At the alarming rate that superficial pop docs are now hitting theaters, Spellbound—largely responsible for kick-starting this malodorous mainstream nonfiction vogue—is fast becoming one of the decade’s most influential films. Its latest progeny is Planet B-Boy, a look at global b-boying (otherwise known as breakdancing) that hews closely to a familiar, pat formula, in which skin-deep portraits of a subculture and its members gradually lead up to a tense competition. In this case, that would be the Best of the Year contest, an international match held in Germany that most b-boys credit with helping to keep their improvisatory “art form” relevant and legitimate after most dismissed it as an ‘80s fad, as well as to expand its popularity to new, foreign shores. Director Benson Lee makes sure to serve up his topic’s key points—that b-boying is as vital to hip-hop culture as MCing; that it’s a uniquely creative, individualized means of self-expression; that dance crews are like surrogate families—but only in easy-to-digest bites that eschew any real investigation into the movement’s history, pioneers, influences, and multicultural variations. Similar hasty treatment is given to two rival competitors, one Korean and one Japanese, and their pressing daddy issues, a shame given that their tales might have provided the substantive human element that the film so desperately lacks. Despite Lee’s refusal to present the routines in their entirety, the climactic competition’s dancing is nonetheless electrifyingly acrobatic and inventive. Yet considering the skimpy sketches of the American, French, Japanese, and South Korean squads that precede it, the outcome to this showdown is of scant dramatic consequence. “There’s no limits. You can do whatever you want,” says one b-boy about his chosen dance, a liberating rejection of the status quo that the skin-deep Planet B-Boy unfortunately fails to emulate.
- Elephant Eye Films
- 101 min
- Benson Lee
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