Planet B-Boy (2008) dir. Benson Lee
There are four core elements to the influential art form known as Hip-Hop: Rap, DJing, Graffiti, and Bboying (aka breakdancing). Since the late 70’s/early 80’s Rap has come to dominate Hip-Hop leaving the other elements behind and out of the pop culture loop. And while Rap has become a huge money making and marketing machine, the dance form of the culture - Bboying - has gone stayed true to its roots.
Benson Lee’s exhilarating documentary reveals to the average layman the explosive worldwide phenomenon of the underground bboying scene and how the passion for this highly expressive form of art unites youth around the world.
At the top Lee gets the housekeeping done first and quickly. In a fast-paced 5 mins sequence Lee quickly summarizes comprehensively the history of bboying from its origins and influences to its status today. Lee then gets down to the real showcase and the focal point of the film - the annual 'Battle of the Year' competition. Every year Germany holds a bboying competition which sees the 18 of baddest international crews battle it out to be the best in the world.
Lee criss-crosses the globe at breakneck speed to cover four of the most promising crews competing - Korea, Japan, France, U.S. Each of the dancers from the crews become the characters in the film. The more we learn about the backgrounds of the dancers the more Lee reveals their commonality across their different cultures. Whether it’s a Korean teen who continually seeks the approval of his single father, or a 12 year old French boy whose discovers her mother’s latent racism, Lee, in humourous and emotional ways, shows how the passion to dance, compete, and entertain allow them to rise above the poverty, discrimination or domestic problems in their lives.
In addition to these great characters, Lee captures some of the most phenomenal dancing you will ever see – period. The Battle of the Year begins with a choreography round where the crews perform a routine as a group. As each crew takes the stage we get to witness astounding feats of acrobatics, complex leg, arms and body movements and uniquely creative choreography. The final round is the traditional crew vs. crew battle. The two crews that compete in the end go through a series of jaw-dropping one-manships that had the Hot Docs audience shaking their heads in unison. The results best anything seen on "Dancing With the Stars".
So if bboying is so much fun to watch, why hasn't television hasn’t tapped into this. The dance is inherently a freestyle form of expression, and without traditional rules and conventions mainstream media has never been able to find a way to bottle and package this energy. But the dancers wouldn't have it any other way. Bboys continually push their bodies and minds to the limit because there is no rulebook, no manual to learn from, no school to teach it. It’s still a self-taught discipline and an unruly artistic force of nature.
Go and see this film, it’s currently playing in selected cities in the U.S. and in Canada in May.