WTF ASIA 201: Space Sweepers (2021)

Two hundred movies and, aside from certain segments from Funky Forest, I am not sure if I have actually featured a movie set in outer space yet. Anyways, here is a movie set in outer space.

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Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 138 minutes.

 

It is the year 2092 and the Earth is screwed. The UTS corporation has built a home in outer space for the chose few. Meanwhile…is that the AKIRA building?

Anyways, Kim Tae-ho has arrived at the UTS Lost & Found Integrated Warehouse in Korea. In lieu of cash, he has brought a bag of rice – real rice – in exchange for a quick look. A look at what? And how many times has he done this? Well, the workers try to toss him out, saying that she (?) has not arrived. The boss eventually relents and lets him look…if he hands over his magnetic boots.

One of the workers takes Tae-ho through a hallway of…oh, this is a morgue. Lovely. He goes to one corpse that matches the description that Tae-ho provided: female, 7-years-old. And East Asian, I guess. But, as they said, she is not the one whom Tae-ho is looking for. The guy says that she is not on Earth, and she may have drifted too far to be found.

Wearing an oxygen mask, Tae-ho takes a bus through Seoul to the UTS Transport station, where he is identified as a non-UTS citizen on a work visa. He takes the space elevator ring up to UTS governed orbit, where there is breathable air.

Somewhere in that orbit is the UTS Residential District, a domed city with trees and rivers and fauna. There, Ali from Squid Game is escorting a group of reporters from Earth who have come to meet the founder of UTS, Thorin Oakenshield James Sullivan. He is the richest man in the “world” as well as the oldest at…152?? Jeez!

Oh, there he is…doing gardening using soil from the surface of Mars?

Back at the office, James…erm…James…explains that UTS has been cultivating life on Mars using a super plant called Tree of Life. He says that UTS will be announcing the opening of the new Mars Colony in three days. He stops his little speech when he senses that the reporters may be concerned with his eating a sandwich with his unwashed hands. His voice gets slightly…erm…growlier as he insists that this is not dirty, but human beings are dirty…with their crimes against nature, which will not happen in this New Eden. A little ominous.

One of the reporters points out that 95% of the human population will not be allowed in that New Eden. What about the people left behind on the living hell that is Earth? What about the space laborers from Earth? The reporter calls it a humanitarian crisis. James agrees that it is a crisis, which UTS will be addressing, but the reporter is not done, and he starts talking about the workers who risk their lives chasing down space debris, scrap metal, and trash just to afford their next meal. James admits that the Eden is not perfect yet, but he welcomes a deeper conversation about this.

And now we get to see the titular space sweepers in action. Space ships are taking…grappling hooks to what the crew believe to be debris from a satellite. An abandoned shuttle is a particular prize. All is going well when…uh oh, here comes a ship from a rival group of sweepers, with a bootless Tae-ho in the pilot’s seat of the Victory. A goddamn robot stands outside the spaceship and throws a harpoon thingamee into the shuttle, allowing the Victory to snatch it away from the group of five other ships. And with Mister Park in the engine room doing…something, the Victory can speed up. Meanwhile, Captain Jang…erm…pilots some of the Victory’s limbs…in order to fight off the other ships look, a lot of things are happening all at once.

Uh oh. The Victory gets way too close to a space…ring…thingamee, so, they have to fly more evasively. But Tae-ho manages to take his eye off the front just long enough to bump into the dome of the UTS Residential District. While that does not seem to cause much damage, he still manages to break an antenna to…something. So…

The Victory arrives at the giant waste management satellite called The Factory, where the gathered waste gets turned into cubes.

Tae-ho meets with Karum the accountant, who calculates that the Victory has brought them $584 worth of scrap…oh, it is in cash. Oops. The broken antenna will cost them $1,300. And then there is the matter of taxes. And they will not even take the shuttle, lest Tae-ho wants to pay for getting it taken apart. Tae-ho gets upset at Karum for showing him the cash only to deny it. He tries to take the money, but Karum pulls a knife on him. Tae-ho pulls back and…I guess that that is that.

Karum then asks what Tae-ho is going to do about Su-ni, as three years have passed. Su-ni? Is that the girl he was looking for? In any case, Tae-ho answers that he will earn cash however he can, while rummaging through a fridge. Some guy named Pierre arrives, acting all pally wally and laughing at the plastic bags on Tae-ho’s feet. He asks if Captain Jang is still as beautiful as ever and Tae-ho tells Pierre that she will kill him if he calls her again.

Pierre…laughs that off and turns on the TV. There is a story about an android called Dorothy, suspected to have been stolen two days earlier by the terrorist group Black Foxes. Dorothy may look like a little child, but is actually a devastating weapon of mass destruction. You know, something tells me that all of this will become important later on.

Tae-ho goes out to rummage a dumpster for a pair of disgusting-looking shoes. Karum asks Tae-ho why a crew with such a ship as Victory cannot make money. Tae-ho replies that they are just always in debt due to repairs and fines. And the debt just accumulates. Karum says that they are a good team, but Tae-ho scoffs at that. They are a mess.

And to illustrate that mess, the crew is playing a card game. Crewmember Park is the only one not cheating. However, he does casually display an axe and starts accusing Captain Jang of stealing supplies, such as the rice that Tae-ho actually stole, in order to pay for all of the booze that she drinks. In response, Jang points her taser at Park’s face. Meanwhile, Bubs is explaining to Tae-ho how much money they owe and reveals that the person in charge of their money, Porky, has run off. Oh, and Bubs wins the game.

Tae-ho is furious at Jang for letting all of the money get stolen, while Park is still mad about the stolen supplies. Facing mutiny, Jang overturns the table and hits Tae-ho in the head with a…baking tray? Park comes at her with his axe and she ends up…tasering herself, but still manages to headbutt him. So, the three of them fall down barely conscious. Bubs walks around and picks up the cash to put in the box which…does have some cash in it…but $720 is withdrawn for the broke satellite, leaving the balance at $0.00.

Bubs is sitting outside, looking at…women for sale? That cannot be right. Well, whatever is on sale, there is a $30,000 option, a $40,000 option, and a $60,000 option. Park, in a spacesuit, is waxing about the good old days where he would cut the hands off from thieves whom he caught. Also, he tells Bubs to stop calling him Mr. Park, to call him Tiger Park instead. Ooh…I’ll call him Tiger from now on. Bubs ask Tiger what he would do with those hands. Bubs wishes to have a hand. Uh…huh…

Unable to sell it at the Factory, Tae-ho, Tiger, and Bubs try breaking open the shuttle for parts when it suddenly turns on. Curious, Tae-ho goes floating up to the broken-open cockpit and sees…a container full of balls? He pries that open and sees hidden within the balls a…girl in a spacesuit.

The three take the girl inside the Victory. Tae-ho thinks that the police will step in and the crew will somehow get fined for this, leading to a projected profit loss of $7,300. Jang wonders if the girl’s parents will pay a reward for finding her. Tae-ho asks the girl if she is a UTS citizen, meaning is she from a rich home. Noting that the girl has no translation device, Bubs tries asking the question in English, but the girl answers in Korean that she has no home. She is hungry, though. Tiger considers giving her some of the food he has, but he hesitates.

Tae-ho takes a good look at her and she smiles back. Tae-ho has a flashback to…oh, so that is Su-ni…and a pretty nice-looking place.

Anyways, Tae-ho walks off when the notice comes. Authorities are still looking for Dorothy, an android that is allegedly carrying a terrorist group’s hydrogen bomb that is 600 times as powerful as the android explosion from 3 years ago. And…yep…that’s the girl.

And she looks like she is about to explode!

Bubs runs off and the others hit the floor, bracing for an explosi-oh, it was a sneeze…and she giggles…and then lies down on the floor to copy the others. The three eventually get up and, seeing Bubs hiding in one of the rooms, they all scramble to run to their own quarters as Dorothy gleefully chases them.

A robot? An explosive? That must be why the scanner didn’t detect any life, Jang reasons. Bubs marvels at Dorothy’s skin grafts. Tiger calls the UTS crime hotline. And Tae-ho is tasked with tying her up. Sneaking up on her doesn’t work, so he…uh…steals her stuff and flees back to his quarters. There is a book for writing Korean, a cell phone with someone named Kang Hyeo-nu listed over and over, a bunch of documents authored by Kang Hyeo-nu…hmmm…

The Victory has docked in MR09: 9th residential district for non-citizens. And the crew abandon ship, leaving Dorothy behind. Nevermind that the bomb would destroy that entire structure and kill everyone inside if it were to explode. Whatever. Now alone on the ship, Dorothy walks around and sees branches of a dead plant. And…using some tiny glowing dots, a somehow blue-eyed Dorothy is able to make leaves grow…immediately.

Anyways, the crew speedwalk to…a private room in a restaurant. Even though Tiger had already contacted the Space Guards, Tae-ho wonders whether non-citizens can even collect reward money from UTS. Perhaps the Black Foxes would pay a million to get Dorothy back. But, instead of fine-tuning the plan, the crew starts squabbling over who gets what portion of the payment. Somehow, Tae-ho gets stuck with the least.

Eventually the crew gets around to secretly contacting the Dr. Kang using the number on the phone. Tae-ho disguises his voice and speaks in…uh…Spanish. I am not sure that that will effectively hide his identity, but sure. When someone responds, Tae-ho demands $2 million, but…perhaps misinterpreting the body language of his crewmates, corrects himself to 1.5…as a discount? But the person agrees to $2 million in cash, at a place of his choosing at 13:00. Tae-ho demands that they meet at a place called Club Ghost at 14:00.

Oh…but UTS was listening in, and Sullivan heard it too. He orders Dorothy brought to him, saying that the fate of the human race is in danger.

Tiger is in his room, keeping a hostile eye on Dorothy…who is just drawing in her drawing book. He looks at the giraffe on his wall and calls her a lousy artist. Dorothy says that it is a dinosaur. Not wanting to be shown up by a robot, Tiger gets his…computer screen thing, and shows her a picture of a dinosaur, but Dorothy flips to a different screen to show one that looks more similar to what she drew. Tiger is about to say something when Dorothy shows a picture that she drew of him. That one he recognizes, though he still has some critiques.

It is about time for the exchange. Wearing some…odd disguise, Tiger tells Dorothy to get into a bag. She asks “Uncle Tiger” where she is going, which gives him pause. But Tae-ho has no patience for pausing; five minutes to go.

Oops…a police officer is coming on board. Is this because Tiger called the Space Guard? In any case, Jang yells at the others to take off their disguises and get in place. Everyone scrambles and Tiger hides Dorothy. The officer comes on board and everyone acts casual, ignoring his commentary on the ship’s illegal modifications. He taps Bubs on the head with his baton and…takes note of the…are those tiny green tomatoes? He asks the crew (who had not noticed them) why they are growing plants on a spaceship?  Tae-ho asks him why he is here and he mentions the call. Oops.

Then the officer notices Tiger making hand motions to the door to his quarters. He goes to the door and…electrifies his baton. Dorothy manages to hide, but Tae-ho fears that they will be killed if they are late. So, he runs to the cash box to bribe the officer, saying that they have a very important meeting. The officer pushes him aside and is about to lay eyes on Dorothy when gets the officer’s attention. She notes that non-citizens usually have to call five or six times for a response. She asks if Bubs recorded him taking the cash and Bubs says yes. Jang reasons that the officer is not on patrol and is actually off duty. So, she could report him for taking bribes after work…as well as having a private gun with his uniform. And since he is also a non-citizen, the people will have no problem just tossing him away. Well, that is enough to scare off the officer before he notices Dorothy. And with him gone, Tae-ho has everyone scramble.

With Jang and Bubs observing from the Victory, Tae-ho, Tiger, and Bubs arrive with Dorothy at Club Ghost, where…brostep still exists in 2092. Tae-ho is patting himself on the back for choosing such a brilliant location: a dance club. Tiger asks what will happen to their girl. Tae-ho has to explain that Dorothy is not theirs and is not a girl. Who cares if they blow it up or melt it down? As long as they come through with the $2 million.

Tae-ho notices a masked man with a pistol and concludes that that is Dr. Kang. Tae-ho gets the drop on him. Still speaking Spanish, he confiscates the gun…which had no bullets…and notes that the man came alone?

Well…not quite alone. A group…are those Space Guards? Jeez. Anyways, they are hiding up top, with orders to kill all perpetrators as soon as Dorothy is spotted.

Tae-ho takes Dr. Kang to Tiger. Dr. Kang hands over the case with 2 million genuine dollars. He goes for the bag…where is Dorothy? The heck, Tiger? The three go searching for Dorothy, who has been wandering through the crowd. Some of the clubgoers notice Dorothy and stop dancing. Even the DJ stops the music. Oh dear. They recognize Dorothy from the news report and start panicking. Tae-ho and Dr. Kang try to get close as everyone else runs away.

And that is when the Space Guard start shooting…seemingly at everyone and everything.

Tae-ho grabs Dorothy and tries to meet up with Dr. Kang. One of the Space Guards shoots at Tae-ho, but Dorothy notices and…does that blue eye thing to block the bullets? Jang sees it too from the cameras. Dozens of Space Guards close in, but Tae-ho, Tiger, and Dorothy have managed to escape back to the Victory.

Jang and Tae-ho are furious at Tiger for letting Dorothy get loose. Jang is furious at Tae-ho for still freaking out about the money after all that went down. Tae-ho thinks to get the phone and contact the…oh, nevermind. Jang crushes the phone, suspecting that the Space Guards were listening through that. They will transmit through radio wave instead.

Tae-ho is still upset about the $2 million. Dorothy asks “Uncle Tae-ho” if he lost his money, and the look that he gives her tells her to stop prying. Jang looks over and sees that Dorothy is drawing a picture…of Jang. Dorothy tries to cover it, saying that she is not finished. Jang asks Dorothy what her name is. Dorothy says her name is Kot-nim, which is what Dr. Kang had been yelling out in the club. Dorothy explains that that is her Korean name. Tae-ho, still upset, tells them to not call “it” Kot-nim.

Dorothy tries to hide from Tae-ho, but Tiger, ignoring Tae-ho’s demands, goes over to Kot-nim and plays with her like she is a little kid. He takes her away.

With everyone elsewhere, Captain Jang looks over at the tomato plant. It had been dead. Now it is thriving. What happened?

 

 

 

From what I gather, this is the first major South Korean movie set in space…sort of like how The Silent Sea is the first major South Korean show set in space. As such, I get that they wanted to go big and make it stand out, but they also were good with relying on some well-worn tropes so that it would not come off as too out there. As such, I am able to forgive a few predictable narrative decisions.

Honestly, I could have watched an entire movie of just the Victory crew gathering space trash while struggling to pay off debts. That would have definitely been something that I had not seen before. But I knew that that would not be the case as soon as the news report about “Dorothy” popped up. And, honestly, I probably should have known during that long sequence with Sullivan and the reporters. Still, I get the need for a first-of-its-kind film to be more epic than a story of scavengers. And what we got was a fun ride, so I am not really complaining. This movie can go…very fast at times, but rarely at the expense of immediate coherence.

A lot of the production was done by the same people who made the Chinese film Wandering Earth. And they do stylistically look pretty similar, are similar in themes, and are rather goofy fun. Still, I personally ended up enjoying this one a whole lot more. I cannot exactly say why, but it may be linked to the Koreanness of the story in an international setting being a little less overt than the Chineseness of Wandering Earth.

That is, of course, not to say that the movie completely foregoes its Korean focus. Sure, it makes sense that this crew is all Korean, allowing them to converse without the need for translators. But to have Kot-nim and Dr. Kang also be Korean? That is a bit of coincidence. Then again, there is a minor non-Korean character who suddenly shows up again under a very different context for…no real reason that I can think of. It does give this movie a bit of what I call small world society, which does kind of make it seem less expansive. But it does also sort of add to the epic fable feel so…eh, whatever.

Like Wandering Earth, this movie depicts space as a multicultural and multilingual place. There is English, Russian, Chinese, French, and Spanish spoken throughout. And…I gather that Karum sometimes speaks Nigerian Pidgin English, but don’t take my word for it. Everyone seems to be equipped with translator technology, so they can easily converse with people in different languages. UTS seems to be primarily English-speaking, which is…a choice. I am not sure if it is supposed to be a commentary on Americanism, since I believe that Sullivan is meant to at least be from Europe and Richard Armitage (who gets rather hammy at times) can lay that English accent on pretty thickly. Perhaps English just remained the language of the elite thanks to the super-capitalist Sullivan.

Unlike Wandering Earth, this movie spends little time on Earth, so it is difficult for me to determine how world governments are functioning, but I would assume that they are all in trouble due to environmental catastrophe. Other than being a cautionary tale of where society is going, I am not sure if the movie really has a specific thing to say about climate change except to say that we should not place out faith in corporations to get us out of the predicament.

In the movie, a corporation has been able to create an entire country in at least part of the orbit and is trying to establish a replacement Earth on Mars. UTS has created a country with the power to determine who is a citizen there and who gets treated like trash. Non-citizens have no homes or bank accounts, are taxed out the behind, are forced to pay for everything with nasty-old cash and get hunted down if they are found in the wrong place. And citizenship can be revoked. This is a plot point that I am not sure needed to be presented the way that it was, but it worked anyways.

There is also the notion of whether what you do defines who you are, especially when you are no longer able to do what you have been doing. There is also commentary about identity, taking charge of who you are and not letting others define yourself for you, even if the cost of that stance seems costly. I am…not quite sure how well that allegory works or how much of it was intended, but I am actually surprised that such a silly movie went there.

Is this movie good? Eeeeeeh…I really enjoyed it. And that is what is important.

 

 

WTF ASIA 202: Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (India: 2019, approx. 145 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

WTF ASIA 203: The Pool (Thailand: 2018, approx. 90 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanada, France, the United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.