Space Sweepers swoops to Netflix as the one space opera blockbuster movie of 2020. It's also Korea's first Science Fiction space opera blockbuster. It never made it to theatres due to the coronavirus and ended up getting sold to Netflix, which actually means more people across the world will see it. And it's the space opera comedy we didn't know we were craving.
The heroes of Space Sweepers are a bunch of down-on-their-luck working stiffs stuck scavenging for scraps and salvage, barely getting by and constantly in debt. Bitter hotshot pilot Tae-Ho (Song Joon-Ki), tough-as-nails Captain Jang (Kim Tae-Ri), foul-mouthed ex-gangster-turned-engineer Tiger Park (Jin Sun-Kyu), and snarky reprogrammed war-droid Bubs (Yoo Hae-Jin) can barely stand each other as schlubs in a dead-end job tend to be. When they salvage a little girl who turns out to be a nuke, they think they've hit the big time – they can sell it off for a sum to clear up their debt. But they grow fond of the "kid" and become a family-of-choice and decide to instead fight against the evil corporation whose head (Richard Armitage) is the source of all their problems and past tragedies.
Space Sweepers fits in the current trend of space operas that feature blue-collar characters instead of the grand elite from the military; current Star Trek shows notwithstanding. Where the usual iteration of the genre featured aspirational characters in the military setting forth on grand missions involving war, exploration, and colonialism, the emphasis in novels and non-Trek stories are about working stiffs in spaceships. Just look at The Expanse, Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, even The Wandering Earth, where the spaceship is the entire planet. This isn't the grand, cosmic vastness of space. In late capitalism, space is just another workplace that can kill you. It's littered with corporations, brands, and junk that society has taken with them to the stars.
Director Jo Sang-Hee is deliberately not subtle about the themes of class warfare and late capitalism in the movie. It's also what Quentin Tarantino calls a "hangout movie" because the crew of The Victory spend a lot of time just messing about on the ship bickering and hanging out before the action kicks into high gear and any slow patches in the middle of the movie are erased by a rollicking climax. Space Sweepers is a movie eager to show off its chops and compete with anything from Hollywood at a fraction of their budgets. It also has a fresh nasty streak and social outrage that's very Korean. A little girl who's literally a bomb is yet another metaphor for parenthood that you kind of expect from a Korean movie these days, and that just adds to the fun. This is a Korean space opera through-and-through, and it wants us all to know that.
Space Sweepers is now streaming on Netflix.