I love Korean movies.
Can you say that? It seems odd to make such a wide sweeping statement about a whole country’s cinematic output. You wouldn’t say ‘I like American movies’ because that is just too broad. You wouldn’t even say it about British films. People do tend to band Indian films together like this even though their industry extends well beyond the stereotypical Bollywood stylings and they do the same with French films which also covers a really varied selection of stories and genres.
Whatever, I’m going with it. I love Korean movies. My top five of just the last five years are The Handmaiden, The Villainess, Burning, Train to Busan and Parasite (that’s in order; Bong Joon Ho’s much celebrated Oscar winner trails behind those others). Going back further into director Bong’s back catalogue there are other gems, my favourite of his being The Host, and pretty much everything The Handmaiden director Park Chan-Wook does is a work of (twisted) genius. I’m also very much looking forward to seeing the upcoming Minari which is doing well on the awards and festival circuits; after Ghostbusters: Afterlife it is probably my most anticipated film of the year.
None of these films are any more of a type than those varied movies that come out of India, or France or America. They might all be built around human drama but one of them is a blistering action adventure, one is a period romance and another is a zombie flick. What none of them are is a huge sci-fi blockbuster though because they really are the domain of Hollywood where the budgets are generous enough to do this properly. At least until now.
Japan took the States on at this game a couple of years ago with The Wandering Earth but I thought that film was stupid. It had a ridiculous plot and terrible performances and the whole thing bored or annoyed me in turn. Now South Korea has debuted Space Sweepers, or Spaceship Victory as it is known in its own country which is a much better title. Spaceship Victory, as I will choose to call it henceforth, lives up to that name because it is definitely a win. It is a real sling shot thrown by a Korean Deibideu right into the forehead of a US Goliath. The English language title is the only thing it has wrong with it; the movie itself is wonderful.
Interestingly at the start I feared that I was watching another The Wandering Earth. There was something really off with the acting which seemed unnaturalistic and jarring. It became apparent pretty quickly though that while some of the film was in English, most of it was in Korean and I was watching the dubbed version. One quick change of my settings later and it was all okay but I had learned what a difference poor dubbing can make. I’m questioning now which version of The Wandering Earth I saw and whether I had judged it unfairly.
With the film viewed as God intended I quickly became captivated by this story of the four crew members of a ship who fly around collecting space debris (hence that awful second title) and the adventure they go on after they discover a little robot girl hidden in an abandoned shuttle. If at this point you are raising your eyes at the idea of another robot girl after all those millions of films and shows with life like androids don’t worry because Spaceship Victory has other ideas around this. Even the regular robot on the ship has a refreshing aesthetic and an engaging personality (once you turn the inferior voice over off). In fact this might be Korea’s first foray into this world but even though sci-fi is a crowded genre, this gives us plenty new beyond a different language. It is epic, it is funny, it is sweet, it is exciting, it is emotional, it is excellent. The visual effects and design is also impressive and the story is well rounded out at the end. Character is the movie’s trump card though. Richard Armitage is hamming it up a bit as the bad guy but the central performances from Song Joong-Ki, Seon-kyu Kin and The Handmaiden’s Kim Tae-ri carry it and then some.
Unfortunately I don’t think Spaceship Victory ever saw the inside of a cinema, even in its country of origin, due to the pandemic. It has come out now with next to no fanfare on Netflix (with the default setting with the dub, don’t forget to change it). I hope that despite this the film gets an audience and I hope it gets sequels too. There are plenty of other space operas with multiple sequels and you’ll know I’m thinking of one series in particular here. Well let me tell you now that this is a better film than some of those episodes and if you know me you’ll know I don’t say that lightly.
But then I do love Korean movies.