Out Into the Orbit and Beyond: How South Korea’s First Space-Set Sci-Fi Breaks New Ground to a Whole New Blockbuster Experience

Slant

Now streaming on Netflix, ‘Space Sweepers’ follows a ragtag group of misfits just trying to get by in space. The film, written and directed by Jo Sung-hee (A Werewolf Boy, Phantom Detective), stars Song Joong-Ki, Kim Tae-Ri, Jin Sun-Kyu, and Yoo Hai-Jin, and marks a historic first this side of the world’s cinematic venture.

South Korea has long planted itself in the center of the world’s attention when it comes to anything out of the entertainment industry. Throughout the years, this momentum has only grown stronger and stronger with the international acclaim its artists and art works have received, particularly for the global recognition of BTS, and Parasite, to name just a few. One thing that the world has taken notice of, when it comes to anything out of South Korea, is the quality of its production and formidable force it brings in its storytelling. This branches out to music, film, dramas, theater, and the like.

Now, a new film is being hyped up to add to this already-impressive repertoire, in the form of the country’s first-ever science fiction blockbuster set in outer space.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Space Sweepers, written and directed by Jo Sung-hee, is a film set in 2092 that trails the story of four individuals who, out of their own plight for survival and personal greed for money, end up with the means to save the world. The first-of-its-kind, the film is led by Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Sun-kyu, and Yoo Hai-jin—the crew members of spaceship Victory. Joining the cast is Hollywood actor Richard Armitage, who is mostly known for his role in The Hobbit and Ocean’s 8.

As the title suggests, the movie literally pertains to the people who sweep away debris in space. Set many years later, when Earth is soon to be inhabitable, the Victory crew runs a waste management spaceship that ends up discovering a humanlike robot. A robot that, later on, they decide to exchange for ransom with the UTS Space Guards, considered the authorities running humanity at the time the film was set.

In photo: Kim Tae-Ri, Jin Sun-Kyu, Yoo Hai-Jin, Song Joong-Ki. Image courtesy of: Netflix

Director Jo shared the inception of the idea from 10 years ago when he heard all these stories about space and space sweepers from friends. And ever since, the movie’s plot has thoroughly been developed, allowing his imagination run wild and out of this world.

In fact, during that time, he had already recruited Joong-ki to take part in the movie, albeit without his knowing. The actor, who was working with Director Jo at the time in A Werewolf Boy (2012), shared during the film’s regional press conference about how he heard him say that he wanted to create a space sci-fi movie back then, and thought it would be something that would soon blaze the trail for South Korea’s entertainment industry.

“After literally a decade, he proposed the role and I immediately thought I’d definitely do it. I was so shocked because it was so new and fresh,” he enthused, explaining why he didn’t even need to read the script before agreeing to join. The South Korean superstar plays Tae-Ho, who initially thought of the film’s premise to have the makings of becoming a surefire hit.

Song Joong-Ki. Image courtesy of Netflix

When asked about Space Sweepers being the first outer space adventure in South Korean cinema and the pressure that lies in being part of a project that is a first of its kind, he shared, “I wouldn’t think that as a burden. The burden stood on the director shoulders. To have the title of Korea’s first blockbuster, it’s almost like having the flat of the Korean flag on our chest. So, you know we didn’t want to be pressured or burdened by that. But, again, I think that a lot of that laid on the directors shoulder.”

He continued, “Contrary, I think I was more excited. I felt like I was a child again. When I first read the script. It reminded me of when I was a young kid. I don’t know if you know you know the movie Goonies right I’m sure we all remember, it was such an amazing adventure. And that’s exactly how I felt.”

Kim Tae-ri. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Kim Tae-ri, who plays Captain Jang, portrays a strong and fierce woman leading the crew in their mission, while top character actor, Jin Sun-kyu plays Tiger Park, a seemingly gruff but warm-hearted engineer who has a soft spot for children.

On joining the project, the Korean actress highlighted, “We are instantly reminded of Hollywood SF films, that’s what we are used to. So, to think that an outer space sci-fi movie, created in Korea, what that would be like, I think that’s exactly what we have created together. This is very Korean, I think so. I am excited to see what kind of other films, other SF films, taking place in outer space will come about from Korea. And I hope that Space Sweepers, the film started something.”

Tae-ri added, “I’m very proud to have created something as a team that we all work so hard on and together. So, I’m very proud and I feel great, and I, as an audience. I’m also really looking forward to seeing it for me.”

JIN SUN-KYU

Image courtesy of Netflix

Image Courtesy of Netflix

At this point, Jin Sun-kyu, who recently appeared in other well-received projects as Kingdom and the film Extreme Job, discussed, “I am excited, I’m nervous. Just being able to talk about the movie here I am really happy. And I feel almost like, you know, you’re playing for the nation that I’m playing with the flag on my chest as an athlete almost, or you know, back when back how I felt when Korea was really doing well the World Cup event. I feel like we are going out into the space with representatives.”

Rounding up the cast of characters completing the film, Yoo Hai-jin reacted on rising up to the film’s challenge. He notes, “I personally think [the film] looks fantastic and I’m extremely proud. And I feel like the director really has done an amazing job. He put a lot of effort into it, and I think for the film to be called a first of its kind, and we did something really great.”

Yoo Hai-jin. Image courtesy of Netflix.

With all the excitement that surrounded the project, one of the biggest reasons, would be Hai-jin’s role, Bubs. The character takes on the form of a robot, making this film the first South Korean project to make use of motion capture performances, usually only seen in Hollywood blockbusters:

“It was a new experience. While I was acting, I was very curious and excited to see how it turned out on the screen. It was a new experience for me, but all the other staff had to go through a hard time because of the technical issues. They had to shoot a scene without me and then with me inside again, so I saw all the crew members kind of struggling,” the seasoned actor shared.

As it’s entirely new territory to have a robot within a Korean entourage, he went on to talk more about Bubs as a character, and what viewers could anticipate from this new role: “A robot, but not a typical robot. He’s the accounting manager, but he’s not so savvy with the numbers. [Though] he’s a robot, he’s also very warm-hearted, almost like a human being. And he’s very skilled with the spear, also very cute and adorable. Bubs has his own dream that he wants to achieve.”

With the introduction of Bubs into Korean media, along with the technologies of performance-capture acting being fully utilized, the movie already seemingly has all that it needs to be an epic adventure that’s beyond anything we’ve seen before in Asian cinematography. However, the addition of Richard Armitage takes it one step further into global recognition.

The cast and director of Space Sweepers during its regional press conference. Image courtesy of Netflix.
Director Jo Sung-hee during the Space Sweepers regional press conference. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Director Jo shared how he always had images of Sullivan (Armitage’s character) in his head. As the movie villain, he wanted the character to have a good built, large physique, and be a middle-aged man who was very handsome, “I thought Richard Armitage suited everything. He was very enthusiastic about the project and he really wanted to be in it. So, that’s how we decided to work on the project together.”

Armitage also expressed his excitement about taking part in this movie, “[I wanted to say] a personal thank you to [our] director and producers for inviting me to play Sullivan. For bringing me to Korea, across the other side of the world and my home, and introducing me to a new country, all the sights, and the culture. But more importantly, for including me in a film that, I think, the Korean film industry would be extremely proud of. It’s such an achievement.”

The actor also gave a glimpse of a spoiler as he thanked the cast and crew, and specifically Tae-ri, “My finger still really hurts. And you know what I’m talking about.”

With all that’s been laid out in anticipation for the film, it’s exciting to see how it would actually meet and go beyond the world’s expectations. The plot itself promises a lot of wit, grit, and world-saving stakes that are (literally) out of this world and might very well be in direct comparison with Hollywood films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other galactic epics in film.

Given all the technologies and advancements explored and introduced to the Korean industry through this movie, it’s interesting to see what the country’s film community do next to take it one step further. With the quality of their films already being highly regarded and commended, a lot of excitement and anticipation is also set off by Space Sweepers as it marks a new chapter in their cinematic journey with the trademark storytelling and production that have broken down walls and preconceived judgments about Asian film.

It’s only a matter of time before South Korea introduces yet a new project that would once again blow our minds, and we, for one, can’t wait to see it.

Space Sweepers is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.

Catch the full trailer here: