This Week in South Korean Film - 2/3/2021

Spacing, Sweeping, and Stressing

The big release this week is unquestionably the big sci-fi movie Space Sweepers. I’m not just saying this because, as a Netflix release, this is the rare movie you can watch too in English if you like. Space Sweepers was long hyped in South Korea for being a serious attempt at a mass market South Korean science fiction film- a genre that has typically been more hit than miss in this domestic market. Its the first project for major star Song Joong-ki since Arthdal Chronicles. It’s also the first project for Yoo Hae-in since The Battle: Roar to Victory. Don’t let his meek appearance fool you. The homely fifty-one year old Yoo Hae-in is a surprisingly strong box office bellwether, a testament both to his general talent as well as his savvy in picking worthwhile projects.

The success (or not) of Space Sweepers will effectively decide whether any investors in the South Korean market will front a major sci-fi film for the foreseeable future. So it’s ironic that Space Sweepers is also the first major film to simply give up on a wide release entirely in the wake of COVID-19’s thrashing of the South Korean box office. I imagine the investors were getting nervous enough about the delay that they simply want some kind of return, and were willing to risk not getting very much. No box office means there won’t be very much public data on its performance, so we won’t know whether Space Sweepers was successful until investors start reacting to the data they have access to.

The only other two releases this week are comparably minor. There Is An Alien Here is also science-fiction, but don’t let the genre classification mislead you. This is a weird, low budget comedy science fiction film in the tradition of Save the Green Planet. Despite being well known in English language sources, weird low budget comedy science fiction is not that popular locally. The Night of the Undead proved that last year with its disappointing Thanksgiving performance. Which is a shame, I liked it anyway, and it had a fairly decent marketing effort. As for There Is An Alien Here, it managed to win the WATCHA Award for Feature Film at Bucheon International Film Festival this year. So I imagine this story of find the alien must have something going for it.

This week sees a similar such film in the form of Stress Zero. In this case, the animated movie is a CGV exclusive, although it never had a chance with Demon Slayer: Infinity Train and Soul remaining the outright leaders at the South Korean box office. Stress Zero hews to the Ghostbusters concept of superhero movies, with its lead characters being relatively unremarkable guys with technical mastery of very specific gear. But in this case the gear in question is…an anti-stress drink. And they’re fighting monsters made of stress in the modern day. So it’s basically a feature length vitamin drink commercial except that the titular Stress Zero isn’t a real product. Now, I don’t want to judge a movie I haven’t seen too harshly. It could be great for all I know. It’s just a bit of a weird creative design, and I don’t mean that in the affectionate sense this time.

Of these three movies, I’ll only be reviewing Space Sweepers. It will publish on Friday, the same day you have access to it. So if you’re on the fence about watching it, keep an eye on this space and I might be able to give you a more substantive breakdown of the flick’s strengths and weaknesses.