South Korea’s latest released film called 'Space Sweepers' has become the talk of the town since its release on Netflix on 5 February 2021. This is not just a space film, it was more of emotional value and pain. The emotions are so strong that you just find everything in this movie appealing. Altogether, it's also a movie that talks about the reality of earth that may happen in the future.
Space Sweepers is a South Korean movie set in the far-flung future, and as usual, things aren’t looking too good for humanity then. In the movie, the year 2092 is going on and our planet earth is dying. The sky is full of choking dust, the soil is burned and acidic, and humanity is masked up and barely getting by. The human race hasn’t quite been able to successfully combat pollution and climate change on Earth and as a result, humanity is now looking to greener pastures by living on purpose-built massive space stations with environments all of their own created by the CEO of a massive conglomerate known as ‘UTS’, in a key role as the richest man ever James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) who is now trying to create a controversial alternative human habitation on planet Mars.
The only problem is that this future is only available to the few rich people, with the majority of Earth’s population left to eke out a slow death. That leaves the scramble for resources among these destitute pretty high. While the planet Earth is already a polluted mess the space is also full of dangerous floating garbage like discarded satellites and deserted spaceships. Since 95% of the population can’t make it to the artificial earth, many folks eke out to one job as “sweepers,” scavenging for space debris they can salvage for hard cash.
While he charges towards his plans to Mars, the movie shifts to a group of space junk collectors from Korea called ‘The Victory’. This is where we meet our rag-tag team of heroes, as they take on this dangerous job, constantly looking for the next big piece of space debris while battling personal demons and trying to eventually get enough money to live the lives they want. During one of these missions though, they stumble upon some precious cargo that affects the fate of the world, which puts their lives on a completely different path than they ever imagined. The Victory was a craft, with an all-Korean crew composed of Kim Tae-Ri, who is super-cool as Space Captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park (Played by JinSeon-Kyu), the loudmouthed robot Bubs (Kim Hyang-Gi), and Song Joong-ki who plays the role of a pilot as Tae-ho of the freighter Victory spaceship. And all of them are part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts.
The crew of ‘The Victory’ discovers a humanoid robot named Dorothy (played by Park Ye-Rin) who’s known to be a weapon of mass destruction. Then they know that the child Dorothy a.k.a. Kot-nim, is wanted by authorities for being an android bomb, which seemed a little suspicious. Though the crew initially sees Dorothy as a golden goose, and they quickly look to ransom her to the highest bidder to buy themselves out of poverty. But they of course warm to her, and take the film down a reasonably predictable but genuinely moving found-family arc. Though it’s predictable, it’s still delightful to see this cast of hardened stock types soften to Dorothy’s presence, unable to mask their glee at being included in her drawings, or referred to as “Uncle.” Consequently, by the time the film reaches its action-packed climax, you'll be every bit as emotionally invested in her safety as the rest of the crew. In their efforts to keep Kot-nim safe from capture, the whole crew discovers a sense of noble heroism they never knew they had. Korean filmmakers do know how a child in peril can bring out humanity in even the most jaded adults in the most topsy-turvy of situations.
While this movie points out environmental problems such as pollution or demerits of deforestation it also introduces us to space junk. Space junk is a genuine problem. Since the dawn of the space age in the 1950s, we have launched thousands of rockets and sent even more satellites into orbit. Many are still there, and we face an ever-increasing risk of collision as we launch more. As long as humans have been exploring space, we've also been creating a bit of a mess. Orbiting our planet are thousands of dead satellites, along with bits of debris from all the rockets we've launched over the years. Now there are about 2,000 active satellites orbiting Earth at the moment, there are also 3,000 dead ones littering space. What's more, there are around 34,000 pieces of space junk bigger than 10 centimeters in size and millions of smaller pieces that could nonetheless prove disastrous if they hit something else.
Most “space junk” is moving very fast and can reach speeds of 18,000 miles per hour, almost seven times faster than a bullet. Due to the rate of speed and volume of debris in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), current and future space-based services, explorations, and operations pose a safety risk to people and property in space and on Earth. There are no international space laws to clean up debris in our LEO. And now LEO is viewed as the World’s largest garbage dump, and it’s expensive to remove space debris from there because the problem of space junk is huge.
The NASA Orbital Debris Program officially began in 1979 in the Space Sciences Branch at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. The program looks for ways to create less orbital debris, and designs equipment to track and remove the debris already in space. Space junk is no one countries’ responsibility, but the responsibility of every spacefaring country. The problem of managing space junk is both a global challenge and a chance to preserve the space environment for future space exploration missions. Luckily, at the moment, space junk does not create an enormous risk to our exploration efforts.
Space Sweepers is chock packed with elaborated costuming, eye-catching production style, and winking world-building visuals that populate each corner of the frame. The space crafts all have riotous characters, right down to their specific avionics. And the film enjoys its use of language, freely crossing Korean with English and a hodgepodge patois that represents the lingua franca of this future world it’s built. As narratives go, Space Sweepers isn’t over the moon with new concepts. But watching everyone grow close despite their originally selfish intentions is interesting, and those explosive action sequences do not disappoint. The film will have an admittedly long time period at 2 hours and 17 minutes, however, it's honest to mention that it never drags, due to Jo Sung-Hee's energetic direction and fast-paced editing.
Anybody with a bug for fantasy can dig into the world space Sweepers has built with enjoyment. For everybody else, it’s a thrill machine built from used parts that also manages quite a bit of charm. Also the crew of ‘The Victory’ make a charming, hilarious found family, and the twisty politics and schemes behind various terrorist and political groups are fun to follow along with. The script also does an excellent job of world-building, establishing details like an Earth that's close to collapse, a new society forming on Mars, and an outer space that's riddled with space stations and space junk. Similarly, the space-based action sequences are extremely busy, with a veritable overload of admittedly very impressive effects work.
This Korean blockbuster was originally set to hit theaters, however, due to the pandemic, it’s been picked up to stream on Netflix instead. The film boasts some pretty spectacular visuals for its budget, and lots of charm shines through from its main cast’s banter with each other. So, what are you waiting for? Stream it.
Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka