselves heard over the whizzing space-engines and exploding reactors is the actor playing Steve Jobs-alike, corporate, astro-wanker James Sullivan – for about a third of the film I couldn’t help but notice the guy was giving off major Richard Armitage vibes. Image my damn surprise when I realised that it actually was Richard Armitage playing the role…
Missing the raw energy, originality and staying power of some of the other past releases from Korea that have managed to snare the attention of the rest of the world, it’s doubtful that Space Sweepers will have the staying power to be regarded as a classic despite the noticably quirky efforts of director Jo Sung-hee; but you can’t fault it’s scope or ambition.
Ultimately though, Space Sweepers will more than likely find itself space swept under the rug.