'Space Sweepers' Review: The meek shall inherit — and save — the Earth

The crew of the Victory just need to get paid. They didn't expect they'd have to save the planet in the process.

From left, Bubs, Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), Tae-ho (Song Joon-Ki) and Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin) in "Space Sweepers" on Netflix.
(Image: © Netflix)

What to Watch Verdict

The Korean import "Space Sweepers" is a fantastically fun ride in any language and is well worth a spot in the Netflix Top 10 list.


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    🚀 A small cast with a decent amount of depth.

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    🚀 7-year-old Dorothy is a treasure to watch.

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    🚀 The fast pace keeps the 136-minute movie moving.


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    🚀 We only got 2 hours with this fun, lovable crew.

The story of a special child in trouble, trying to escape the clutches of an evil corporation and requiring the help and sacrifice of a grown-up is as cliche as it comes. Pick your poison. Terminator 2. Commando. Mercury Rising. Kindergarten Cop. Logan. Some other movie that might well involve Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

That doesn't mean there's no more room for the trope — nor does it mean it can't be fun. 

That brings us to Space Sweepers, a Netflix film and Korean import that you probably had never heard of until this month — and that has made its way into the Netflix Top 10.

It's a fun, frantic ride that envisions a world some 70 years in the future. Earth is growing increasingly uninhabitable, even though something like 95 percent of the population still lives on the ground. The other 5 percent? They went up, to a series of massive orbiting stations run by a massive company called UTS. It has its own government and way of life, but allows for non-UTS citizens to come on up and work. And all that space stuff means a whole lot of space junk, which has led to an international cadre of junk collectors that round up wayward satellites and derelict shuttles to spare out what cash they can. It's hard, dangerous work, and not very lucrative. But it's the perfect place for someone with an imperfect past to hide out.

The crew of the Korean-flagged Victory fits that bill perfectly. Pilot Tae-ho (Song Joong-Ki) used to be the top dog with the UTS Space Guard until being forced out and is trying to get enough money to fund the orbital search for the body of his daughter, who was killed and ejected into space in a station mishap. Engineer Tiger Park (Seon-kyu Jin) is a former drug lord who will be executed if he steps foot back on Earth. Captain Hang (Kim Tae-ri) is a hard-drinking, aviators-waring leader whose own past includes an assassination attempt on UTS founder James Sullivan (Richard Armitage, who you know as Thorin from the Lord of the Rings saga). Then there's Bubs (Hyang-gi Kim), a former military battle droid who enjoys hanging out in a lawn chair on the hull of the Victory before getting to work, but all Bubs really wants is to be a real girl. 

The Victory is the scourge of the junkers because it's been outfitted with all kinds of illegal modifications that allow it to poach salvage opportunities. It's seems it's about the sport as much as it is the opportunity to make a little money, which is good because the crew of the Victory is dead broke. They fund their operation with a ton of debt, and the bill is coming due.

An opportunity arises when UTC makes it known that it's looking for an Android named Dorothy, which has been stolen by a terrorist group called the Black Foxes and turned into a deadly weapon. Dorothy, by the way, looks like a 7-year-old girl. When founded in the back of a crashed shuttle, the Victory crew decides to return Dorothy for a handsome ransom and solve their money problems forever. 

Except it turns out that Dorothy actually is the extremely cute human child named Kang Kot-nim (played by Ye-Rin Park). And Kot-nim's father inadvertently enabled her with the power to save humanity when he injected her with nanobots as a means to stave off a deadly ailment. 

The plot goes exactly how you'd expect. The Victory crew come to know and love Kot-nim as if she's their own — and you can't blame them. The only problem is that if Kot-nim/Dorothy saves human by fixing the Earth, Sullivan won't be able to fulfill his dream of making Mars — his Mars — the only habitable planet in the Galaxy.

And so the crew of the Victory are forced to choose. Sullivan will give them all the money they need, at the expense of Kot-nim's life — and another billion or so on Earth who are going to die due to Sullivan's plot. Or they could take on Sullivan and try to save Kot-nim. They're outgunned and underfunded, for sure.

But they're also junkers, and part of the junker underclass. They're all competitors, sure. And the Victory is loathed by the junker fleet. But if bringing all the sweepers together is what it will take to even have a chance to beat Sullivan and save all their families back on Earth, you know they're going to come together.

That's the not the end of the story, though. There's a great twist that the end that's well-camouflaged by the sheer pace of the action, which at times is a bit too frantic, but also purposefully so. It's the sort of speed that's not uncommon in an Asian import — and it does improve the feel of the film than explosion after explosion in a cookie-cutter U.S. action flick. It's at times a bit much because the bulk of the film is in Korean, so you have to keep up with everything on screen while also absorbing the subtitles. But the movie also smartly blends together English, Russian, French and other languages and nationalities.

And that's the real story of the space sweepers. They're looking out for their own, of course.

But they're also looking out for themselves — and their families — together.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations and is the Dad part of Modern Dad.