Posted at 11:52 AM on April 12, 2008
by Euan Kerr
"Planet B-Boy" offers a little more than most competition films. The movie follows break dancing crews from around the world as they prepare for the Battle of the Year, an annual event in Germany to pick the best of the best.
The dancing is amazing. Just when you think you have seen it all someone else pulls a move which makes you shake your head as you try to understand how this dancer just, say, wrapped his leg around the back of his own neck (and then unwrapped it again) without a) killing himself, and b) missing a beat.
Then a couple of moments later someone else does something even more outrageous. We are introduced to a young man who has focused on spinning on his head for 8 years. The other dancers in his crew joke that he's not very good at any other moves, but when you see him spinning in his head as effortlessly as a figure skater spins on ice it's breathtaking.
What makes "Planet B-Boy" really watchable is the way director/producer Benson Lee introduces key members of each crew and then follows them through the competition. It's a standard technique, but Lee is remarkably restrained in how he does it. He shows a moment and then quickly moves on.
We meet the French crew made up almost entirely by African immigrants who have a much younger white boy called Lil Kev as a crew member too. There is the US crew from Las Vegas, who are almost entirely Hispanic, who feel it's time for the crown to return to the US (at the time of the competition in 2005 the US hadn't won since 1998.) There are a couple of Korean crews: one of them the returning champions from Seoul, and another from a rural area. And there's a Japanese crew also returning to the competition for a second time.
Through interviews Lee explores the cultural differences between each crew. There's also a lot of discussion with parents about how they feel about their kids obsession with breakdancing.
Then the whole thing comes together in a school in Germany where all the competitors are given a mattress a pillow a sheet and a blanket as they get ready just before the big event. The scene where the crews go to the cafeteria and have to come to terms with the food they are being offered is both amusing and revealing.
The second half of the film is the actual competition. The crews all present routines created for the event in the first round and then the top four 'battle' for the top honors. It's fascinating to watch, although we never see and entire routine as Lee cuts back and forth between high points. This is disappointing - at least until you see the next incredible move.