Planet B-Boy (***)
Planet B-Boy is a well-made look at the culture of B-boying, popularly known as breakdancing, across the world. The thesis of director Benson Lee’s (Miss Monday) film is that B-boying is a craft, a way of life—not a retro fad that just happens to have lingered on 30 years after its inception. The focus of the documentary is a recent Battle of the Year, full of enthusiastic international athletes who in many cases have given up a lot, or have overcome some kind of socio-economic adversity in pursuit of their dreams.
B-Boy illustrates these struggles fairly well. Lee has his subjects sit down next to their parents, which makes them visibly awkward, but relates effectively the circumstances that make them who they are. Lil Kev lives in the projects-packed Parisian commune of Chelles, and squirms as his mother admits her initial racism toward her son’s uniformly black B-boy friends. A Korean subject, the diffident B-Boy Joe, must face his father directly as he admits to his disappointment in his son’s career choice.
Lee might be criticized for jumping into his Battle of the Year trajectory too quickly. He doesn’t give those unfamiliar with the sport enough time to absorb it: How do B-boys learn their moves, for instance, and what kind of training do they go through? A preliminary explanation of the way in which B-boying spread to other countries is similarly truncated; we are shown how the dance worked its way into early ’80s mainstream products such as Flashdance, but are not given a sufficient lead-up to the present day. Such information would only help to dramatize his subjects’ participation in the battle, on which they have clearly staked not only their respect, but in many cases, their very livelihoods.
Planet B-Boy is now playing at The Royal (608 College).