Space Sweepers / Seungriho (dir. Jo Sung-hee, 2021) – A space crew discovers a human-like robot in a crashed space shuttle and decides to cash in on their find.
In 2092, the environmentally devastated Earth is in its death throes. The rich pay to seek safe harbour in space’s orbiting land, owned by UTS Corporation. The poor have no choice but to remain in their stricken home, struggling to survive the lasting consequences of climate change.
Space Sweepers continues the trend in science fiction, exploring the “what if”s behind our growing class divide that could see our humanity ebbed away with time. Inequity makes for a cold society, where non-citizens labour to clear the debris in orbit for money and the comfort of the upper class.
These space sweepers include South Korean spaceship Seungri, deep in debt with a taste for trouble. In their latest sweep, they uncover their most valuable find yet by chance – Dorothy, a humanoid android and an alleged weapon of mass destruction that is wanted by the UTS Space Guards. The renegade crew decide to exchange the child robot for cash, only to receive trouble in return.
Sparks fly when the trade turns into more risky business and the hunt for Dorothy turns violent. Space battles ensue, taking visual cues from the like of Star Wars albeit in more chaotic fashion. Never shying away from genre tropes, the space opera only finds distinction in its colourful characters, mirroring the fun adventure vibes of Firefly.
Piloting the ship is ex-military man Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki), who is desperate for money to fund a search mission for his missing daughter. He is joined by prodigy-turned-rebel Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), foolhardy but softhearted engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and wisecracking robot Bubs (Kim Hyang-gi).
In both their choice of aesthetics and personality, the ragtag team is quite the picture. There is much to love about them between their banters. Their familial bond also becomes credible with time when they start to treat Dorothy as their own. The innocence of the child has them question the story the media has fed them, thanks to the villain of the game.
Richard Armitage embodies the corporate evil, an aged tech mogul who hankers after immortality and spews exposition of his desire for world dominance. The unsubtle psychotic lies and murders without batting an eyelid. If that isn’t villainy enough, rage scarrifies him, turning him into a literal monster with crinkled skin and popped veins.
His tiresome vengeance offers a hint to those seeking hard sci-fi, that they will have to look elsewhere. In spite of its political settings, the space opera opts for over-the-top blockbuster set pieces, without much introspection into its backdrop of inequality. The plot verges on ridiculous, only grounded in Tae-ho’s search for his child that lends it a much needed emotive arc.
Everything else is reserved for the action junkies who want nothing more than thrills. Be warned, that most dangerous hijinks do end in near misses, such that victories mainly rely on luck and become eventually expected.
That said, it is difficult to launch into full-blown laments on the film’s bright optimism (for the most part), given how likeable the main characters are. Besides, in these hard times, the light at the end of the tunnel may just be the escapism we need.
Led by a charismatic space crew, Space Sweepers strives for blockbuster entertainment more than meditations or originality.
Space Sweepers is now on Netflix.