Director – Jo Sung-hee, Screenplay – Jo Sung-hee & Mocan, Producers – Kim Su-jin & Yun Im-seon, Photography – Byun Bong-sun, Music – Kim Tae-seong, Visual Effects Supervisors – Jung Chul-Min & Jung Sung-Jin, Visual Effects – Dexter Studios. Digital Idea, Lix Digital Studios, Madman Post & Wysiwyg Studios. Special Effects Supervisor – Park Dae-hun, Makeup Effects – Pee Dae-sung, Production Design – Jang Geun-young. Production Company – Bidangil Pictures.
Song Joon-ki (Tae-ho), Kim Tae-n (Captain Jang), Jin Seon-kyu (Tiger Park), Yoo Hae-jin (Bubs), Park Ye-rin (Dorothy/Kot-rim), Richard Armitage (James Sullivan), Kim Mu-yeol (Kang Hyun-woo), Oh Ji-yul (Su-ni), Nas Brown (Karum), Kevin Dockry (Pierre), Kim Hyang-gi (Bubs’ New Body)
In the year 2092, the Earth has become heavily polluted. The UTS corporation has moved into space, creating a habitat that offers paradise-like conditions for those who can afford to live there, while the rest of humanity are abandoned back on Earth. Tae-ho works as a space sweeper, those why fly near space collecting the junk and debris in orbit. He is aboard the ship Victory under Captain Jang along with the engineer Tiger Park and robot Bubs. Tae-ho was a former UTS soldier who saved a young refugee Sun-ni and then took care of her – only to see her blasted into orbit. He is hoping to earn enough money to pay to have her body located. A reward now goes out for a young girl Dorothy. Tae-ho and the others are startled when they find Dorothy in a packing case amid the space junk. They discover she is an android and has controls to a nuclear weapon. The Victory crew find themselves caught in the middle as Dorothy is fiercely sought after by UTS CEO James Sullivan and the Black Foxes rebels.
Space Sweepers was a big-budget South Korean attempt to enter into the science-fiction sweepstakes and compete with US product. To this extent, the dialogue comes in a mixture of subtitled Korean and English. The Koreans have even gone to the extent of importing moderately well known British actor Richard Armitage, best known for The Hobbit films, as the corporate CEO bad guy of the show.
The film is directed and co-written by South Korean director Jo Sung-hee whose work I had been impressed with before in particular with his first film The End of the Animal (2010) about the appearance of an enigmatic stranger in the aftermath of a mysterious catastrophe. Jo also made A Werewolf Boy (2012), followed by the hard-boiled detective thriller The Phantom Detective (2016), which sounds like it should be a genre film but isn’t, as well wrote the script for Killer Toon (2013), a horror film about murders that follow a cartoonist’s drawings.
The characters remind of the complement of working stiff characters we had in Alien (1979) constantly bitching about their pay and working conditions, albeit recast with a trio of Korean kids who all look around the age of twenty – and with the addition of a robot and a cute kid to the crew. The set-up reminds of something of Stuart Gordon’s Space Truckers (1996).
The scenario is quite an imaginative one – and one that the effects team do a superlative job is depicting in the opening moments – where Earth has become a dreary urban wasteland where the skies are a permanent orange smog, while industry has been moved to a factory in earth orbit (that looks suspiciously like a miniature Death Star), and the wealthy elites, not dissimilar to the ones in Elysium (2013), have decamped to an orbiting bubble where there are blue skies and free, open greenery, while there are announced plans to go on to colonise Mars.
The story gets a little predictable, especially once they introduce the cute kid, although Park Ye-rin does fine in the part. The most unnecessary part is having to have Richard Armitage’s evil CEO turns into a mutant villain during the climactic scenes. That said, the entire exercise comes together as a highly enjoyable Space Opera adventure. Even if perhaps there does seem to be an inordinate amount of space junk that needs collecting given that solar colonisation efforts have not much moved out beyond Earth orbit by the time of the film’s future setting.
What makes the film particularly stand out are the quality of the visual effects, which are easily on a par with Hollywood product. The ships and the scenes buzzing around space and the various space stations are stunningly well detailed. The best of these come during the climactic shootout that has Kim Tae-n on the back of the ship shooting down flotillas of oncoming missiles with a gun while the robot swings out on the end of a long cable fighting them with a javelin, all as Song Joon-ki conducts a high-risk manoeuvre to dive down into the Earth’s atmosphere. If the next Star Wars film needed a director with an exciting new ability to conceive fresh effects sequences and reinvigorate the franchise they need look no further than Jo Sung-hee.