EmptyBreakdancing, the 1980s urban performance phenomenon that went from the streets of New York to mainstream TV and the stages of America's cultural landmarks, faded from the U.S. scene with the turn of the decade. But rather than disappearing altogether, the pastime migrated overseas, gaining popularity in Europe, Asia and South America.
Filmmaker Benson Lee catches up with breakdancing's ongoing evolution in "Planet B-Boy," an eye-catching combination of cultural history, performer profiles and competition footage that should see enthusiastic response from niche audiences in urban and specialty venues before comfortably kickin' it on DVD.
In an efficient setup, several veteran breakdancers -- known as "B-boys" -- explain that breaking is a legitimate dance form that comprises one of the four pillars of hip-hop culture, along with DJ-ing, rapping and graffiti art. A mix of energetic dance moves, gymnastic techniques and referential styles derived from movies and martial arts, breakdancing displays an exhilarating blend of athleticism and artistry set to hip-hop beats.
German B-boy and promoter Thomas Hergenrother describes how youth worldwide were inspired by the exploits of their American heroes and developed their own dance routines during the '90s, prompting him to establish the international Battle of the Year, held annually in Germany.
Lee then segues to presenting the four principal "crews" profiled in the film -- Knucklehead Zoo (U.S.), Ichigeki (Japan), Last for One (South Korea) and Phase T (France) -- characterizing their performance techniques using informal rehearsal footage and interviews with individual members.
At the film's midpoint, the four teams converge at the Battle of the Year after winning their respective national championships. Extended breakdancing scenes showcase each group's individual style as they compete for a spot in the final competitions leading to the top prizes.
Combining performance footage, first-person interviews and archival materials, "Planet B-Boy" pays fitting homage to both breakers' impressive dance skills and the roots of hip-hop culture. Agile camerawork propels the narrative at a brisk pace, and crisp editing synchs rhythmically with the score's propulsive beat.
Elephant Eye Films
Mondo Paradiso Prods. NYC in association with Mental Pictures
Director: Benson Lee
Producers: Amy Lo, Benson Lee
Executive producers: Johnny Lee, Chris C. Kim, Danny Huang
Director of photography: Vasco Lucas Nunes
Editors: Jeff Marcello, Benson Lee
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating