Space Sweepers is a South Korean space opera set in the year 2092 where the Earth has become almost uninhabitable and the crew of a space junk collection ship called “The Victory”, are struggling to pay the bills. When they discover a wanted child on one of their salvage tours, the crew become swept up in a nefarious plot that threatens to destroy the Earth. Unfortunately, despite great sets and fun CGI, a dumb story, silly acting, and an excessive runtime made this a painful viewing experience.
Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki) is an ex-soldier who now struggles to earn a living as a space junk collector. He is trying to save up enough money to retrieve the body of his adopted daughter who is floating through space. The problem is, he and his crew consisting of Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin) and the robot Bubs (voiced by Hae-Jin Yoo and played by Hyang-gi Kim in his second body) are terrible as a collective at making any serious money in the space junk collection business.
So bad, in fact, that they’re on the verge of going completely broke and find themselves with fewer and fewer options as their debts pile up. The future is not looking good.
That is until they discover a wanted robot child, Dorothy (Ye-Rin Park), on their latest junk collection mission. With a massive bounty offered for the capture of Dorothy, Tae-ho sees an opportunity to fix his crew’s financial woes and the means to retrieve his daughter. But as time goes on and the crew of The Victory become emotionally attached to Dorothy, it becomes harder to go ahead with the reward transaction. It becomes even more difficult when they discover that there is more to Dorothy than they initially thought.
As they become embroiled in a plot far greater than a simple bounty collection, Tae-ho and his friends must band together in order to prevent the planet’s destruction and to save the child.
Being an action-adventure movie set in space, Space Sweepers isn’t meant to be a serious drama, so I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by any of the acting performances. What did surprise me was how all over the place the acting was with one second the performances being typical of an action/adventure movie aimed at adults or teenagers, to suddenly being really juvenile and childish like it was aimed for young kids, to suddenly trying to be deeply dramatic in the hopes of pulling the audience’s heartstrings.
The tone is all over the place, like the filmmakers didn’t know what genre they wanted this to be and thought they would just try them all at different points of the film. It’s a Frankenstein mess.
With the constant shift in genre, it really detracted from my enjoyment of the film and my opinion of the characters. I already thought the story was dumb with generally unlikable characters with backstories that tried too hard to be badass or cool. But throw in some bad casting – particularly with the baby-faced Song Joong-Ki playing the lead role of Tae-ho and the equally baby-faced Kim Tae-ri who plays the cringeworthy attempt at making a strong female lead, Captain Jang – and it ends up being a head-shaking mess that doesn’t sell the story or the characters.
I suspect these two are there more for their looks than their acting ability and given the type of hardened characters they are meant to be portraying, it was just laughable – embarrassingly so.
Credit where credit is due though, I did enjoy the robot character Bubs. Despite being without a mouth or the ability to make any proper facial expressions, this CGI character proved to be the light in the darkness with more genuine heartfelt moments, great witty lines and the ability to believably kick ass, not unlike K-2SO from Star Wars: Rogue One. Bubs is also the most interesting character in that this robot, who is voiced by a male, is saving up money to get a new body – a female body. This transgendered robot has the simplest character arc but ends up being the most compelling.
Despite the silly script, the bad acting, the excessive runtime and miscasting of key characters, director Sung-hee Jo ((Phantom Detective, A Werewolf Boy) has made a visually ambitious film given its $22.4 million budget. While the special effects and sets are never going to compete with the likes of Star Wars, they are still very well done and a lot of fun for the eyes. It sort of feels like The Fifth Element.
Even though the genre shifts from childish to brutally adult detract from this film, the adventure element is definitely well done and is carried out throughout the films entirety.. What helps with the adventure tone is the inclusion of multiple nationalities with its cast. Characters from all around the world, each speaking in their native tongue and aided with language translators in parts, really adds a nice feel to the film and makes this film not just a Korean blockbuster, but an international blockbuster.
Space Sweepers is not my type of movie, but it might’ve been. After last year’s superior Ashfall I was in the mood for another Hollywood-style Korean blockbuster. Alas, with its laughably implausible characters, woeful directing and excessive 2+ hours runtime, this wasn’t it. That said, I realize there is definitely going to be an audience who might love it for all the reasons I didn’t. With its space-faring setting, its over-the-top CGI space action sequences, its attempt at being the next Serenity and it being part of your Netflix subscription, it’s not that big a financial risk to give it a try.