By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- What will Earth be like in 2092? Will everyone have fair access to cutting-edge technology that allows for a peaceful and pollution-free environment?
Director Jo Sung-hee, who has created fairy tale-like films such as "A Werewolf Boy" (2012) and "Phantom Detective" (2016), pictures a slightly pessimistic future of Earth and humanity in his fourth feature "Space Sweepers."
In the cinematic world of "Space Sweepers," the universe is divided into two different worlds in 2092, when Earth is nearly destroyed by pollution.
A group of upper class people live in a new clean habitable world in outer space, where key components that allow habitation, such as air and light, are sophisticatedly controlled by UTS Corporation, a company that creates and manages the artificial world.
On the other hand, the hopeless Earth remains home to the majority of people without the means to escape to UTS' new floating land.
Hence some of the lower class tellurians go out into space and survive on scavenged space debris.
Among them, a junk collecting crew on board the shabby spaceship Victory -- Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), pilot Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu) and the humanoid robot Bubs (Yoo Hai-jin) -- are outstanding in snatching crashed space shuttles or discarded satellites. They outperform rival junk collecting ships from other countries.
Captain Jang, a mysterious former pirate, is charismatic enough to lead three other misfits who each have their own conspicuous past histories. Tae-ho, a former leader of UTS' special forces command, is a skillful, quick-thinking pilot, and Tiger Park is a fighter and former member of a drug trafficking syndicate. Bubs is a military robot that can think and act autonomously.
But the quartet's stellar quests hardly produce sufficient profits. Their peanut income is offset by spacecraft rent costs and repair and maintenance expenses.
During a routine space scavenging chase, the ragtag crew comes across a young girl who possesses sought-after mysterious powers and makes plans to use her as a bargaining chip to get a great fortune. UTS also seeks out the girl for a confidential project to build a new habitable world on Mars.
From this point on, the storyline of "Space Sweepers" seems to follow a generic Hollywood sci-fi action film formula with a fairly predictable ending.
But its imaginative visualization of space battles and life in the artificial utopia and space stations succeeds in seizing the eyes of viewers.
In particular, big-budget visual effects technology effectively renders enthralling battles in space, with speedy movements of spaceships and laser blasts filling the screen. Spectacles of space cruiser explosions, bursting into huge balls of fire, are depicted in intricate, high-definition imagery.
The computer-generated robot character Bubs, produced through motion capture acting by seasoned character actor Yoo Hai-jin, is also well developed with its own unique vibes, as if it really exists somewhere in outer space.
The overall acting of the cast is also well absorbed into what is arguably the country's first bona fide space blockbuster film, with no flaws in their performances.
Song is cast perfectly as Tae-ho, who lives in despair after losing his daughter and being fired from the UTS command. Kim appears to be in her element playing a spaceship captain, a role that is traditionally taken by actors with bigger and stronger physiques.
Given that the space blockbuster genre is traditionally dominated by Hollywood studios with Western actors, watching Korean astronauts playing a Korean card game and eating Korean soybean stew in space are uniquely entertaining minutiae in "Space Sweepers."
It is a shame though that eye-catching battle scenes and images of detailed spacecraft interiors can't be enjoyed on the big screen with well-rounded sound and music. Viewing is limited to smaller screens such as televisions or smartphones via Netflix.
The film was originally set for a theatrical release last summer, but its distributor decided to take it to Netflix after several delays due to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic. "Space Sweepers" is currently available on Netflix.