The Korea Herald


‘Space Sweepers’ takes the safe route and heads to Netflix

By Lim Jang-won

Published : Nov. 23, 2020 - 16:00

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“Space Sweepers” (Netflix) “Space Sweepers” (Netflix)

The first Korean sci-fi blockbuster set in space, “Space Sweeper,” will be released exclusively on Netflix. The film was scheduled to open in theaters on Sept. 23, but the release was postponed due to COVID-19, and there are now no immediate plans to show the film in theaters.

Set in 2092, “Space Sweepers” by director Jo Sung-hee is about a space cleanup crew trying to sell a weapon of mass destruction: the humanoid Dorothy. With a star-studded cast including Song Joon-ki and Kim Tae-ri, “Space Sweepers” was a highly anticipated movie that theaters hoped would revive the Korean movie industry suffering from the pandemic. However, Netflix’s announcement Friday dashed all such hopes.

“‘Space Sweepers’ was made with IP (intellectual property) expansion as a premise, with the making of movies series, spinoff video content, a webtoon and games among other content with the same universe in mind. We decided to show ‘Space Sweepers’ through Netflix because of the unavoidable COVID-19 pandemic situation,” said You Jeong-hun, CEO of distributor Merry Christmas.

“Also, the line between traditional distribution methods and digital distribution is disappearing and we cannot keep delaying the release as we need to set grounds for expansion of our IP.”
“Space Sweepers” (Netflix) “Space Sweepers” (Netflix)

“Space Sweepers” is not the first theatrical film to premiere on a streaming platform, as many movies this year, including “The Call” and “Time to Hunt,” opted to show via Netflix over theaters.

By choosing Netflix, movies will be available to the streaming service’s 195 million members in 190 countries around the world with subtitles in 31 languages. Also, releasing on Netflix has the advantage of being financially less risky. While moviemakers can earn more by becoming a box office smash, the financial losses, should the movie fail, could be substantial. By showing on Netflix for a fixed price, moviemakers hand the financial risk to Netflix.

“We cannot tell you the details of the contract, but Netflix assumes all revenue-associated risks that can vary depending on the film’s performance,” said a Netflix official.

While the details of the deal have not been disclosed, culture critic Ha Jae-geun expects a movie the caliber of “Space Sweeper” would have gotten a decent offer from Netflix, although the price would be less than if the movie scored big in theaters.

“During the COVID-19 situation when a movie’s success is uncertain, the Netflix option can offer leeway. With a blockbuster movie like ‘Space Sweeper’ going to Netflix, many moviemakers will recognize Netflix as a viable option,” said Ha.

However, the 24 billion-won ($21.5 million) blockbuster was confident of a box office success had it not been for the pandemic situation.

“To be honest, since the early stages of the production, our goal was to sell 10 million tickets in local theaters, and we had confidence in our work,” said an official at Merry Christmas.
“Space Sweepers” (Netflix) “Space Sweepers” (Netflix)

Local movie theaters that were hoping “Space Sweepers” would bring life to cinemas are facing further challenges as the social distancing level was to be heighted to Level 2 starting Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate that we cannot show ‘Space Sweepers’ in our theaters because of distributor Merry Christmas’ decision. But it’s not like we don’t understand their decision because of the special circumstance of COVID-19,” said an official of Lotte Cinema, a multiplex chain.

“We are still watching out for the lineup for December releases which has yet to be finalized because of the COVID-19 situation in the Greater Seoul area.”

The official release date for “Space Sweepers” on Netflix has yet to be announced.

By Lim Jang-won (