Flower Drum Song [1961]

Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Rodgers and Hammerstein made BIG musicals--sweeping song and dance numbers, elaborate stagings, sweet heroines, and love struck but confused heroes. Flower Drum Song has all these elements, so why is it so little known? Perhaps because it had the misfortune to be released the same year (1961) as West Side Story, or maybe because at 133 minutes it's overlong, or did the audience have trouble accepting an all-Asian cast in an Asian-themed musical? Whatever the reasons, it's time to recognize Flower Drum Song for the gem it is. Picture bride Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) and her father arrive in San Francisco, having smuggled themselves into the country so Mei Li can marry nightclub owner Sammy Fong (whose mother arranged the whole deal). Mei Li is fascinated by the city and immediately charms its denizens with a delicate rendition of "One Hundred Million Miracles." Fong (Jack Soo), who is having an affair with his star singer, the sexy and scheming Linda Low (Nancy Kwan), pawns Mei Li off on the Wang family, whose eldest son, Ta (James Shigeta), needs a wife (at least that's what his father has decided). Old Chinese culture and new American ideals clash at every turn, with the elders struggling to understand their Americanized children and the children struggling to accept and honor their heritage. Though the movie is dated in some respects, the theme of assimilation vs. separation holds up remarkably well and rings true. "The Other Generation" beautifully illustrates the generation gap. As this is a romantic musical, you know from the beginning which couples will end up together. The most famous song is "I Enjoy Being a Girl," sung by Linda Low as she dresses to seduce Wang Ta. Though too many triangulations and misunderstandings prolong the inevitable conclusion, Flower Drum Song is a very enjoyable and often funny ride. --Dana Van Nest

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