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‘Space Sweepers’ is not the usual sci-fi hero blockbuster

The cast of the film “Space Sweepers” -- (from left) Yoo Hai-jin, Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri and Jin Seon-kyu -- pose for photos during an online press conference held Tuesday. (Merry Christmas)
The cast of the film “Space Sweepers” -- (from left) Yoo Hai-jin, Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri and Jin Seon-kyu -- pose for photos during an online press conference held Tuesday. (Merry Christmas)

It is being touted as Korea’s first original space blockbuster, but “Space Sweepers” does not show glamorous heroes on cutting-edge spaceships saving the universe. Instead, you get space laborers collecting dangerous trash and fighting enemies in their struggle to survive.

Ahead of the film’s release on Sept. 23, director Jo Sung-hee and cast members Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu and Yoo Hai-jin attended a preview press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. The event, originally scheduled to take place in a local cinema, was livestreamed online due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

“The film started from a casual conversation with my friend around 10 years ago. He told me about space debris dumped from the work done up there. Apparently, their speed is faster than a bullet and they’re already a serious problem,” the director said. “Space sweepers have previously been seen in animation and games, but I wondered how it would be to feature South Koreans -- known for their tenacity that enables them to survive anywhere in the world – in such a job in film.“

Song teamed up with director Jo for the second time -- he starred in Jo’s 2012 film “A Werewolf Boy.” In “Space Sweepers,” Song plays the pilot of Victory, a debris-collecting space shuttle, and drives his crew across the vast expanse of the universe collecting trash for money.

“He’s like a sock with a hole. He actually wears one too. He would do anything for money, and he’s a down-to-earth and desperate person,” said Song, describing his character Kim Tae-ho.

"Space Sweepers” (Merry Christmas)

Actress Kim Tae-ri, who starred in “The Handmaiden” (2016) and “Little Forest” (2018), takes the role of a strong yet warm-hearted captain of the spaceship.

“Captain Jang is the brain of the crew. She has a brilliant mind, and she knows how to take care of the chaotic space shuttle,” Kim said. “Although she’s a genius who can repair the entire spaceship, I didn’t want her to seem perfect in a clichéd way. I wanted the human aspect of her to show -- imperfect and even innocent,” Kim said.

Jin, who starred in the smash-hit comedy “Extreme Job” (2019), also reveals a different aspect of him as the shuttle’s engineer Tiger Park, who sports a dreadlock and tattoos.

Veteran actor Yoo is playing his first ever role as a robot -- Bubs, the harpoon-thrower. Rather than providing just the voice, as originally requested, Yoo acted out the robot’s movements as well.

“It didn’t feel like me to see my voice laid over someone else’s actions. I had a thirst for something new, and it was a fresh challenge,” the actor said.

The film depicts the class divide in the year 2092, a divide exacerbated by extreme desertification of Earth. No living plant can be found and those affluent enough to escape Earth have found a new home in outer space, whereas the lower-class has no choice but to stay. The four crew members of space shuttle Victory are like migrant laborers working and living in a dangerous environment far away from home.

“‘Space Sweepers’ is mostly based on our imagination and the story of the characters is not so different from our own. They worry about paying interests on loans and utility bills and eat rice with soy bean stew. They’re not heroes in spectacular suits, but just ordinary Korean citizens flying in space,” director Jo said.

By Choi Ji-won (