April 15, 2008

REVIEW: Planet B-Boy (B+)

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.

I Loved:
+ 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.

I Liked:
+ The French crew, "Phase-T". No hard feelings toward the Americans, but the French seemed like the coolest cats in town.

I Disliked:
- 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.

I Hated:
- 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.


  1. Did you see RAZE, and if so, how does it differ from this one? I've seen neither, and although I love docs, I really do have to be in the right mood to watch one.

  2. Ah, great reference, Evan - I meant to mention 2005's Rize. That doc was different in three ways: 1.) It was centered around the style and culture of krumping (different than breaking), 2.) It has nothing to do with a competition, and 3.) It's much better visually, likely because David LaChappelle is a music video director and gives in to his stylistic tendencies.

    Truth be told, though, I kind of forgot about Rize when I walked out of the theater. It could have been a cool insight on South Central, and it tried to be, but there was a little too much slow motion and not enough dialogue. We're also left wanting to know more about original krumper Tommy the Clown.

    One thing I do remember is a pretty funny (and kind of disturbing) clip of a little kid doing some freaky dancing.

  3. I must also give this movie a "B". I agree with everything that said in your review. I went with my two brothers even though my judgment has been called into question after "Paranoid Park". I was also rooting for the French team which may be a first for anything. I thought the side stories about the families of these kids started off well but never materialized into anything emotionally significant. And why the hell did the wait to put the slow motion shots in til the end, of which there were only about three. Definitely could have been better but it was good all around

  4. I did not enjoy Raze much, but I am interested in B-Boy a bit.

  5. Nice, Beav. I thought of Patty a few times watching this. The slow-mo shots were totally lacking. Yes, it's cool to see it all in real time, but you can't really comprehend what's happening that quickly. Could be worth a DVD study in the future.

    It's more appealing than Rize, Nick. It's almost set up like a reality show leading up to a competition. Of course I say that without any knowledge of what reality shows are like.

    It's this simple for anyone on the fence: If you have any kind of positive reaction to this video, see Planet B-Boy.

  6. That Japanese routine with the turntables is one of the best I've ever seen...ever. I love their originality, their ability to stick to a theme, and especially their energy.

    I didn't mind the family side-stories, I thought they added to the film, especially the Korean father who hung Korean flags in people's houses. I think I needed something other than dance footage and dance practice footage and this worked pretty well for me.

    Rize blew me away when I saw it. I don't know which one I like better because it's been about six months since I've seen Rize so I don't want to be unfair to LaChapelle.

  7. Hmm, maybe I was kind of hard on the family bits. I guess I just wanted it to be one or the other, and it was both. That's why I get for pigeonholing movies.

    I haven't seen Rize since the theater, what 3 or 4 years ago, so whatever I describe of it is from my memory. In other words, there were some pretty lasting images.

    Have you seen the new video on the BOYE website - the link is in my other comment. Dude's head-spinning on top of a moving car.


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