It’s got to be hard being a breakdancer, or b-boy, as illustrated in Lee’s compelling documentary Planet B-Boy. Most make almost no money, and very few get respect for their work. In one particularly eye-opening part, Korean b-boys are called “weak” by a fellow countryman because he feels that dancing is the only thing that makes them happy. And some of the craft’s founding fathers complain that performers such as Justin Timberlake and Usher are trained by b-boys, but never give them props for their work. (They have a point—can you name even one famous b-boy?)
But one thing is certain: B-boying, one of the four offshoots of hip-hop (the others being DJing, emceeing and graffiti), is a compelling art form, one that even Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo couldn’t kill. And Planet B-Boy—which centers around the 2005 Battle of the Year, a Germany-based competition that draws the world’s best teams for a whopping $3,000 shared purse—not only features some of the most dynamic and exciting dancing imaginable, but also humanizes it with some revealing snippets of the dancers’ lives. It’s hard not to root for the young Korean man whose team has one last chance at victory before most of them have to go into the military, or the Japanese phenom who is truly moved at his mother’s support, or a young French boy’s acceptance into a team of older, black dancers. (It’s a bit awkward to hear his mother’s admitted prejudice toward black people, only to realize they’re actually nice.) No such luck for Las Vegas-based b-boyers Knucklehead Zoo, who are presented as ultra-talented, but a bit soulless—just like Vegas. As it becomes clear in the final competition, talent only gets you so far. Imagination and inspiration go a long way.
Not that there isn’t talent to spare. The dance routines featured in the Battle of the Year illustrate just how far this medium has come, at times defying gravity and physics to a ridiculous degree. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t seen breakdancing in the last 20 years, you really haven’t seen it at all. Now’s your chance.