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Planet B-Boy


A quarter of a century ago most audiences may have gone to see Adrian Lyn’s Flashdance for its silly, crudely inspirational story of a female welder in Pittsburgh who aspires to become a ballerina, or for Giorgio Moroder’s driving pop score, but some young, inner-city males in New York were much more interested in its breakdancing scenes, the first appearance of this hip-hop art form in a popular movie.

Watch the trailer for "Planet B-Boy"

Benson Lee’s Planet B-Boy spares little time establishing the historical background of breakdancing, providing only the obligatory observations that it grew from youthful tension and exuberance in New York City’s black and Latino neighborhoods in the 1970s, and that B-boys—the name abbreviates beat boys—were influenced by, among other things, James Brown’s dance moves and gymnasts’ floor work.

Planet B-Boy is focused on the present and breakdancing’s international proliferation. It chronicles, in a swift, pulsing style, an annual multinational competition, Battle of the Year, held last year in Braunschweig, Germany, the premier event in the B-boy culture despite its negligible prize money. The widespread commercial limitations for breakdancers underline one of the movie’s themes: the passion and sometimes almost cultic commitment of these young performers. This fervent belief seems to be a necessity for the dancers in the face of the obstacles many of them confront, including family indifference or antagonism.

Katsu, a youth who works in his Tokyo family’s green tea store, recalls his late father’s disapproval and their mutual estrangement in the year before he died. The film has a few such quiet, personal moments; mostly it travels back and forth between dance crew preparations in four of the 18 countries represented at the competition.

At times, Planet B-Boy exhibits a proselytizing bent as performers and competition judges insist on the artistic plasticity and personal transformative power of breakdancing—not, to be sure, in those exact terms. It’s part of the achievement of Lee and the dancers in his film that they at least partly persuaded a skeptical old film reviewer.

george sax

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