Space Sweepers

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Space Sweepers
Official release poster
Hangul
승리호
Hanja
勝利號
Revised RomanizationSeungriho
Directed byJo Sung-hee
Written by
  • Yoon Seung-min
  • Yoo-kang Seo-ae
  • Jo Sung-hee
Produced by
  • Yoon In-beom
  • Kim Soo-jin
Starring
CinematographyByun Bong-sun
Edited by
  • Nam Na-young
  • Ha Mi-ra
Music byKim Tae-seong
Production
companies
  • Bidangil Pictures
  • Dexter Studios
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • February 5, 2021 (2021-02-05)
Running time
136 minutes
CountrySouth Korea
LanguagesKorean
English
Budget₩24 billion[1]
(~US$21.2 million)

Space Sweepers (Korean승리호; Hanja勝利號; RRSeungriho; lit. Spaceship Victory) is a 2021 South Korean space western film directed by Jo Sung-hee, starring Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu and Yoo Hae-jin.[2] Regarded as the first Korean film space blockbuster,[3] it was released directly on Netflix worldwide on February 5, 2021.[4][5]

Plot summary[edit]

During the year 2092, Tae-ho, Captain Jang, Tiger Park and an android named Bubs are a crew of space sweepers who live at an orbiting space station created by the UTS corporation after Earth becomes uninhabitable. Under the leadership of Sullivan, UTS has also created artificial planetoids for a select group of humans, who live idyllic lives. UTS has also terraformed Mars, intending to colonise the planet. By contrast, 90% of humanity lives in poverty and squalor on a dying Earth.

Tae-ho's crew struggle with mounting debts, loan sharks, and competition from other space sweepers. During their work, Captain discovers a child robot named Dorothy, who contains a weapon of mass destruction purportedly created by the terrorist group "Black Foxes". They negotiate a ransom for returning Dorothy, but their plan gets foiled when UTS soldiers stage a massacre at the club where the exchange was supposed to take place. Following the massacre, the UTS frames Tae-ho and his crew as terrorists

While the crew initially view Dorothy as an object, their feelings towards the girl soften. For Tae-ho, Dorothy reminds him of his adopted daughter Kim Su-ni, who was sucked into space during a space accident. Tae-ho and Jang were once UTS soldiers but defected after being forced to kill refugees fleeing Earth and incurring the wrath of Sullivan. Bubs and Park also befriend Dorothy.

Tae-ho and his group come into conflict with the Black Foxes, led by Karum. Following a confrontation on a space station, Karum reveals that the Black Fox are not terrorists but rather environmentalists seeking to return Dorothy to her father Kang Hyeon-u, a dissident scientist who has fallen foul of Sullivan. Dorothy is revealed to be Kang Kot-nim, a human who was injected with nanobots by her father in an attempt to heal her. Sullivan wants Kang because her nanobots can interact with other nanobots, making her a superweapon.

Sullivan's UTS forces track down the two groups and kill the Black Foxes. However, he spares Tae-ho, Jang, Park and Bubs due to his past relationships with the former two. In return for Tae-ho surrendering Kang Kot-nim, Sullivan grants the space sweepers an amnesty and a lump sum to cover their debts. Tae-ho uses his share of the money to fund an expedition to find his lost daughter Kim Su-ni but feels guilty about betraying Kang.

Sullivan intends to use Kang Kot-nim's nanobots to control a bomb fitted into an orbital factory. He intends to cause the factory to crash into the Earth, causing a cataclysmic accident. Tae-ho's team rescue Kang but struggle to disable the bomb and stop the collision. They enlist the help of the other spacers in stopping the collision. During a climatic battle with Sullivan, Tae-ho and his companions manage to detach the bomb from the orbital factory. Sullivan is killed when the bomb collides with his spaceship.

Following the battle, UTS makes reparations to those affected by Sullivan's crimes. Kang Kot-nim is adopted by Tae-ho and his crew, who are richer and settle scores with their crooked financial manager. Tae-ho also reconnects with Kim Su-ni on the astral plane while Bubs obtains a female human body.

Cast[edit]

  • Song Joong-ki as Kim Tae-ho – Former Commander of the Space Guards and the first ever UTS Genius.
  • Kim Tae-ri as Captain Jang / Jang Hyun-sook – Former Special Forces Squad officer who later deserted her post to create her own pirate organization. She attempted to assassinate CEO James Sullivan in which her entire pirate crew were killed.
  • Jin Seon-kyu as Tiger Park / Park Kyung-soo – Former Drug King who escaped Earth after being arrested and sentenced to death.
  • Yoo Hae-jin as Robot Bubs – Former military robot trying to save up for a skin graft
  • Richard Armitage as James Sullivan – The CEO of UTS and the main antagonist. A survivor of World War II who has grown disgusted with humanity throughout his long life. He seeks to destroy the Earth and its people so he can start again in Mars with his followers, to turn it into a new Eden.
  • Kim Mu-yeol as Kang Hyeon-u – Kang Kot-nim's father and a scientist.
  • Park Ye-rin [ko] as Dorothy / Kang Kot-nim – First believed to be a robot, she is actually a human who was injected with nanobots by her father as a last resort to heal her.
  • Oh Ji-yul [ko] as Kim Su-ni – Tae-ho's adopted daughter
  • Anupam Tripathi as Sullivan's assistant
  • Kim Hyang-gi as Bubs' new body
  • Christian Lagahit as Restaurant manager
  • Nas Brown as Karum, leader of the Black Foxes

Themes[edit]

The film criticises capitalism.[6][7] The process of the colonization of Mars in the film has been compared to billionaires prepping for an apocalypse. Avery Kaplan of ComicsBeat noted that "while capitalism may make the members of the Victory crew more likely to go for each others’ throats, it can't completely eradicate their intrinsic morality" and pointed to Bubs' arc as showcasing the barriers to trans healthcare that exist under capitalism.[8] Kambole Campbell of Polygon notes that "one of the film’s most striking elements is its casual multiculturalism. Characters from presumably dissolved nations speak to each other in a mix of their native languages, while English mostly appears as the language of power and of the film’s white antagonists."[9]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

The early working title of the film was Lightning Arc (Korean번개호; RRBeongaeho).[10]

Jo Sung-hee started writing the story 10 years prior to the film's release, after a friend talked to him about the dangers of space junk. He said that "It started with the idea of space travelers collecting space junk. I heard about how these fast-moving fragments of space debris are growing and leading to in-space collisions. I realized that this subject has already been dealt with in animations and games, but never in a film. I started writing the script wondering how Koreans, who possess a tenacious mentality, would approach this problem."[11]

In May 2019, the Chinese multinational entertainment company Huayi Tencent invested $4.2 million in the film.[12] The visual effects company Dexter Studios, which was behind the production of the films Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds, Ashfall and Wandering Earth, was hired for Space Sweepers.[13][14]

Casting[edit]

In June 2018, it was reported that Song Joong-ki agreed to star in Jo Sung-hee's next film, making it their second collaboration after A Werewolf Boy (2012).[15] Kim Tae-ri was offered the role of the spaceship captain in January 2019, followed by Jin Seon-kyu for the role of the keeper in April.[16][17] The final lineup was confirmed in June 2019, with Yoo Hae-jin joining the main cast in the form of robotic motion capture and voice acting.[18][19] English actor Richard Armitage also revealed through his Instagram account that he would start filming in July 2019, making Space Sweepers his first Korean film.[20][21]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on July 3, 2019, and filming was completed on November 2.[22]

Release[edit]

In June 2020, it was announced that the release was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a plan for the film to premiere during the Chuseok holiday.[23][24] In August 2020, the release was once again postponed due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in South Korea.[25]

In November 2020, it was announced that the film would be released exclusively on Netflix.[26] Space Sweepers was released on February 5, 2021.[27]

In May 2021, Space Sweeper's second film is scheduled to be produced.[28]

Reception[edit]

Audience viewership[edit]

The film debuted at No.1 on Netflix in 16 countries including France, Malaysia, Croatia, South Korea and Philippines. The movie also dominated Netflix's daily top 10 rankings in 80 countries upon its premiere. Space Sweepers also gathered more than 26 million household viewers on Netflix during the first 28 days of its release or 53,340,000 hours watched.[29][30]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 69% based on 26 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "As a story, Space Sweepers isn't as adventurous as its star-navigating protagonists -- but relatable characters and impressive effects keep it from drifting out of orbit."[31] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on reviews from 4 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[32]

Zaki Hasan of IGN argued that "even as [the film is] a concoction of various familiar sci-fi tropes, they’ve been reassembled with verve and passion enough to sand down any cynicism when taking it all in."[33] Dais Johnston of Inverse argued that the film "proves that Netflix's big bet on international audiences is paying off."[34] Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot compared the film to Cowboy Bebop and Guardians of the Galaxy, arguing that the film was "hardly groundbreaking stuff" but that "there’s always something fun to look at on-screen", and praising the diversity of the characters, stating that the film "feels far more international than most Hollywood blockbusters."[35] Karen Han of Slate stated that the film was "one of the rare space operas that doesn’t posit that English has somehow become a universal language" and that Bubs' arc "feels like one small step for transgender representation and, arguably, a giant one for blockbuster filmmaking from any nation."[36]

Adaptations[edit]

A webtoon based on the film premiered on May 26, 2020, on Daum and KakaoPage.[37] It premiered globally on February 8, 2021.[38]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
2021 57th Baeksang Arts Awards Technical award Jang Geun-young (Art) Nominated [39]
Jeong Seong-jin, Jong Chol-min (Visual effects) Won
26th Chunsa Film Art Awards Best Actor Song Joong-ki Won [40][41]
Best Director Jo Sung-hee Won
Technical Award (Visual effects) Park Dae-hoon, Jeong Seong-jin Nominated
30th Buil Film Awards Best Cinematography Award Byun Bong-sun Nominated [42]
Best Music Award Kim Tae-seong Nominated
Best Art/Technical Award Jeong Seong-jin, Jeong Chol-min (VFX) Won [43]
42nd Blue Dragon Film Awards Best Film Space Sweepers Nominated [44][45]
Best Director Jo Sung-hee Nominated
Best Actor Song Joong-ki Nominated
Popular Star Award Won
Best Supporting Actor Jin Seon-kyu Nominated
Best Cinematography Byun Bong-sun Nominated
Best Editing Award Nam Na-young Nominated
Best Art Direction Jang Geun-young Nominated
Technical Award Jeong Seong-jin, Jeong Chol-min (VFX) Won
University Film Festival of Korea Film of the Year Space Sweepers Won [46]
2022 Nebula Awards Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation Jo Sung-hee Nominated [47]
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Jo Sung-hee Nominated [48]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]