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Planet B-Boy 

Directed by Benson Lee. Mondo Paradiso Films.

click to enlarge Planet B-Boy
  • Planet B-Boy

More nations compete in the breakdancing Battle of the Year than were participants in George Bush's "coalition of the willing." The global nature of hip hop dancing is well documented by the 2008 film Planet B-Boy. Stunning images of fluid dancing are articulated by some of the most talented artists on the planet.

The Battle of the Year is the world championship of breakdancing. Located in Germany, b-boy crews (only one b-girl gets screen time) quest for a title in front of 8,000 howling fans. In operation since 1990, the Battle of the Year sponsors national battles in more than 20 nations in order to qualify, so only the best arrive to scrap.

Representative crews from France, the United States, Japan and two crews from South Korea get in-depth analysis from filmmaker Benson Lee with clips of their practices matched with short interviews with the dancers and their families.

Some story-lines might be predictable, like the Japanese dancer Katsu who talks about the death of his father, dancing and his friendship with his crew Ichigeki. What may not be as predictable is what Katsu and his comrades do with the emotional energy: create a popping electric dance whose highlight is the expressive frenzy expressed in Katsu's moves.

The hard-luck South Korean crew Last for One, whose rural location belies their intense love for breakdancing, are particularly intense documentary subjects. Since the South Korean crew Gamblerz won the year before with a jaw-dropping acrobatic routine, Last for One play the role of passionate underdogs coming from a nation known for rising b-boy capacity.

Themes of national, regional and city pride suggest the value of place as extremely significant in the b-boy interviews and performances. Capacity for argument and geographical inspiration perhaps reach the highest level in the clips of the South Korean dance squad performing a hip-hop version of the 50-year North Korea/South Korea conflict.

The movie also documents the evolution of hip hop dancing created in the ever-increasing competitive spirit of this annual battle. In a desperate desire to outdo each other, crews amp up their athletic capacity, flexibility and creativity. In the first round of competition crews show a choreographed showcase -- the result is an Olympic-caliber montage of the best moments from each nation's team.

There are a few interesting editing moments: Early video footage of breaking is surrounded by arty effects, but only for the first 10 minutes. Despite footage on the bonus DVD extras of the gallery party for Martha Cooper's We B Girls, a photo-documentary book documenting women's breakdancing stars and traditions, there is a painful lack of women protagonists in the film.

Beyond any flaws in Planet B-boy, the core shared arguments shine through clearly: Breakdancing is as complicated and significant as any other form of dancing, and the art form has long transcended American shores.

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Maxwell Schnurer

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