There are four core elements to the influential art form known as Hip-Hop: Rap, DJing, Graffiti and B-boying (aka breakdancing). Since the late '70s/early '80s 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 - B-boying - has stayed true to its roots. Benson Lee’s exhilarating documentary reveals to the average layman the explosive worldwide phenomenon of the underground B-boying scene and how the passion for this highly expressive art form unites youth around the world.
Planet B-Boy (2008) dir. Benson Lee
By Alan Bacchus
At the top Lee gets the housekeeping done quickly. In a fast-paced 5-minute sequence he quickly summarizes comprehensively the history of B-boying 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 B-boying competition, which sees 18 of the 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 from Korea, Japan, France and the U.S. Each of the dancers from the crews becomes a character in the film. The more we learn about the backgrounds of the dancers the more Lee reveals their commonality across the different cultures. Whether it’s a Korean teen who continually seeks the approval of his single father, or a 12-year-old French boy who discovers his mother’s latent racism, Lee, in humorous and emotional ways, shows how the passion to dance, compete and entertain allows 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 during which the crews perform a routine as a group. As each crew takes the stage we get to witness astounding feats of acrobatics, complex leg, arm 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-upmanships that would have viewers shaking their heads in amazement.
So if B-boying is so much fun to watch, why hasn't television 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. B-boys continually push their bodies and minds to the limit because there is no rulebook, no manual to learn from and no school to teach it. It’s still a self-taught discipline and an unruly artistic force of nature.