|Directed by||Jo Sung-hee|
|Music by||Kim Tae-seong|
Space Sweepers (Korean: 승리호; Hanja: 勝利號; RR: Seungriho; 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. Regarded as the first Korean space blockbuster, it was released on Netflix on February 5, 2021.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2021)
In the year 2092, Earth has become nearly uninhabitable. The UTS Corporation builds a new orbiting home for humanity that mimics the ecosystem on Earth; however, only an elite few are permitted to ascend and become UTS citizens, while those remaining on Earth breathe polluted air. Many non-citizens from all across the globe survive as space sweepers, collecting space debris floating in Earth's orbit and selling it to the company factory. The film follows such a crew of space sweepers and their ship, the Victory.
Victory's crew includes Kim Tae-ho, Tiger Park and Bubs (an android), all led by Captain Jang. Mechanic Tiger Park was a drug baron on Earth, while Bubs, once a soldier, now helps repair the ship and cast the net for space junk while saving up to get a complete skin graft. Jang was one of the child geniuses sponsored by UTS and created several hi-tech inventions for the company but, after discovering how the company works, became a pirate and tried to assassinate James Sullivan. Her crew was killed and Sullivan survived, so she changed identities and had an eye transplant. Tae-ho, once a child soldier, is on a search for his daughter Su-ni, who was ejected into space after debris collided with their station. His sole aim is to pay the authorities' recovery team to locate her body tracker before she drifts out of orbit and is lost in space forever.
After picking up a car floating in orbit, they discover a child in it, a robot named Dorothy, who contains a weapon of mass destruction created by the terrorist group Black Fox. The crew also finds a smartphone in Dorothy's bag with several missed calls from someone named Kang Hyeon-u. They call back and, assuming the other party belongs to Black Fox, negotiate two million dollars for returning Dorothy. Tae-ho and Tiger carry Dorothy to a night club to collect the ransom, but she wanders off. UTS soldiers stage a massacre at the club. Tiger and Tae-ho locate Dorothy when Soldier 01 zeroes in and shoots at them. Dorothy's eyes change color and the trio are protected from the blast by a sort of force field around them. Jang, watching through a feed on the ship, notices the man who came to collect Dorothy calling her Kot-Nim. The trio make it back to the ship, where Dorothy admits that Kot-Nim is her Korean name. Tae-ho ignores her, thinking she is a robot, while Tiger becomes friendly with her and suggests keeping her. Tae-ho dismisses the idea and goes to set up another call with Kang Hyeon-u to rearrange the exchange.
Jang finds papers in Dorothy's backpack and goes through them. Bubs puts makeup on Dorothy and tells her the story of Tae-ho: as a child soldier, he attacked and boarded a ship that carried several fleeing non-citizens, killing them all. He noticed a baby still alive in the arms of a dead woman and adopted the girl. She rekindled his humanity and Tae-ho found himself unable to hurt others - as a result, he was dismissed from the force, made homeless and reduced to a non-citizen. After a year of homelessness, Tae-ho became desperate and gambled, neglecting Su-ni. She wandered away to find a snack and was blown into space by a debris impact.
A masked man follows Kot-Nim to the toilet in the factory. Her screams alert Tae-ho and Tiger, who rush to save her but are ambushed by a group of masked people. Tiger beats them all and Jang intervenes, discovering they are other space junk collectors working with Black Fox. Their leader, Karum, explains that Black Fox is an environmental group rather than a terrorist organization and that Kot-Nim is not an android but a human child. Born with a congenital disease, her father Kang Hyeon-u injected her with nanobots found in space debris, which not only saved Kot-Nim but also gave her a unique power: she could communicate with other nanobots to heal and protect. Sullivan used Kot-Nim to terraform Mars. He now plans to kill Dorothy in a hydrogen bomb explosion since nanobots can only be destroyed by extreme high temperatures. Given the Earth's proximity, the explosion would cause the factory to fall onto the planet, destroying the Earth and making Mars the only viable option for humanity.
The crew decide to unite Kot-Nim with her father and disable the bomb with the help of the Black Foxes, who will locate and bring Dr. Kang to the meeting point. Soldiers attack them, but Tae-ho and Kot-nim manage to flee on the Victory. They enter a space debris field, where nanobots begin to consume their ship. Kot-nim communicates with them and the nanobots disperse. They enter the factory where the meet-up is scheduled, only to be ambushed. The UTS soldiers kill all the Black Foxes and Dr. Kang before kidnapping Kot-Nim. Sullivan gives Tae-ho four million dollars in return for abandoning Kot-Nim. Tae-ho takes the money, but the rest decide to save Kot-Nim – even if it kills them. Tae-ho gives the money to the UTS officers, and they hand over Su-ni's possessions – her clothes, crayons and writing book. In it, Su-ni had written that she wanted to be a good person like her father. This reminds Tae-ho of the promise he made to Su-ni, to be the best man she had ever known. He takes back the money and returns to the ship with a new zeal before they all go to save Kot-Nim.
Sullivan announces the colonization of Mars. Kot-Nim is strapped to the bomb, but the team frees her; however, Jang discovers that the bomb cannot be defused. It will not only destroy anything in its blast radius but also any nanobots within 5,000 kilometers. The only way Kot-Nim's nanobots (and her life) can be saved is if she is out of range. The team sets off to fly 5,000 km away, but are interrupted by Soldier 01; Tiger fights her and ejects her from the factory. The team send out a message to the rest of the Space Sweepers, who come to their aid, fighting the attacking troops. While the battle rages, the population of Earth and UTS colonies are shocked to learn of Sullivan's true goals when they hear a leaked recording of him recounting his plan. The Victory is intercepted by Sullivan himself, who tries to fight the crew to get back Kot-Nim. When it seems they have lost the battle, Tiger and Tae-ho manage a final boost that puts the ship just out of the blast range. The crew reveal that Kot-Nim was left safely behind with other Space Sweepers. The Victory had removed the bomb from the core and carried it away, ready to sacrifice their lives to save Earth and Kot-Nim. The bomb explodes, but Kot-Nim summons the nanobots to protect the Victory, saving the lives of the crew.
In the aftermath of the battle, with the UTS CEO dead, the corporation publicly apologizes for the cover-up of their true goals and promises to help make the Earth more habitable. Kot-Nim is adopted by the crew and, using her powers, enables Tae-Ho to say goodbye to Su-ni; Bubs gets her skin graft, Tiger and Tae-Ho take Kot-Nim down to Earth to help grow trees and they all continue space sweeping.
- 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.
- Kim Mu-yeol as Kang Hyeon-u – Kang Kot-nim's father and a scientist.
- Park Ye-rin 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 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
The film criticises capitalism. 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. 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."
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."
In May 2019, the Chinese multinational entertainment company Huayi Tencent invested $4.2 million in the film. 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.
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). 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. 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. 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.
Principal photography began on July 3, 2019, and filming was completed on November 2.
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. In August 2020, the release was once again postponed due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in South Korea.
In May 2021, Space Sweeper's second film is scheduled to be produced.
The film debuted at No. 1 on Netflix in at least 16 countries including France, Malaysia, Croatia, South Korea and the 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.
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". On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on reviews from 4 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
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." Dais Johnston of Inverse argued that the film "proves that Netflix's big bet on international audiences is paying off." 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." 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."
Awards and nominations
|2021||57th Baeksang Arts Awards||Technical award||Jang Geun-young (Art)||Nominated|||
|Jeong Seong-jin, Jong Chol-min (Visual effects)||Won|
|26th Chunsa Film Art Awards||Best Actor||Song Joong-ki||Won|||
|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|||
|Best Music Award||Kim Tae-seong||Nominated|
|Best Art/Technical Award||Jeong Seong-jin, Jeong Chol-min (VFX)||Won|||
|42nd Blue Dragon Film Awards||Best Film||Space Sweepers||Nominated|||
|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|||
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