Chinese stowaway Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) arrives in San Francisco with her father to meet her fiancé, wealthy nightclub owner Sammy Fong (Jack Soo), in an arranged marriage, but the groom ... See full summary »
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Chinese stowaway Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) arrives in San Francisco with her father to meet her fiancé, wealthy nightclub owner Sammy Fong (Jack Soo), in an arranged marriage, but the groom has his eye on his star singer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). This film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical is filled with memorable song-and-dance numbers showcasing the contrast between Mei Li's traditional family and her growing fascination with American culture. Written by
Flower Drum Song holds a special place for me because it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. And I don't think it's been given the proper place in the pantheon of Rodgers&Hammerstein shows.
Back then minority players had a hard time getting parts and Flower Drum Song certainly filled a need there in the same way Porgy and Bess has done for black people. This was the first time a Broadway show was completely cast with oriental players. A milestone not to be overlooked.
Several of the Broadway cast made it to the film version. Juanita Hall, Patrick Adiarte, Keye Luke and most of all Miyoshi Umeki repeated their roles. Miyoshi was very big news then. When I saw the play she had just won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Sayonara. Also a significant milestone, very significant in the repair of Japanese- American relations from World War II.
Jack Soo also made it from Broadway. But on Broadway the future Detective Nick Yemana of the bad coffee, was the "Commodore" from the Chinese nightclub. Here he is one of the male leads in a part originated by Larry Blyden on Broadway. Soo's deadpan delivery that made him so popular on Barney Miller is working undertime here. If you liked him on Barney Miller, he's great here.
James Shigeta took the place of one Ed Kenney from Broadway. Shigeta was at the start of a long career as probably THE Oriental leading man in American films for many years.
The big hit song from Flower Drum Song is I Enjoy Being a Girl which was and is the anti-battle cry against feminism. Doris Day had a big hit record of it (she would), but today feminists would be picketing the show with the message that conveys. I mean, really, the goal of the American woman is to be barefoot and pregnant at the "home of a brave and free male." Gloria Steinem would have cardiac arrest.
Nancy Kwan does wonderfully in the role of Linda Low who lip syncs those sentiments previously mentioned. Right around this time, Kwan, France Nuyen, and Nobu McCarthy all came along at the same time and seemed to battle for the same parts.
Two songs that are overlooked gems are You Are Beautiful which Johnny Mathis sang beautifully on record and Love Look Away. The latter is sung offscreen by Metropolitan Opera diva Marilyn Horne. That's not to be missed.
And neither is Flower Drum Song.
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