Background: The documentary trend train keeps on rolling full steam in 2008, and I'm loving it. Last year it was Donkey Kong and abstract art, this year it's breakdancing. Or, to be precise, b-boying. Korean-American Benson Lee makes his documentary directorial debut with Planet B-Boy, which boasts the tagline "Breakdancing has evolved." I'm not a b-boy, but I've always thought breaking is an overlooked cultural tradition, bad movies like Kickin' It Old Skool and Step Up 2: The Streets notwithstanding. Thanks for an attempt at a more enlightening film, Benson.
Synopsis: Our first few minutes are spent learning about the history of b-boying - an important intro, because we'll learn that while breakdancing was being exploited as a an 80's fad in the U.S., the rest of the world was taking it to new heights. In 1990, the international breakdancing competition that came to be known as Battle of the Year was held in, all of places, Braunschweig, Germany. Since then the competition has evolved into the World Cup of breakdancing. Eighteen countries have elimination contests to determine which crew will represent the country at Battle of the Year. In 2005, we meet five teams who have been selected and are preparing for Germany: Gamblerz (from South Korea, and automatic invites as defending champs), Last for One (South Korean champs), Ichegeki (Japanese champs), Phase-T (French champs), and Knucklehead Zoo (U.S. champs, from Las Vegas). As we watch the teams anxiously practice for the trip, we also learn about their respective cultures and, in some cases, their family situations. Pulsing music and quick edits are our guide all the way up to the climactic final battle.
+ Being amazed over and over at the athleticism of these dancers.
+ The fresh art direction and stylish title designs.
+ The cultural learning that took place with Lil' Kev's family in France.
+ The French crew, "Phase-T". No hard feelings toward the Americans, but the French seemed like the coolest cats in town.
- That the slow motion shots were rare, and even then, misplaced.
- Not getting a better look at the teams from all 18 countries. And were any from Latin America?
- That that video quality was lowest at the most important parts - like the dancing footage.
- That the attempt at infusing family affairs into the story didn't work out very well. It was just a bit of a distraction. Focusing on the competition and the cultures was a great idea, but the sob stories would have been more appropriate in a different kind of film.
Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 4
Total: 26/30= 87% = B+
Last Word: "Breaking is as legitimate as any other dance that has existed," says legendary b-boy Ken Swift in the fantastic first few minutes of Planet B-Boy. Your reaction to that statement will frame the rest of your experience of the film. If you think he's mistaken and you only saw it to give breaking a last chance, well, I totally respect that and I hope you're convinced. If you think he's right, as I do, be prepared to be taken to a new level of amazement, though truthfully it was hard to remain impressed after an hour. I mean really, seeing so many people land impossible backflips in order to spin on their pinky fingers and balance on their noses starts to make it look easy after a while, doesn't it? No matter - I and others in the theater still gushed out a few "oohs" and "ahs" in the last battle. Planet B-Boy has to be viewed on three very different levels. As an educational documentary about the history of b-boying, it doesn't deliver. Better to watch the likes of Electric Boogaloo and Breakin'. As an emotional tale of boys making their fathers and families proud amidst uncertainty about their future, it tries but fails. As a simple feature on the Battle of the Year and five competing teams from different cultures, it's an absolute thrill. Fortunately, the third aspect is the main objective of Planet B-Boy, and if you don't walk out of the theater hyped up to try some moves of your own, then there was probably no hope for you anyway. At the very least, perhaps you took away some cultural nuggets and will look at breakdancing in a different light next time you see some kids "messing around" on the street.