Duncan Jepson’s documentary, which was first screened in 2007 but is only now getting a DVD release, details the challenges in reconciling the distinctively American hip-hop culture into contemporary Chinese society. The result seems like a “lite” version of hip-hop that places a heavy emphasis on fashion style and musical protocol, but without the socio-political anger and sexual maturity that frames a great deal of original source material.
In fact, much of the film gives the impression that the hip-hop vibe is being used by Western companies to further their marketing outreach to China’s young, urban and well-moneyed population – representatives from Pepsico, Motorola and Dior breathlessly speak about target marketing Chinese consumers and encouraging a new wave of brand loyalty.
The film also offers a peek at an “American Idol”-style talent program on China’s state-run television that includes hip-hop performers, and stops at a hip-hop party held in the city of Guiyang. Yet the film carefully sidesteps the issues relating to the incompatibility between hip-hop’s roots in free expression and a Chinese government that prefers censorship to open talk. (Since the film was produced, China’s crackdown on artists, writers and activists seeking more democracy has been dramatic.) Ultimately, the film gives the impression that the Chinese version of hip-hop is benign and shallow copy of the real thing.