SCMP R09 | The Review 13-02-11
Directed by first-time filmmaker Su Che-hsien, the Taiwanese documentary Hip Hop Storm is about two generations of hip hop dancers in Taiwan, with the story of veteran hip hop dancer Alun Peng Ying-lun - a performer since 1990 - intertwined with that of Undergradu-Eight, a group whose members were all born in the 1990s.
Peng is considered one of the pioneers in Taiwan's street dance culture. He founded Taiwan's first hip hop dance group, the now-defunct The Party, in 1993, and has since persisted in honing his dancing skills in different parts of the world and bringing them back to Taiwan. The documentary follows Peng's first endeavour to his participation in the annual international street dance competition Juste Debout in Paris from 2007 to 2008. His travails run parallel to sequences showing Undegradu-Eight's efforts in the MRT Street Dance Competition - something the octet of high-school students promised to compete in after their university entrance exams.
"It demonstrates the differences between the devotion towards, and the way of looking at, dancing of the two generations," says Ben Tsiang, the producer of the film. "While Alun had to overcome obstacles and people's misunderstanding towards street dance in the past through his strong will, dancing is a passion for youngsters now, when street dance has more support and is more widely accepted."
Peng says street dance has become "the symbol of our generation": "Back then it was rock 'n' roll, now street culture is all over the internet as well as in music, fashion and the dance scene. It is our common body language."
The film was originally merely a school assignment of Su, who was studying at the Graduate School of Applied Media Arts of the National Taiwan University of Arts when he contacted Peng in summer 2007.
"He contacted me through the internet and asked if he could follow me every day and record my dancing career," says Peng, who was 34. "And I said, 'Go ahead!'"
Peng could hardly imagine that it would take until early 2010 to finish the actual shooting, more than a year after Su entered his initial 50-minute short film - the product of him following Peng and Undergradu-Eight for a year - into the 2nd CNEX Documentary Film Festival.
Su's work was one of 10 projects to receive financial support from CNEX, a non-profit organisation to promote documentary filmmaking in Chinese-speaking societies. However, to make the film a fully fledged piece suitable for theatrical release, a fresh round of shooting and plenty of editing were needed. "The process was very harsh for the director. It seemed to him there was no end to it and there were many times that he wanted to give up," says Tsiang, who also serves as CNEX's chief executive officer.
Peng says he empathised with his director's struggles. "Su's determination and passion touched me. I called myself a street dance fighter and I think he's a fighter, too, a shooting fighter - accomplishing his dream using a camera."
The two supported and cheered each other during the process. With Su a student and Peng a dancer, money was tight - while Peng continued giving performances and holding dancing classes to raise funds for the film, Su deferred his studies and the draft. (Su is now serving in the army.) The finished film has been shown twice in Taiwan cinemas, with footage featuring Peng going to Juste Debout for the second time, as well as interviews with members of Undergradu-Eight after they have attended different universities.
At last year's Golden Horse Awards, Hip Hop Storm won the best documentary award, making Su, who was then just 27, the youngest-ever prize-winning filmmaker at the awards.
For Peng, the film's success has opened doors for himself and other dancers.
"This film is very important as it's a realistic record of a wide-reaching art form of our time," Peng says.
"The film let the audience see our spirit. It cleans up the negative image of street dance and enables parents to get to know their children's dream instead of always imposing their own expectations on them."
Hip Hop Storm opens on February 19 at MCL Telford and Kornhill