The Inverse review

Space Sweepers review: Working class save outer space in Netflix's Korean sci-fi

The superhero industrial complex better watch its back.

Netflix shocked the world when it announced plans to premiere a new movie every single week of 2021, but not every movie can be a huge blockbuster starring the Rock. Thankfully, some of the best science fiction movies were made on a tight budget, and Netflix's latest original, Space Sweepers, is no exception.

This Korean sci-fi epic proves that Netflix's big bet on international audiences is paying off. Read on to find out why.

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Comparing Space Sweepers to the 2019 Oscar-winning drama is easy. Both are Korean movies marketed to international audiences. Both tell tales of the lower classes being exploited and then those people exploiting back. And both include some interesting insight into the class dynamics between the poor and the rich.

In Parasite, lower-class mother Chung-sook says of her new boss, "She's nice because she's rich. Hell, if I had all this money, I'd be nice too!" In Space Sweepers, protagonist Tae-ho wonders to himself, "Do you think poverty makes us bad or we’re poor because we’re bad?"

But while they both have similar mission statements, these movies are incredibly different. Space Sweepers is unabashedly epic in its ambitions, telling a sweeping story of space travel while hitting many of the same notes contained in Parasite.

The crew of the Victory: Captain Jang, Tae-ho, and Bubs.Netflix

Tae-ho is a down-on-his-luck gig worker looking to pay off his debt so he can find someone he lost. He works as a pilot for the spaceship Victory, a reckless but effective junk cleanup ship.

The world-building for this film is painlessly administered. It's 2092, and Earth is declining fast. A mega-corporation known as UTS brings the worthy few to a huge orbiting spaceship with plans to colonize Mars.

The face of this corporation is James Sullivan, played with a conniving glee by Richard Armitage. He's the face of big business, elitism, and a heaping spoonful of eugenics. ("Did you know you can tell a person's moral disposition by their DNA?" he says in one scene.) The most interesting thing about this villain is he speaks entirely in English.

Due to every single character being equipped with a translator device, the world of Space Sweepers is as multilingual as a United Nations conference. The other cleanup ships speak Arabic, French, and German. There's a terrorist leader who speaks in a thick patois, and Tae-ho uses his translator to speak Spanish. This makes watching the movie dubbed redundant. There are so many languages, and so much English, that watching with subtitles is infinitely better.

The adorable and deadly "Dorothy." Netflix

The scope of Space Sweepers' story is just as vast as the range of languages its characters speak. The crew of the Victory, hard-drinking Captain Jang, scary but sweet Tiger, money-minded Tae-ho, and lovable android Bubs attempt to fix up a ship but stumble across something a lot more valuable: an adorable small girl with a bowl cut. They recognize her as "Dorothy," an android who apparently contains a weapon of mass destruction.

That doesn't turn out to be completely true, and it's only the first of many twists and turns Space Sweepers takes. At the 90-minute mark, there's a heartwarming ending involving "Dorothy" and her long-lost dad. It seems like the perfect ending. There's only one problem: there's still half an hour left.

Space Sweepers starts with a story of four people working to save themselves, who then work together to save the child, and, finally, they save the world. It may seem reductive, but the best way to explain the plot is Monsters, Inc. (a very dangerous but adorable girl) mixed with Wall-E (abandoning the Earth due to a lack of plants). If Pixar made a live-action sci-fi epic, it'd look a lot like this.

If Pixar made a live-action sci-fi epic, it'd look a lot like this.Netflix

Every aspect of this film is something Netflix has been working toward in its original media — multiculturalism, multilingualism, blockbuster-grade special effects, and ecological messaging. There's even a character who undergoes a quasi-transgender story, though it doesn't hold up well under scrutiny.

Hopefully, this is the first of many properties for Netflix that can introduce the mainstream American viewer to the wealth of international content that's available in the streaming age.

Space Sweepers is now streaming on Netflix.